Women’s Sport Series – Weekend Read: The Legacy of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023

Sold-Out Jerseys, Record Attendance and Viewership Figures and $1.32 Billion of Economic Impact: The Legacy of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023

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5 minutes. That’s all it took for the now legendary purple jersey worn by the Australian (‘Matildas’) goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold during the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup (2023 FWWC) to sell out following its first online release at 12pm on Tuesday 26 February 2024. Arnold was the Matildas’ goalkeeper during the 2023 FWWC and won over fans with her heroic efforts during their quarter-final victory against France, in which her efforts during the penalty shootout secured the Matildas’ first semi-final appearance at a FIFA World Cup finals tournament). Whilst there were a number of Matildas fans left disappointed by the record sellout of the jerseys (albeit only temporarily, with in-person sales of the jerseys at various retail premises and stores having kicked off), the record sales highlight the extraordinary level of demand and interest in the Matildas that has continued well after the team’s record-breaking run, in which they achieved the best result by a senior Australian national football team at any FIFA tournament (and just this week, the Matildas managed to sell out their 13th straight home game for their upcoming friendly against China PR at Adelaide Oval on 31 May 2024).

And the Matildas’ record-breaking has not been limited to their achievements on the football pitch. Football Australia’s recently released ‘Legacy ‘23’ – Building on Australia’s Global Football Triumph’ report (Legacy Report) – which details the impact, investment and progress that was achieved following the hosting of the FWWC – indicates that the hosting of the 2023 FWWC generated wide-ranging social, health, economic and sporting impacts for Australia, which included AUD$1.32 billion of economic impact (with the presence of 86,654 visitors in Australia being a major driver of this economic activity), AUD$2.78 billion in accumulated media value (across all media including online, TV, radio and podcasts, along with Australian and NZ print) and an estimated reduction in healthcare costs of $324 million due to increased physical activity levels brought about by the inspiration effect from the FWWC. In addition, Football Australia was able to secure more than $398 million in Federal and State Government funding for Legacy ’23 related projects through the hosting of the 2023 FWWC, which included a $200 million grant from the Federal Government for Football Australia’s ‘Play Our Way’ program, which is designed to promote the establishment of safe, inclusive and sustainable facilities and programs to support the engagement of women and girls in sport and physical activities across Australia.

In addition, and in relation to viewership and consumption of the event (both in Australia and overseas), the Legacy Report indicates that the 2023 FWWC was attended and viewed by more people than any previous edition of the tournament. According to the Legacy Report, a total of 2 million people attended the matches in-person (including the 86,654 international visitors referred to above), a global audience of almost 2 billion people tuned in to watch the 2023 FWWC (fuelled by large contributions from key broadcast markets across Asia, Europe and the UK) and, within Australia itself, the Matildas’ semi-final match against England achieved the largest viewing audience in the history of free-to-air terrestrial ratings of 11.15 million people (a figure which represents over 43% of the population (and which does not include those viewers that consumed the match via Optus Sport’s subscription streaming service)). Perhaps not surprisingly, the attendance and viewership figures achieved in relation to the 2023 FWWC established it as the most successful edition of the FIFA Women’s World Cup to date.

Beyond the financial and economic benefits achieved, the Legacy Report also indicates that the 2023 FWWC generated a number of significant social and community benefits across the country – both at a grassroots and a professional level. This included, for example, promoting gender participation in football by increasing the participation of women and girls in football from 21% to 26% (when compared against 2021 levels), encouraging more schools across Australia to introduce football programs, which resulted in a 19% surge in football school programs being offered (when compared against the same period in 2022) and helping to shift the attitudes and behaviours of men and boys in Australia towards female athletes and women’s sport in general (according to the Legacy Report, 1 in 5 of the male social media followers of the Matildas indicated that they were new to women’s football post the 2023 FWWC).

