Inspiring Inclusive Sports Culture and High Engagement via FIFA Women's World Cup

Brands, take a fresh approach toward reaching this coveted audience

Now I know what some of you may be thinking—that the U.S. has a long way to go before anyone will consider it a "soccer country." But while soccer hasn't (yet) reached the same level of popularity as football and baseball stateside, its viewership is growing and things are definitely changing—at a rapid pace. The excitement around women's soccer has played a significant role in this transformation, and will continue to do so in the coming months and years. 

With the growth of viewership, fans and culture around soccer in the U.S., there are real opportunities for brands ready to provide a fresh take and approach toward reaching this coveted audience. While these opportunities are expanding, the most successful brands will approach these opportunities with a clear and concise strategy to ensure long term success.

Here's what I mean—2022 was a remarkable one for women's soccer, with groundbreaking player transfers and record attendance at games (more on that below!), as well as record-breaking global TV viewership, helped massively by Team USA's decision to put their top players in the public eye. As the sport continues to gain traction, the upcoming 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup presents an exceptional chance for brands to connect with emerging audiences of millions—especially Gen Z—and build genuine, impactful partnerships at the same time. 

Last November, the Portland Thorns set a new record when they won their third National Women's Soccer League Championship against Kansas City, drawing an average viewership of 915,000—making it the most-watched game in the league's history. This match not only became a win for the Portland Thorns, but for the wider women's sports industry, as it showed a notable 71 percent increase in audience compared to the 2021, marking the immense growth in the popularity of women's sports. 

The stats speak for themselves. Viewership of women's sports has been steadily increasing globally, with significant interest seen across various leagues and tournaments. In 2021 alone, nearly 33 million watched women's sports, such that the Women's Super League (WSL) and The Hundred cricket competition combined attracted 11 million viewers. The WSL itself drew over six million, separate from the Premier League, further highlighting the growing fascination with women's soccer. The thrilling victory of England over Germany in the Women's Euros 2022 captured the attention of more than 17 million viewers, while the tournament as a whole reached an incredible 365 million globally, more than doubling the previous edition.

If that string of figures didn't leave you with a bit of "wow," here's one more. Estimates suggest that the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup will earn two billion viewers, according to Statista—and who doesn't want in on that captivating audience?!

With that in mind, here are some best practices that brands should be keeping front and center as they navigate the expansion and popularity of women's sports. 

Focus on boosting fan engagement, while also fostering a sense of inclusivity and representation in your advertising efforts.

The women's game offers a wonderfully diverse representation of women with fantastic stories. Brands have a real opportunity to look into these and find those that authentically resonate with their own brand values, while also driving popularity for the sport and promoting inclusive sports culture. But this must go beyond mere marketing tactics; it's about intentionally making a meaningful impact and driving positive change, and must be rooted within your brand's purpose.

To that end, a brand should think longer-term and look at the value of collaborating with multiple female athletes over a longer period of time, each distinct in their own right in terms of background, ethnicity, body type and even age. Brands can then proactively highlight each individuals' story and achievements, emphasizing positive messaging. If done well, a brand might then be able to tap into an athlete's existing followership to further amplify their efforts.

Embrace your role as a catalyst for progress in women's sports.

Whatever efforts you engage in, view them as a chance to challenge stereotypes, break barriers and ultimately reshape the narrative around women's athleticism—including their commitment to gender equality and empowering female athletes on a global scale. 

Now it's worth noting that female, female-identifying and non-binary soccer fans are not the only ones who watch these games. There is also a sizable male audience that follows and enjoys women's soccer games, further opening up fresh opportunities for brands that have traditionally targeted a predominantly male demographic to break away from gender–based stereotypes and embrace the evolving landscape of sports fandom.

When developing engagement strategies, keep in mind that collaboration with creators should go beyond short-term partnerships.

As the sport's popularity continues to grow and brands broaden their strategies, establishing long-term partnerships with creators allows brands to leverage their influence and expertise not only for social media campaigns, but also for other channels such as out-of-home advertising and television, significantly increasing the brand's visibility. Long-term partnerships with creators can also demonstrate a commitment to the sport and its growth, which fosters a sense of continuity and trust among fans. 

This is rooted in the fact that audiences are more receptive to advertising messages during these events and are more likely to engage in cross-screen and multi-channel experiences. Audiences, particularly Gen Z, perceive creators as authentic and influential compared to other forms of media. Brands should leverage this by collaborating with these creators, particularly during peak times such as major sporting events when people are actively present on social channels.

The beauty of working with creators is that it doesn't necessarily require large budgets or extravagant advertising campaigns. In fact, there are specific niche audiences within the world of women's soccer that brands can specifically target, allowing for more focused and tailored campaigns. You can find creators who not only love soccer but also have expertise or interests in other areas—they can be chefs or travelers—allowing for cross-vertical campaigns. This flexibility allows for partnerships to be established on a variety of budgets, making it possible for businesses of varying sizes to participate and benefit from these collaborations. Not only that, but this versatility provides further room for experimentation and testing to find what resonates most with the target audience!

By the way, let's not forget to mention that Team USA is one of the top contenders for the cup. If they do win, it will definitely add an extra dose of excitement to soccer in the U.S., and will absolutely be a wave (of enthusiasm) worth riding. 

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Jenny Penich
Jenny Penich is SVP, North America Commercial at Influencer.

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