Women's football has been on the rise across the globe in recent years. Which brands will have opportunities here, also looking ahead to the Women's Euro 2022? We speak to Eefje Janus of FlowSports, who is responsible for the partnerships with top players such as Vivianne Miedema (Arsenal) and Shanice van de Sanden (Wolfsburg).
Women's football has undergone an interesting development in recent years, which is evident by the transfer fees alone, which continued to rise despite Covid. One of the management agencies specialized in women's football is FlowSports. Eefje Janus, who handles all commercial activities for the firm, says: "We will have existed for ten years in April 2022. For the first five we didn't earn a single euro, yet we continued to believe in it - encouraged by my colleague Leoni Blokhuis, who instinctively sensed that things would only improve, and her hunches were spot on, as over the past five years we've witnessed tremendous growth."
First female transfer
Leoni Blokhuis is the first person to have set up a paid transfer in Dutch women's football, namely the sale of Sherida Spitse from FC Twente to the Norwegian club LSK. It didn't stop there however, because in the summer of 2017, Blokhuis supervised no less than 15 transfers, including Vivianne Miedema's switch to Arsenal. Every summer, she handles multiple transfers. At FlowSports, Eefje Janus is responsible for partnerships with various top players. "Brands increasingly seek us out, and vice versa - especially during major tournaments. For example, we received an enthusiastic e-mail from War Child, thanking the Orange Lionesses (as the Dutch women's national team are known) for being role models for children in vulnerable areas. In response, we invited them over for an introductory meeting. Vivianne Miedema turned out to be an excellent match, and has always stated that if she hadn't pursued a career in football, she would liked to have worked with children."
The Arsenal player has now organized a sponsor run for War Child at her old primary school, and is currently a participant in the Christmas campaign set up by the organization, which is committed to children who grow up surrounded by war and violence. "For the holidays, a collaboration with HEMA has been set up, and a set of pyjamas has been designed. The underlying idea is that children in war regions are living in a nightmare. By buying the pyjamas, you support War Child and help children to make their dreams come true."
Another great collaboration that Flowsports set up with global player Miedema was with Intersport in 2018. Intersport was also the very first sponsor of the KNVB (the Dutch football association) during the women's European Championship. "A milestone in the history of women's football. The collaboration worked out beyond people's expectations for the sports brand, as 'the Orange' did extremely well, and even went on to win the tournament. Even before the final, the Intersport merchandise had completely sold out. It's a perfect example of being able to hitch a ride on the popularity of a certain sport among the general public as a brand."
Internationally, VISA placed itself on a special stage in 2018 as the first partner of UEFA women's football. "Just the fact that they were the first generated a lot of positive attention for VISA. A perfect match, as they already presented themselves as champions of diversity and inclusivity, and that's exactly what women's football stands for."
FA Women's Super League and Barclays
A collaboration that is also highly regarded is the one between Barclays and FA Women's Super League, Janus continues. "In 2019, Barclays became the first namesake sponsor of the women's league in England. That was already groundbreaking at the time. They recently announced a new £30 million deal that would double their investment in women's football, sponsoring not only the first but also the second league, which is a unique deal, as well as being a testament to how much women's football has grown in recent years."
Inclusivity and accessibility
For a partnership between a player, club or event, it is important that the core values match, according to Janus. "If you look at women's football in general, those values are inclusivity, diversity and accessibility. The latter is noticeable by the sheer fact of brands approaching both men and women within sports. We're often told that we respond quite swiftly, whereas they say there's often no response from the men." In addition, you see that female footballers sometimes earn more from commercial income than from their club salaries, Janus points out. "A good example of this is Alex Morgan who, according to Forbes SportsMoney, earned around 4 million US Dollars in 2019, of which more than 90% came from sponsorships and collaborations. In men's football, that percentage is unthinkable" (also because their salaries are much higher, KB).
Messi, Martens and Pogba
There are also brands that show that equality is of paramount importance to them, by sponsoring both male and female footballers. Janus: "Think of Pepsi placing Shanice van de Sanden (Wolfsburg) between Paul Pogba and Lionel Messi. Just like Lays, which in addition to Lionel Messi and Paul Pogba, also place Lieke Martens in the spotlight. This only works if everyone is really treated equally and the women aren't made to look like some sort of spare part. If it's more the latter, I'm not alright with that, and it's better for both parties not to do it."
As a brand, you can also anticipate factors that only apply to female footballers, Janus thinks. "For example, having a child for a female player is of course a world away from how a male footballer would experience it. For example, a few days after the birth of his daughter, Ajax player Steven Berghuis was a substitute on the bench for the first half, because he'd missed the last training session, but was already brought onto the pitch in the second half, while women, of course, are out of the team for months following the birth of their child. For Alex Morgan, for example, the big question was whether she would make it to the Olympic Games in 2020, but because the games were postponed by a year due to Covid, she was able to play. As a brand, you can react to this typical difference in a really good way - if it's relevant, of course."
Gatorade and Abby Wambach
Another nice tie-in that goes beyond just linking the brand name to women's football is the collaboration between Gatorade and Abby Wambach: "The moment this world class player quit football, Gatorade responded very strongly with a wonderful commercial. This is clearly a brand that looks at what is going on within sports, and in this case with the athlete, and finds a way to tie in with that," says Janus.
The concept of a brand collaboration really being able to add something to the lives of the female players is also demonstrated by VISA through their platform The Second Half. "This helps players discover what their qualities are off the field, so they have something to fall back on after their career in sports comes to an end, which is super relevant. In this way, as a sponsor, you're really adding something of value, in addition to contributing something towards financial support." Which brands are likely to pick up on opportunities within women's football? Janus: "There are quite a few potential brands, such as Dove for instance: a brand that is really all about female power. They show that you good just as you." What kind of brand strategy is effective within women's football? "There are several factors that are important: you have to be authentic and match the core values of the sport, the club or the player. If there's a match scheduled, it's important that you don't activate the collaboration through just a one-off tweet or press release, but really set up a long-term plan."
Ajax and ABN AMRO
Janus also believes that a long-term partnership, such as the one between ABN AMRO and Ajax since 2015, can generate the most impact. "In this way, ABN AMRO show that they really want to give women the opportunity to develop further, and are not just doing it to come across in a better light." Another good example of a long-term successful cooperation at player level is that between Lieke Martens and Zinzi, in which Janus was not involved incidentally. "This jewelry brand joined forces with Lieke at exactly the right time, I believe around the 2017 Euros. As a brand, you ride on that success. In the meantime, we can also state that Lieke Martens herself has become a global brand."
A brand collaboration at player level is enhanced tremendously if there is a genuine personal fit, Janus points out. "For example, Dominique Janssen, an Orange Lioness and Wolfsburg player, has worked with GoodHabitz. They offer online training and courses aimed at personal development; something that Dominique herself has always advocated, through, sharing her development and technique for optimal performance via Instagram for example. Also, others look to her for advice."
With the Euro 2022 just around the corner, more and more brands are seeking out Flowsports. "They often use us as a sounding board to check whether they have a suitable idea for an event or a certain player." More and more brands are looking to get involved in women's football, and their focus isn't solely on the star players either. One regular sponsor is fashion retailer Guts & Gusto. "Our soccer players can pick out a new set of clothing from that brand for interviews. We've noticed that Nike, Puma and Adidas are also keeping their eyes open for new talents, as there just might be the new Lieke Martens or Vivianne Miedema among them..."