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  • Writer's pictureEdem Kojo Spio

The Sponsorship Potential Of African Women's Football

Introduction


2022 was both a crucial and an amazing year for African women’s football. The hype, attention and appreciation of the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (WAFCON) increased immensely as South Africa, Morocco, Nigeria and Zambia proved to everyone on the continent that women’s football is top quality and here to stay as they qualified for the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023. For those who watched the WAFCON, it was quite clear that African women’s football has surpassed its “potential to be amazing” status and has now arrived. 45,562 fans attended the semi-final game played at the Complexe Sportif Prince Moulay-Abdellah in Rabat between Nigeria and Morocco. 50,000 fans cheered on South Africa and Morocco during the final, making it the most attended WAFCON fixture to date.


The CAF Women’s Football Strategy – a 23-page strategy aiming to provide an innovative approach to maximise the vast talent pool, the commercial potential and the social impact of the women’s game across the continent - is suggested by many to be the reason for a successful WAFCON 2022. Women’s football on the continent has since made significant strides to develop and steadily become as competitive as those in Europe, Oceania and America. WAFCON 22 has proved to all that African women’s football will attain global status regarding the quality of play, investments and engagement in the years to come.


Although the level of professionalization and commercialization is gradually increasing, African women’s football still isn’t as lucrative business-wise as compared to its male counterparts. People do elude to the fact that women’s football is comparatively undeveloped and risky. This is true to a fair extent as women’s club football in Africa is still a very long way from being properly structured. In Europe and the Americas, one can list over 30 teams that have an operational structure that enables the women’s team to perform week-in-week- out. There are many academy pathways for young girls and the level of professionalization is second to none. This cannot be said about African women’s clubs. Though women’s club football is lagging compared to men’s club football with regards to commercial appeal, media coverage and fan engagement; the global growth in women’s football – more African stars performing on the biggest stages - and the WAFCON 2022 is direct evidence that once the right investments come through, the impacts will include both quantitative and qualitative ROI.


According to SponsorUnited - the leading global sports and entertainment intelligence platform that tracks 700,000+ sponsorships and endorsements across 200,000 brands - partnership deals in women's sports experienced a 20% increase in 2022 across the U.S. and Europe. Top global brands such as DAZN, Visa, Barclays, TikTok and Deloitte are actively investing tens of thousands of dollars in women’s football – infrastructure, coaching education, technical staff, fan engagement initiatives and CSR activations - as they understand the long-term commercial revenue that will be made as the women’s game continues to rise as well as the goodwill it brings as the sport continues to break the bias between men and women’s football. Both African brands and international brands should be willing to accord similar investment into African women’s football.


This paper seeks to highlight the perceptions of stakeholders within the African football ecosystem on sponsorship in African women’s football. It focuses on the current relationship structure between sponsors of African women’s football and rights holders. The research findings provide an understanding of the sponsorship potential of African women’s football and its ability to neatly meet both quantitative (commercial) and qualitative (socio-cultural) goals. The paper concludes by outlaying some ideas to organisations interested in sponsoring African women’s football.


Literature Review


The following themes were explored in the literature review. Below is a table showing the sources used for the analysis of each theme.


Themes

Sources

Understanding sponsorship in sports

  • Amis, J., Slack, T. and Berrett, T. (1999), “Sport sponsorship as distinctive competence”.

  • Copeland, R., Frisby, W., and McCarville, R. (1996). “Understanding the Sport Sponsorship Process from a Corporate Perspective”.

  • Musante, M., Milne, G.R. and McDonald, M.A. (1999) “Sport sponsorship: evaluating the sport and brand image match”.

  • Olkkonen, R. (2001), “Case study: The network approach to international sport sponsorship arrangement”.

Aspects of sports sponsorship growth

  • Koronios, K.,Vrontis, D and Thrassou A. (2021), “Strategic sport sponsorship management – A scale development and validation”.

  • Chun-Hua, H., Kai-Yu, T., Yu- Sheng, S. (2021), “An Empirical Exploration of Sports Sponsorship: Activation of Experiential Marketing, Sponsorship Satisfaction, Brand Equity, and Purchase Intention”.

Measuring effective sports sponsorship


  • Goldman, M., Blake, J., and Fourie, Sonja. (2018), “The Relationship between Sports Sponsorship and Corporate Financial Returns in South Africa”.

  • Walraven, M., Koning, R., and van Bottenburg, Maarten. (2012), “The effects of sports sponsorship: A review and research agenda”.

  • Lough, L., Irwin, L. (2001), “A Comparative Analysis of Sponsorship Objectives for U.S. Women's Sport and Traditional Sport Sponsorship”.

Sponsorship Activations in Sport

  • Schönberner, J. and Woratschek, H. (2022), “Sport sponsorship as a booster for customer engagement: the role of activation, authenticity and attitude”.

  • Gillooly, L., Crowther, P. and Medway, D. (2017), "Experiential sponsorship activation at a sports mega- event: the case of Cisco at London 2012".

  • Bjerke, R. and Kirkesaether, E. (2020), “How Should Sponsorship Activation Work? A Sports Event and Athlete-Based Brand Building Framework (SEA-BB) Capturing an Internal and External Route”.

  • Dreisbach, J., Woisetschläger, D., Backhaus, C. and Cornwell, B. (2021), “The role of fan benefits in shaping responses to sponsorship activation”.

Methodology


Given the lack of industry-ready literature for analysing the sponsorship landscape in African women’s football; the research used an etic epistemology approach – the stakeholders (secondary) are ‘observers’ of African women’s football. Additionally, the researcher used a constructivist stance as its ontological position – accounts given by the participants are subjective. Thus, the philosophy used by the researcher was the interpretivist stance – the reality of both the researcher and the participant is subjective, affected by social relations, and made of multiple perspectives.


