On Sunday 23 April 2017, Liverpool Ladies Football Club won their FA WSL Spring Series opener 4-1 against Yeovil Town Ladies FC. It was a strong start for the Liverpool outfit in the WSL’s one-off competition (being held to bring the FA WSL league fixtures in line with the men’s calendar). The visitors blasted four goals past the home side in a ‘new’ kit, though it was definitely not the one that the players (or the fans) had been expecting…
On 19 April 2017, Liverpool Ladies announced a new three year shirt sponsorship deal with Avon, the cosmetics and beauty brand. It is the first time that Liverpool Ladies have had a shirt sponsor distinct from their male counterparts. In making the announcement, Liverpool stated:
“We are thrilled to welcome Avon to the Liverpool Ladies FC family as their first principal partner. Avon is an iconic women’s brand with a rich history and shares the same core values as Liverpool Ladies Football Club. We are looking forward to a fruitful partnership that will help bring women’s football to the top of the agenda… We are delighted to be able to team up with Avon ahead of the WSL Spring Series. It’s an exciting time for the team and we hope that the partnership will help to inspire the next generation of female footballers.”
“Avon’s purpose is to inspire and create a world with more empowered women. This sponsorship aims to inspire women all over the world to drive real change in women’s football – breaking down social barriers, challenging stereotypes, and empowering young girls and women to play the sport that they love.”
Above all, however, the beauty brand is clear that they consider this to be an attractive and exciting business partnership and an opportunity for them to reach a broader customer base. As the company mentions ‘[w]omen’s football is gaining huge momentum – by 2018 it is set to become the second largest participant sport in the UK after the men’s game’. The partnership has been labelled an ‘evolution in female sports marketing’ as Avon has become the ‘first female focussed brand to sponsor a women’s professional football club’.
Sadly, Liverpool Ladies will need to wait another day to give their new kit its inaugural run out as the team forgot to take their shirts to the match. With little other choice, Liverpool Ladies played the match in Yeovil Town’s away strip (complete with the Yeovil Town players’ names on their backs).
Absentmindedness aside, there are plenty of reasons to be positive about the Avon/Liverpool partnership. First, the partnership is the latest in a number of similar big name brand partnerships in women’s football that demonstrate the increasing commercial attractiveness of the game. In June 2015 it was announced that The FA and SSE had signed a four year deal for SSE to become the title sponsor of the Women’s FA Cup. That announcement was rapidly followed by SSE signing a further four year partnership with the Scottish women’s national team and being granted accompanying naming rights for the Scottish Women’s Cup. The values of these sponsorship deals are unknown but (even if they are lower in value than similar partnerships with the men’s teams) the fact that big name brands are starting to see the commercial value in investing in women’s sport is a positive step and not one to be knocked.
Second and inextricably linked to the first, after years of struggling to obtain sufficient funding it seems that sponsorship deals such as the Liverpool/Avon partnership may finally provide female football teams with the capital they need to offer their players the opportunity to earn a living from their chosen profession. Such a change would surely have a positive impact on the player’s ability to focus on training and performance as well as driving participation figures by making football a more attractive career opportunity to young girls. A similar milestone moment was seen in 2014 in women’s cricket when the English women’s national cricket team signed a two year landmark deal with Kia cars after winning back-to-back Ashes contests. That deal enabled the women to become professionals for the first time and the ECB’s Head of Women’s Cricket, Clare Connor, commented that it had allowed ‘[t]he players coming through the system [to] see women’s cricket as a viable career path. It is now possible to be a professional cricketer in the women’s game – that wasn’t even an aspiration that existed a few years ago’.
Third, Avon are now one of a number of global brands who have an investment strategy specific to women’s sport to allow them to better reach female consumers and to tap into the growing trend for healthy lifestyles. For example, Kia Motors America (the US arm of Kia cars) has recently renewed its partnership with the LPGA. The partnership is described as ‘’multi-year’’ and gives Kia a ‘branding presence across seven LPGA Tour events annually, including two Majors in the ANA Inspiration and the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.’. On making the announcement, Kia stated ‘[b]oth Kia and the LPGA have experienced tremendous growth in visibility and awareness as a result of our partnership, and we are proud to extend the relationship and look forward to several more years of successful collaboration’. Against that background, one would hope that a number of other leading women’s football clubs will soon be able to secure their own big name brand sponsorship deals.
Only time will tell what the true impact of the Avon and Liverpool Ladies partnership will be. However, with commercial interest in women’s sport in the ascendency there are solid reasons to believe that the partnership may be successful in introducing women’s football to a much broader audience, engaging new players and fans and encouraging other sponsors to come forward. Provided the team remembers to pack their shirts…