Whilst the findings in the Legacy Report underscore the immense popularity and widespread support achieved by the Matildas at the 2023 FWWC, they also highlight a number of clear themes and opportunities for commercial stakeholders and partners considering an investment in women’s sport to be aware of, including the following:

  • the increased level of visibility and exposure being offered to commercial partners through the rapid growth in the consumption of women’s sport – on both a domestic and global scale – is providing brands and investors with a significant opportunity to align themselves with these events, teams and athletes in order to benefit from the increased levels of visibility and exposure provided. The Matildas’ semi-final match against England being the most viewed sporting event in Australian television history, and the tournament reaching a global audience of almost 2 billion people, is clear evidence of the opportunities for brands associated with these events to gain domestic and international exposure. To provide one example, Commonwealth Bank (or ‘CommBank’) – which is the Matildas’ current naming rights partner – reported that a comprehensive content and social media strategy deployed by it during the 2023 FWWC drove record levels of reach and engagement with its brand, with over 15 million impressions and 109,000 minutes of social media content consumed, as well as close to 20,000 participants taking part in the ‘Train like a CommBank Matilda’ activations that were set up at stadiums across Australia during the tournament;
  • similarly, the growth in the exposure of, and participation in, women’s sport is providing clothing and apparel partners with an opportunity to maximise commercial sales of the relevant team and/or sport-related products. In this respect, the Legacy Report indicates that active subscribers to Football Australia’s e-commerce store increased by 341% during the FWWC 2023 and Nike – which is the supplier of the 2023 Matildas team kit (including Mackenzie Arnold’s replica goalkeeping jersey) recorded record-breaking demand for the Matildas jerseys during the FWWC 2023. The decision taken by Nike and Football Australia to sell replicas of Mackenzie Arnold’s goalkeeping jersey from the 2023 FWWC reflects a response to consumer demand for a jersey that would not traditionally be made available for sale to consumers and the power of what representation means to many consumers. In this respect, the decision to sell replicas of Arnold’s 2023 FWWC jersey demonstrates the types of new commercial opportunities being presented to brands (such as Nike) in relation to the growth in the popularity of women’s sport and, more specifically, high profile female athletes; and
  • the levels of funding and investment often generated through the hosting of major sporting events (such as the 2023 FWWC) present a clear opportunity for commercial stakeholders involved in the development and management of sporting precincts and facilities to be involved in such projects. This opportunity extends to the sporting organisations themselves, which generally benefit from the use of these improved precincts and facilities in order to drive participation at both a grassroots and professional level. As noted above, the Legacy Report indicates that Football Australia was able to unlock $398 million in Federal and State Government funding for Legacy ’23 related projects, which were allocated to projects such as stadia upgrades, venue specific training site enhancements and high-performance facilities. It is expected that these improvements and enhancements to the relevant stadia and facilities will significantly contribute to the increased levels of female participation in football in Australia, as well as supporting other sports in Australia beyond football for years to come.

The Legacy Report indicates that the hosting of the FWWC was a tremendous success both on and off the pitch, furthering the Matildas’ reputation as one of the country’s most popular sporting teams on the pitch and generating huge success for those commercial partners that were able to benefit from the rapid growth in the popularity of the Matildas team off the pitch. With a number of other major sporting events on the horizon in Australia, including the 2027 Netball World Cup, 2029 Rugby World Cup, and the 2032 Brisbane and Paralympic Games, there is no better time for commercial partners considering an investment in women’s sport to put their money where the movement is and unlock the significant commercial value to be gained by doing so. Just ask Nike.

Tom is a Senior Associate in Bird & Bird’s Media, Entertainment and Sports Group in Sydney. He regularly advises a broad range of clients across the sector, including national and international sports governing bodies, event organisers, player associations and other commercial stakeholders in relation to a range of corporate, commercial and regulatory matters. On the commercial front, he has advised on media rights and broadcast deals, sponsorship agreements, production services agreements as well as venue hire, licensing and content deals, data rights and various other general commercial agreements. On the regulatory front, he has advised clients in relation to a range of issues relating to major events, sports governance, player contracting, broadcasting, media and content regulatory issues, anti-corruption, gambling, advertising, and consumer protection issues. He also regularly presents on a range of key issues that are relevant to the sports and entertainment sectors, including child safeguarding in sport, restraints of trade in a sporting context, sports data rights, major events legislation and governance in a sporting context.
Brianna is a partner in our Sydney office, working in the Media, Entertainment and Sports group. She provides specialist advice and represent sports clients in a wide range of matters, in particular when it comes to their regulatory, integrity, governance, and contractual affairs. Working alongside Rich Hawkins, our Sydney team provides a full-service offering for all sports commercial and regulatory/contentious matters, servicing clients in Australia, the Asia-Pacific region, and further internationally. She also works closely with our market leading sports team in London on their international matters.

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