Liverpool’s Historic Deal With Avon Shows The Untapped Potential Of Women’s Football

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You might have seen the news last week that beauty brand Avon has became official sponsor to Liverpool women’s football team.

If not, let me tell that the three year deal is truly groundbreaking for a number of reasons and a great sign for women’s football’s health in general. Here’s why:

  • First Of Its Kind: Avon becomes the first female brand to sponsor a women’s professional football team and also becomes Liverpool’s first independent shirt sponsor to that of its male counterpart.
  • “Catch All” Sponsorships Are On The Way Out: As outlined by Tony Connelly from The Drum in his piece on this partnership, “a catch-all” approach to football kit deals is too prescriptive and doesn’t actually engage both female and male audiences. See more on this below and how football clubs are increasingly segmenting their sponsorship deals, something that will only accelerate off the back of this partnership. Indeed, the Scotland’s women football authorities have committed to not sponsoring with alcohol or gambling firms.
  • Manchester City’s Deal With Hays: Following hot on the heels of Liverpool’s partnership, Manchester City announced a deal with Hays for it to become the women’s team’s official recruitment partner. This deal, while notable, follows on from an existing partnership with the men’s team, but, is the club’s first steps in sponsorship for its women’s team.

Also, to accompany the news, Avon created a really excellent video, which you can view below (or on Youtube):

The Dark History Behind Women’s Football

If you had a chance to watch the above video, you’ll have seen how football authorities (shockingly) barred women from playing the game until 1971. In Avon’s press release outlining the partnership, they’ve provided a potted history of women’s football:

  • 1895: The first women’s football match. North beat South 7-1.
  • 1920: The biggest crowd to date for a women’s game. On Boxing Day, 53,000 watch Dick Kerr’s Ladies beat St Helen’s Ladies 4-0.
  • 1921: The FA bans women from playing on Football League grounds. “…the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged.”
  • 1971: The FA Council lifts the ban which forbade women playing on the grounds of affiliated clubs.
  • 2002: The FA announces that football has become the top participation sport for girls and women in the England – three years ahead of schedule.
  • 2011: The FA Women’s Super League is founded in April 2011.

Where The Women’s Game Stands Now

Globally, women’s football is gaining momentum, with 30 million playing the sport regularly worldwide and FIFA has targeted to double women’s participation by 2026 to 60 million.

In terms of the English women’s game, this year sees a complete transition from a summer season. The Football Association’s (FA) Women’s Super League (FA WSL) will be played alongside the traditional football calendar, from September until May each season. However, the “Spring Series”, which kicked off this past weekend is a one-off competition which has been created to bridge the gap between seasons. High profile female players are also being brought to British shores with Manchester City recently signing Carli Lloyd, a two time Women’s World Player Of The Year.

On the commercial side of things, the game is hotting up too in the UK. The FA agreed a significant four-year title sponsorship deal with energy firm SSE for the Women’s FA Cup in 2015, while the BBC will broadcast the Spring Series and will also air a regular highlights programme called The Women’s Football Show.

How The Deal Follows On From Recent Sponsorship Trends

This deal follows on from the overall trend within football for sponsorship to be increasingly segmented, which really started when Manchester United signed a deal with DHL for the logistics firm to become their official training kit sponsor in 2011.

United are actually an excellent example of this (see my recent post on the Deloitte Football Money League for more background on their commercial prowess). It was estimated late last year that the club has 65 (yes 65 – hence why they came top of Deloitte’s list) official commercial partners (see a full list here).

This ranges from the sublime to the bizarre: a global mattress and pillow partner (Mlily), “office equipment partner” (Epson) and a logistics partner (unsurprisingly DHL). Many clubs are now following this template and seeking new, growth areas to generate commercial partnerships in.

What’s the next big growth area for sponsorship for football clubs, outside of the women’s game?

My best guess is that eSports will be next, especially as Premier League clubs are increasingly jumping into this sector (as seen by Manchester City signing up Kieran Brown becoming their first eSports player last year, with many following this now too). We’ll likely see club-affiliated players and teams potentially getting their own kit sponsorships which appeal to the gaming audience.

Again, this is just a hunch, but given the rise of services like Loot Crate, which “provides monthly boxes of geek and gaming related merchandise”, gamers are quite likely to open their wallets to buy merchandise. This is something gaming retailer Gamestop has found out, generating $200 million in revenue in 2015 from this stream (read a great story from MCV here for more background).

Returning to women’s football however, much like United’s deal with DHL in 2011 offered a template for other clubs to copy, Liverpool’s partnership with Avon will do much the same. It would be foolish to ignore the growth of the female game and miss out on huge commercial opportunities, expect to see many other brands jump into this space quite quickly, which can only be a good thing for the women’s game continued growth.

Also, importantly, other sports would do well to learn from this to reach a hugely untapped market. As mentioned in a previous post, some sports brands, such as Under Armour are specifically targeting women, which has helped their revenues significantly.