Celebrating in the stands at Wembley last Sunday as Chloe Kelly scored the winner for England in the Women Euros final was simply euphoric. My youngest daughter sat alongside me, and for her it was a unique experience – or as she put it “I’m part of an historic moment”.
I appreciate that many will argue how historic this final was when compared to other events happening currently worldwide, but they will be missing that for an entire generation, this was a moment they will remember forever.
However, what struck me even more throughout the tournament, and the hours after the final, was the entirely different atmosphere which has surrounded the matches, and the legacy it is sure to leave on the sporting environment in the UK.
It often felt like nothing less than witnessing the birth of a new kind of sports entertainment. Same venues, same pitches, same ball, but an entirely novel atmosphere, catering for a brand-new audience, many of whom had never considered engaging with either the men’s or the women’s game.
We saw stadiums packed with more young fans than I’ve ever witnessed before in football, along with numbers of women you’d never dream of seeing in a Premier League stadium. I truly see this as the potential birth of a new fan experience, and these fans are now undoubtedly hooked on women’s sport. This presents a huge untapped audience for brands to advertise to, which will pose a significant and interesting challenge to the men’s game. Not only will the audience be huge, but brands will also be able to partner with a much more family-friendly version of the sport.
The growth and appeal of the women’s sport can already be seen in the data, even before this week’s monumental result. While some sports are still yet to see their participation levels fully recover from Covid, for women’s football, based on data from 624 leisure centres and 100k data points, participation has not just recovered, but has actually exceeded the 2019 figures by 16 per cent. It seems inevitable that the Lionesses’ stunning victory will only drive this surge further upward.
Such momentum should not be ignored. Much in the way Formula E is beginning to take the fight to its more established ‘older brother’ Formula One, and draw big car brands to the younger audiences in packed-out city centres, women’s football will now come into its own. The slogan of the London 2012 games was ‘Inspire a generation’; looking at the faces of the girls at Wembley last Sunday, I saw that same inspiration in their eyes.
Years from now, when those girls have become ardent football fans – and some players themselves, we will look back at July 2022 as a defining moment when the face of football changed forever.
Author: Eloy Mazon, 4Global CEO, a data and consultancy company who provide insight on activity for policy and business decisions and advise countries, cities and organisations who are planning/ hosting major sporting events.