Why the Women’s World Cup Is a Missed Opportunity for Brands

This weekend marks the first time in 11 years that the FIFA Women’s World Cup will air live on network television. Fox Sports, which nabbed rights to the tournament from ESPN, is planning the “most expansive and comprehensive multi-platform coverage ever” of the games, according to MediaPost.

Once the quarterfinals start this weekend, Fox will air the last 16 matches of the tournament from Canada, the most World Cup matches (including the men’s tournament) ever broadcast live on a network. Viewers can also tune in on their tablets and smartphones with the Fox Sports GO app and online at

The question now is: Where are the brands?

Perhaps they were scared off by the recent controversy involving corrupt FIFA executives, which saw former FIFA president Sepp Blatter suddenly step down from his position. Still, the scandal hasn’t stopped advertisers from flocking to Fox for commercial spots during the games. According to The Wall Street Journal, Fox should pull in roughly $17 million in sponsorship revenue from brands like Fiat and Nationwide Insurance. That’s an almost three-fold increase from ESPN’s $6 million haul for the 2011 tournament. However, that number is just a speck of dust compared to the $529 million generated from the men’s World Cup.

We get it. The men’s FIFA World Cup is huge. According to Adweek’s SocialTimes, the 2014 tournament was one of the biggest events to ever hit social media, with 350 million users engaging on Facebook and more than 3 billion interactions across all social platforms. The women’s games will need some time to catch up to the hype of the men’s. For this reason, brands might think there’s not enough incentive to invest in marketing efforts.

FIFA’s official partners, including Adidas, Coca-Cola, Hyundai, and Visa, have rights to both the men’s and women’s tournaments, but they’ve barely tried to drum up any sort of engagement on social media. Coca-Cola did sponsor the first-ever trophy tour for the Women’s World Cup, but even just a quick search for “FIFA World Cup” on the brand’s Twitter page only brings up tweets from last summer about the men’s World Cup.

As Marketing Week points out, Adidas planned to become “the most visible and talked about brand at the tournament” with its #BeTheDifference social campaign, featuring behind-the-scenes images and real-time engagement. But when it came to game time, Adidas didn’t show up to play, possibly due to sudden news of the FIFA scandal. The tournament is barely represented on its social platforms, and the Adidas website had no mention of its association with the WWC leading up to the event.

Richard Armstrong, founder of content marketing agency Kameleon, told Marketing Week that this visible level (or lack thereof) “would be deemed unthinkable a week away from their male counterparts’ tournament, for which they created 3,000 images and 300 videos.”

Even Google dropped the ball on this one. If you search for the latest results of the games, there’s no special section of stats embedded in your search results on iOS and desktop, like there were for the men’s World Cup. You’ll have to go to the FIFA site for updates.

Google and other brands that have shied away from participating, which seems like a giant missed opportunity.

According to Sports Illustrated, the broadcast of the match between U.S. and. Sweden match had 4.5 million viewers, making it the most-watched soccer match in Fox history. And where are those viewers going to go to talk about it? Social media.

When Influenster surveyed over 10,000 U.S. women between the ages of 18 and 45, 99 percent of whom identified as “heavy social media users,” it found that 83 percent of American women were planning to watch the WWC, and 61 percent said they’ll use social media to keep up with the games. Dominant platforms include Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat, with Facebook coming out on top— since 73 percent of respondents use the network for sports news. Additionally, 97 percent of U.S. women think the WWC offers strong role models that inspire young girls, and 95 percent hope to see more global women’s sporting events distributed.

As The Columbia Journalism Review reported, the last Women’s World Cup, in Germany, attracted more than 400 million viewers across the globe. The final match between the U.S. and Japan also broke a record for trending Twitter topics, with 7,196 tweets per second worldwide. And that was back in 2011. Twitter was only five years old, Snapchat didn’t exist yet, and the tournament wasn’t broadcast on network television.

For U.S. brands in particular looking to get in on the soccer action, the 2015 tournament is especially ripe with marketing opportunities because it’s hosted close to home in Canada, which means the live games better match with our timezones. The U.S. team and key players like Alex Morgan, Abby Wambach, and Megan Rapinoe have also risen to superstar quality with their top ranking. That’s not say brands outside of the U.S. have an excuse for not participating. This year, 24 teams will play in the tournament—an all-time high since the first WWC in 1991. In other words, there’s never been a better time for international brand representation in the women’s sport.

Last summer, the men’s tournament was supported by a bunch of impressive campaigns, a couple of which made our “Best Branded Content” roundup for May and June 2014. For example, Beats by Dre launched “The Game Before the Game” campaign, and Nike released “The Last Game” animated commercial. Media outlets like Bloomberg and Yahoo even flexed their data muscles to predict the winner of the tournament.

That’s not to say zero brands have showed up to support the WWC. The U.S. Soccer Federation launched a “One Nation. One Team. 23 Stories” video series, which is sponsored by Clorox. Tampax Pearl Active has an ongoing partnership with Team USA forward Alex Morgan to give advice to young girls across the nation. And Nike launched its “American Woman” ad as part of its #NoMaybes campaign.

These are great examples of creative work that fits the audience, but given the scope of the WWC, and the opportunities presented by Fox’s broadcast, more brands could’ve benefitted from joining in.

Social analytics company General Sentiment found that, compared to the four major North American professional sports, Major League Soccer’s social influence is growing at the fastest rate. While that stat refers to men’s soccer, the growing engagement with the sport in general could be reflected in this summer’s viewership. The WWC would have provided not just an opportunity for brands to be a part of the conversation, but also to speak to the interests of female viewers and consumers.

“Brands needs to be braver and use their power to make statements of intent and support female sport,” Armstrong told Marketing Week. “I honestly think they could generate a healthy ROI and should truly support what is a growing market.”

Image by Paul Chiasson

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