UEFA hosted a special event to promote further opportunities for developing the sport ahead of last month's Women's Champions League final in Eindhoven.
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The spectacle of a sold-out UEFA Women's Champions League final provides the perfect opportunity to celebrate the continuing growth of the game, but as always, there remains a firm eye on the future.
As more than 30,000 supporters prepared to witness Barcelona take on Wolfsburg in Eindhoven, behind the scenes 170 people representing every major stakeholder including senior leaders from associations, leagues, clubs broadcasters and partners gathered at the Business Case for Women's Football event.
The annual event aims to facilitate the sharing of knowledge focusing on the further professionalisation of the club and league game, using the insights not only of the Business Case report itself, but also the insights of those working within the game, and those with interesting perspectives from outside of football.
The event aimed to benefit the associations and leagues in the level below the biggest, most established ones in Europe, which have already made great strides in their respective women's football development programmes.
After an introduction on how UEFA's Business Case can support stakeholders' decision-making, the event focused on offering attendees tangible insights and functional advice in the main chapters of the report. A KNVB case study looked at how they were developing the best possible sporting conditions for growth with additional input from FC Twente, who have a proven track record of success in this field. An experienced and varied event panel then looked at the pillars of image and engagement, while Just Eat Takeaway laid out the commercial opportunities.
Business Case for Women's Football
The update on the Business Case itself gave a top-line review of recent successes and growth focusing on the group of leagues and clubs in the room. The presentation emphasised the requirement of solid sporting foundations, with surveys identifying quality and competitiveness as fans' two most important factors.
Different countries have approached these goals in their own ways – such as increasing professionalism, changing league sizes, reviewing formats – but what remained consistent was that stronger sporting credentials were needed to increase engagement, improve image and further commercial growth. Several examples of commercial success were given, including in the areas of league broadcasting (Germany) and sponsorship (Scotland), while future opportunities were identified.
Sporting: Dutch game making strides
The KNVB case study was presented by the association's women's football manager Lucienne Reichardt, who demonstrated the sporting advances made in the Vrouwen Eredivisie since its foundation in 2007.
Actions being taken to further professionalise the domestic game include introducing promotion/relegation and training compensation, as well as better utilising data to make strategic decisions – all with the aim of having a club in the Women's Champions League group stage and gaining a top seven spot in the UEFA club coefficient rankings. Those efforts are already bearing fruit, as this season the league witnessed a record 33,000 attendance when Ajax met Feyenoord.
Eight-time champions FC Twente are the perfect example of how the Business Case is allowing clubs to benchmark themselves and identify where investment is required. Minke Renkens, Twente head of women's football, joined Reichardt on stage and explained: "Fifty per cent of the clubs featured in the survey had more training hours than we did, so we knew we needed to improve to keep up.
"My vision is for a fully professional first team. We are also now educating more youth players from the region, launching a second youth team this season and we hope to increase this again with the delivery of a new training centre in 2025 for our men's and women's teams."
Image and engagement: Allowing fans to fall in love
An expert panel then focused on fan engagement, giving attendees a key insight into methods to attract and retain interest. Arizona Leger, digital content producer for the New Zealand Ferns rugby team, explained their approach to increasing the exposure of the sport and the team around a World Cup campaign called 'BFF' (Black Ferns Fan). This highlighted the importance of showcasing the stories of athletes and – as the well-known initialism suggests – creating an emotional link with supporters.
Football Supporters Association head of women's football, Deborah Dilworth, discussed the differences between typical fans of men's and women's football, and Diogo Canas, social media manager at SL Benfica, offered perspectives on club digital strategy and direct interaction with supporters. Minal Modha, research director at Ampere Analysis, gave insights into engaging Gen-Z audiences.
Commercial: Partners on board
As a fast-growing, attractive sport, women's football is naturally attracting increasing interest from sponsors. Valentine Snoeren, women's football lead at UEFA partner Just Eat Takeaway, talked event attendees through the company's strategy in reaching the growing women's football audience and gave advice on how to attract sponsors to their leagues and clubs.
"We want to inspire girls, women and everyone across the globe by championing the everyday heroes of the game and elevating their real-life stories," she said, explaining how a collaborative approach can benefit all parties in the long run.
"The women's game is leaving its mark in society. It's making headline after headline and breaking barrier after barrier. As a sponsor, you have to join the conversation early on. Women's football isn't a quick win, it takes time and dedication to grow this together, but we believe we can all win, and it's worth the investment and the time."
The UEFA Business Case for Women's Football: what is it?
Launched at the start of the 2022/23 campaign, UEFA's Business Case for Women's Football report provides national associations, leagues, clubs and potential sponsors recommendations for further professionalising the sport and maximising return on investment.
The Business Case identifies the potential for a six-fold increase in the commercial value of women's football in Europe over the next ten years, with the number of fans following the game set to grow to more than 320 million.
UEFA also provides bespoke reports for individual national associations and leagues to help tailor an action plan to their specific requirements.