Towards the end of 2018, a unique announcement came out of UEFA. For the first time ever, the governing body has unbundled the commercial rights of its women’s football competitions to be sold separately.
The move set a wave of comments in the football industry and among all those comments two major brands made a commitment to be the first partners of the UEFA’s women competitions: Visa and Nike.
Many times, in order to understand where gaps and potential opportunities lie to grow the women’s game it is compared to the men’s game and some actions and commercial packages are being copied.
UEFA’s strongest asset is the UEFA Champions League. It is also a product that must be packaged and delivered in a certain way with no exceptions. When attending a UEFA Champions League match you KNOW that it is a UEFA Champions League match.
On a matchday, usually, UEFA takes over every element of the product. From ticket design to stadium signage, all is featuring the UEFA media kit guidelines and only brands associated with the competition are promoted. Sadly, with the UEFA Women’s Champions League, the opposite was experienced.
The examined UWCL match was the 2nd leg of the round of 32 knockout stage between Arsenal Women and AFC Fiorentina Femminile with Arsenal winning the tie 6-0 on aggregate.
Having seen previous Arsenal Women league games the expectation was to receive a ticket designed with the UWCL branding and featuring the competition’s sponsors. As evident in the picture below, it was simply an ordinary Arsenal Women ticket design with no mention to the fact that it is a UWCL match and displaying its sponsors. In comparison, when looking at a UEFA Champions League match ticket, although from last season, the design differences are clear.
The match in question was also the first home match back in the UWCL for Arsenal Women after 5 years of absence from the competition. You would wonder how the stadium would be dressed given the somewhat celebratory occasion and UEFA’s product takeover. Three banners and one sign partially hidden by the team benches were all the indication that a UWCL match is taking place.
Looking at the pitchside signage from a UEFA standpoint two things come to mind. First, in order to maintain a clean competition image, why the signs showing Barclays FA WSL were at least not covered if couldn’t be replaced? Second, another competition signage being left is one thing but what about taking care of your commercial partners? If not removing a competing brand at least include the ones who should be there in the first place.
Coincidentally, Arsenal Women matches in the UWCL present a clash of brands on the same stage, Mastercard and VISA. Earlier this year Mastercard has committed to be an official Arsenal Women sponsor and we mentioned VISA’s commitment to women’s football earlier. Given the branding and signage issues mentioned previously, leading to a club sponsor ambushing a competition sponsor, clearly, this shouldn’t happen.
It can be argued that given the structure of the UWCL being a knockout competition, Arsenal Women, in theory, could have been knocked out against Fiorentina and this clash of brands would have been a one-time incident and all would be forgotten.
Another argument can be that the issues raised above are minor dealings and there are bigger matters to take care of such as increasing grassroots participation and facilities improvement before taking care of “cosmetics”. But as the saying goes, the devil is in the details.