The Lionesses are poised to increase their sponsorship value tenfold after their win on Sunday, PR experts have predicted, with individual players likely to secure lucrative brand deals and endorsements worth millions of pounds.
But there were calls on Monday to ensure that the inevitable spike in interest, and funding, also cascades down to grassroots level, including making sure that women’s teams don’t continue to be lumped with unsociable pitch hours or remote places with poor access to public transport.
A record-breaking 17 million viewers watched England’s 2-1 victory over Germany, making it the most-watched women’s football game in UK television history and the most-watched TV event of the year. Another 87,192 fans saw them live at Wembley stadium.
James Herring, an expert in consumer brands and PR, and co-founder of the agency Taylor Herring, said those figures matter. “If you’re a big brand and you’re thinking of investing millions in sports sponsorship, you need to know there will be a return to your investment from bums in seats and eyes on matches and this tournament has done that … They’ve smashed it. It’s been brilliant,” he said.
The squad will reportedly receive a bonus of £55,000 each, totalling £1.3m, for winning the tournament under a deal with the Football Association (FA). This is in addition to a reported £2,000 a match in appearance fees.
Brands have already flocked to the squad, with right-back Lucy Bronze striking deals with Pepsi and Visa, for example, but this is expected to be only the start. “I think the sponsorship values for the Lionesses will increase tenfold from what they can expect to be banking from commercial values,” Herring said.
He estimates that the team’s sponsorship value will have now gone into the hundreds of millions of pounds, while individual players could expect to net deals worth millions.
“The people who have stood out in this tournament will be the first pool of contact for brands; from goal scorers, gamechangers in those key matches, and those who have something about them in their own personality.”
Mark Borkowski, a PR consultant and author, agreed that in terms of their authenticity, leading players in the team are worth millions. “The team are very powerful and make no mistake we will be celebrating this as long as we celebrated the 1966 World Cup win,” he said.
David Alexander, founder and managing director of the sports PR agency Calacus, said many brands have been slow to support on the whole and will be eager to catch up.
“English women’s football has been on a positive trajectory for the past few years, particularly with new sponsorship and broadcasting deals investing significantly in the game,” he said. “Hopefully that will have an impact on endorsements and player contracts that see professional players getting closer to the incomes the men have enjoyed for decades.”
For Yvonne Harrison, chief executive of Women in Football, it’s crucial that grassroots teams which sustain women’s football also benefit financially. “We’re not going to get the depth in terms of championship players and super league players without having a growing base at the bottom,” she said.
Louise McGing, a spokesperson for AFC Leyton, who in 2021 was a finalist for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Unsung Hero award, agrees. “Brands need to create their own market by investing in the next generation of elite football players at grassroots level,” she said.
“This means not being obsessed with ROI [return on investment] and ticket and spectator numbers but thinking of the long game and bigger picture around what this can mean for football, the legacy and their own brand.”
Sophia Axelsson, AFC Wimbledon Women’s general manager, added that sustainability of these sponsorship and partnerships across the board is vital to ensuring the sport is as accessible as possible.
She said: “To be able to grow women’s football in England, that money can’t stay in the top. There will be a continued lack of diversity and inclusion if the money just stays with those top teams.”
The largest financial hurdle is finding affordable places to play and train, Axelsson added. This issue is particularly acute in large cities and urban areas where longstanding men’s team have priority, McGing added, with women’s teams often offered hard-to-reach pitches or time slots at unsociable hours.
Harrison is hopeful that change at the top will be felt at the bottom. She said: “The women’s football community seems to be quite unique in that it wants everyone to benefit and everyone to grow. It doesn’t seem like an elitist sports that is for the few.”
As for individual players with skyrocketing profiles, the women’s game has an opportunity to avoid the pitfalls seen in the men’s game, said Doug Reed, general manager at Player4Player, an organisation founded by ex-internationals and Premier League players to mentor and empower footballers.
“We see it in the men’s game. So many players have great careers and earn great money, but then, because of bad advice, they finish their careers and they don’t have much to show for it,” he said.
Reed hopes to see the strong community spirit within women’s football maintained and scaled up, so players are supported throughout their careers and are not treated as disposable once the spotlight moves on