Earmarked as an ‘extraordinary moment of history’ by the European Club Association, the reforms to the UEFA Women’s Champions League sees the tournament take a ‘giant step forward’.
Nielsen Sports Women’s Sport Global Lead & Head of Brands, Lynsey Douglas, told Insider Sport why the women’s tournament could be self-sustainable within a matter of cycles, as a result of the proposals.
European football has undisputedly hogged the limelight of late, with the formation and subsequent collapse of the European Super League and reforms to the men’s UEFA Champions League. However, the Women’s Champions League has also undergone some drastic changes of its own and arguably, away from the spotlight.
Last month, it was revealed that women’s football clubs across the continent would benefit from a €24 million cash boost when the revamped Champions League comes into effect next season, with 23% of the total sum made available through ‘solidarity payments’ to teams not partaking in the tournament.
“It’s a really positive step by UEFA,” Douglas noted. “Women’s sport needs a solid structure and strategy to succeed, and I see this change as providing the building blocks to move the Women’s Champions League towards becoming a commercially successful competition.
“At Nielsen, we believe that Women’s Sport should innovate and not just follow the men’s model, and two area’s I was pleased to see are maternity cover regulations and solidarity payments for teams not playing in the Champions League, showing that the wider picture for women’s football is being considered.
BT Sport recently announced it would air next week’s Women’s Champions League final between Chelsea and Barcelona on 16 May live for free on the broadcaster’s official YouTube channel, along with the BT Sport 2 television channel.
However, centralisation of the commercial and media rights from the group stages onwards is a large component of the reforms, earmarked as a vital piece of the puzzle by Douglas.
She added: “The centralised media rights are an important piece as previously the teams owned the rights up until the final, so there wasn’t a clear package that could be sold to a broadcaster in advance. UEFA can now offer an attractive package where a broadcaster can plan around season long rights and how they can utilise them to build regular engagement with a fanbase.”
In turn, this is likely to drive fan engagement around the tournament, Douglas added, with women’s sport and more specifically, football, drawing in more interest after the FA Women’s Super League also penned a record-breaking deal with the BBC and Sky earlier this year.
“From Nielsen Sports Fan Insights, we know that the fanbase for women’s football is growing across Europe and this is fuelled by the major events such as the FIFA World Cup. Therefore, the Women’s Champions League provides a great opportunity for existing and new fans to watch top level club football more regularly and to build the profile of top players.
“With more games and more access, the Women’s Champions League can start to bridge the gap between the major quadrennial events and domestic leagues. With almost one billion viewers of the FIFA Women’s World Cup and the likes of Chelsea Women growing their Instagram following to over 2.5 million; the pinnacle of the club game in Europe has plenty of opportunity to grow audiences, spectators, and digital engagement.”
From a sponsorship perspective, it is inevitable that the competition’s commercial partners will likely see an increase in value to partnerships, with Walkers, Visa, Hublot and Nike among some of the sponsors of the Women’s Champions League.
Breaking down the figures, Douglas began: “From Nielsen Sports Sponsorglobe data we estimate that UEFA are generating upwards of €10 million a year from Women’s Competition sponsors. These changes will deliver more value to those sponsors from the Champions League (they also get rights to the Women’s Euros) through more matches, higher audiences and therefore more brand exposure and opportunity to be active. It also provides UEFA with an even more attractive package to offer to new sponsors.
“UEFA talked about cross-investment from the men’s side of the game with the long-term strategy to grow the Women’s competition. They recognise that the Women’s Champions League isn’t suddenly going to be a huge revenue generator, as with all women’s sport it needs strategy and investments across various aspects to really succeed – whether that is the on-field product, ticket sales, building digital engagement and sponsors becoming more involved in the game at the league and club level.”
She concluded: “If all parts of the game are moving in the same direction there’s no doubt that the UEFA Women’s Champions League could be self-sustainable and very successful within a few rights cycles.”