Ten semi-structured interviews were conducted with ten stakeholders across different sectors within African football – female football clubs, sports management organisations, business entities involved in sport and ex-players etc. These stakeholders have been directly linked to African women’s football via either their direct participation in women’s football as players on the pitch or decision-makers in women’s football off the pitch and in the board rooms. The essence of the interview was to get a first-hand understanding of the current sponsorship climate in African women’s football and the potential ideas/tips/steps that can be implemented to improve it. The researcher used an exploratory approach and applied an inductive stance – observing patterns in the thoughts of stakeholders and subsequently concluding based on it - in this study. The background of the interviewees was first identified and ranked in order of expertise and relevance to the research. The former considers the number of years in the African football industry and the latter focuses on the role/position the participant played or plays in the African football industry. The researcher found it crucial to do so as it allowed the study to determine if there would be major or minor differences in perspectives based on the understanding of the research topic and its connection to it. Using semi-structured interviews allowed for an in-depth understanding of the research topic from multiple expert opinions as open-ended interview questions ensure a high level of expressiveness. Additionally, it enables interviewees to respond to research questions as per their understanding of how the researcher portrays and explains the questions. Below is a table showing the profiles of the ten stakeholders.



Group

No. of interviewees

Description

Female football clubs

3

Men and women working in female football clubs in Africa.

Sports management organisations

3

Men and women working for sports management organisations in African football.

Brands involved in sports

2

Men and women working for brands that are involved in African football.

Ex-players

2

Women who were once semi- professional/professional football players.

RESULTS


The interview questions are as follows:


  • What are your thoughts on the current nature of sponsorship in African women’s football? Has it evolved over time?

  • Are there any existing challenges/barriers to investing in sponsorship for African women’s football?

  • Do you have any idea of the current strategies being utilised to attract sponsorship in Africa women’s football?

  • Why would an entity consider sponsoring an aspect of women’s football in Africa? What will either encourage or discourage them?

  • Looking at the growth of African women’s football since the creation of the CAF Women’s Football Strategy in 2019, what kind of sponsorship activation will work best in African women’s football?

  • List three reasons why local or global brands should consider investing in sponsorship in African women’s football.

  • What strategies will you employ to increase the sponsorship situation in women’s football in Africa?

  • In the next 5 to 10 years, where do you see the sponsorship landscape for African women’s football reaching?

Thematic analysis was conducted on the data obtained from the interviews and the following major themes emerged as a result:


  • Active data collection and analysis.

  • Attracting potential sponsors.

  • Qualitative value of women’s football.

  • Risk analysis: challenges and solutions.


Active data collection and analysis

Access to high-quality data and analysis on any aspect of sport serves as one of the key deciding factors for a brand to enter a sponsorship with a sports entity, in this case, an African women’s football team. It is clear that the likes of VISA, Barclays and Heineken have been highly motivated to invest millions of dollars into sponsorship of women’s sports in Europe due to access to the “numbers” driving the game off the field. Fan engagement values in the forms such as viewership, interactions (online or in-person), financial capacity and spending are golden when considering sponsoring a sports entity or not. There is limited access to relevant data on fan engagement in African women’s football. This is changing as sports entertainment entities such as SuperSport are now actively tracking the growth of women’s football on the continent. SuperSport’s report on women’s football in South Africa is as follows:


Although women’s sport does not equal that of the male version, there has been growth in viewership over the past 4 years. Football seems to be the most preferred sporting code amongst all of the Women’s sport that we have broadcast on the SuperSport channels. The FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019 brought in on average over 170 000 viewers for the competition – SA matches in the tournament averaged over 700 000 viewers. The match against Spain had over 1 200 000. In the CAF Champions League 2021, viewership averaged just over 60 000 – in the SA market, Sundowns matches had good audiences and the final was watched by 240 000 viewers across the DStv platform.”


For top global brands with money to spend on sponsorship, the viewership figures aforementioned are not “convincing enough as compared to stats obtained in Europe. 23.2 million people in the UK enjoyed the UEFA Women's Euros (WEUROS) 2022 final between England and Germany (17.4 million TV viewers + 5.9 million digital streamers), making it the biggest UK television event of the year to date. Additionally, the WEUROS experienced the highest attended UEFA Euros match in both the men's and women's editions - 87,000+ people enjoying the final at Wembley.


The onus is on African women’s football teams to make data and analysis accessible as there aren’t as many third-party organisations to outsource this to. All stakeholders agreed that both national and club women’s teams must invest in systems that will enable the smooth collection and analysing of viewership figures, fan experience and opinions, and social media following of their teams as this will surely enhance their brand positioning and prove to potential sponsors that based on the numbers, an investment of “x percent” in sponsor will generate “y percent” in revenue over “z” number of years.


If you think deeply about it, the reason why some of the biggest female teams in world football are receiving majority of the massive contracts is because the top business brands have access to extensive data on fan engagement – social media and in-person, viewership numbers, on-pitch participation and talent pool. Clubs like Chelsea, Arsenal, Lyon, Manchester, Real Madrid and Barcelona are actively investing in sophisticated tracking metrics that truly draw a whole picture of both the state of women’s football at their respective clubs and the potential ahead should investments increase. When it comes to negotiating for sponsorship deals, they know very well that they have the upper hand as these potential sponsors will certainly want to be associated with either the Chelsea or Barcelona women’s football team for both commercial and socio-cultural benefits.”


Return next week for part 2...

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