Feature

Inside Visa's plan to keep women's football on the global radar

Following on from a scorcher of a summer for women’s football, Visa’s head of marketing for Europe, Adrian Farina, explains how it’s working hard to maintain the buzz around the sport as it gears up for the Uefa Champion’s League and Tokyo 2020 as part of a purpose-led brand strategy that’s already paying off.

Visa made history last year when it inked a seven-year deal with Uefa to sponsor all of its women’s competitions, including the Champion’s League and the Women’s Euros. The contract is part of a wider global commitment to the women’s game, which has also seen the financial brand enter a five-year sponsorship agreement with the US Soccer Foundation and the US Women’s National Team through to 2023.

The payments tech giant, an official Fifa partner, supported the Women’s World Cup in June too – matching its marketing spend for the tournament with the investment it funnelled the men’s World Cup in Russia 2018.

Official figures show that a combined 1.12 billion viewers tuned into official broadcast coverage of the Women’s World Cup from Lyon, France; meaning sponsors reached a record number of eyeballs.

With pitches now frosted over and the Champion’s League not kicking off until May, it’s been all too easy for advertisers put the women’s game on the bench in the meantime – but Visa’s head of marketing for Europe, Adrian Farina, says it’s firmly focused on “filling in the gaps” between tentpole events.

“We didn’t even think about walking away after the World Cup,” he tells The Drum. “The worst mistake would be for us to see this as a short-term thing.

“Many brands did that, unfortunately. They came last minute and disappeared or signed a deal and didn’t do anything to activate it, it was a good press release and that was it.

“We [aren’t just investing in women’s football] to gain press coverage, we truly believe in it. We signed a seven-year deal with Uefa frankly because it’s the longest we could sign. But we actually don’t think seven years is enough.”

To help it maintain its association with the game and fuel the buzz around it in Europe, Visa announced plans in March to support seventeen players it said aligned with its brand values of “acceptance, inclusion and innovation”. The year-round programme is designed to put Visa at the forefront of a “cultural shift” by pooling soccer stars together to create a unified voice that champions the game and inspires the next generation of players.

Among those on the European ‘Team Visa’ roster are Nikita Parris, Kim Little and Eugenie Le Sommer. The business has been supporting these athletes on and off the pitch. Last week, for instance, it gathered them together in its London HQ for a two-day summit that included training from Instagram on how to use social media to tell their stories and boost their profile. Press were also invited to speak to the players.

Though brands often feel a certain amount of trepidation about attaching themselves to sporting personalities, Farina says Team Visa has been different.

“It’s such a breath of fresh air because those discussions don’t happen. We don’t just want [to work with these] players because of how big they are, we want to work with them because of what they represent and what they can achieve. We spend zero time talking about the potential risks because they’re fantastic.”

As for how this purpose-driven initiative stands to elevate Visa’s own brand, Farina says the firm is measuring whether its association with the women’s game is helping consumers perceive Visa as a business that stands for positive change in society, instead of just a technology they use daily.

Making the Euros ‘bigger than the World Cup’

“Most of what we’re doing is visible, but there’s a lot we’re doing that isn’t visible. We’re working with the federations, working with the players, asking how we prepare for the Euros,” he adds.

Though the Champion’s League final is scheduled for May, the Uefa Euro 2021 – which will be hosted by England – is a huge priority for Farina’s team.

“We want to make it even bigger than the World Cup, that’s our ambition. We’re working with sponsors, federations, people we don’t even have a commercial relationship with just to bring more brains into the fold.”

The brand is even engaging broadcasters in discussions about how to further profile of women’s football.

“The issue right now is that there’s a lot of hype around the visibility the World Cup offers," he explains.

"We’ll probably see [some coverage] here in England, Poland and Sweden during the 2020 Olympics because those teams are qualified [for the women's football competitions] but then there’s nothing … the broadcasters have the rights for the big tournaments but they’re also the ones who can help fill in the gaps in between.”

Tokyo 2020 and beyond

If its Uefa deal seems short to Farina it’s because Visa is not a stranger to long-term partnerships. It’s been the official payment partner of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) since 1986 and recently extended that sponsorship through to 2032.

The brand’s global Team Visa Tokyo 2020 roster includes USA captain Megan Rapinoe and the marketer says the brand is “extremely excited” to activate around the event: “It’s a moment where the world comes together and it’s sub brand that stands for universal acceptance,” he adds.

Though the brand’s World Cup creative from Saatchi & Saatchi – ‘One Moment Can Change the Game’ – was firmly focused on telling the individual stories and advertises of the athletes it supports, Visa hasn’t yet decided if it will go down the same route for the Olympics or other major tournaments.

“We liked that narrative,” Farina says, “It's a good platform that has potential but we don’t have the campaigns ready yet for Tokyo or the Champion’s League Final but we felt that campaign was good territory and I wouldn’t be surprised if we continued down that route.”

As for the Olympics, Farina sees potential to collaborate with recently-unveiled headline sponsor Airbnb as a “natural partner” given the pair’s investments in technology and experiences.

“It’s a business that has been flourishing, it’s focused on experiences which has an interesting correlation with Team Visa. I expect more cool things happening, especially with new sponsors like that who are in for the long run.”

“There’s a natural connection between Airbnb’s business and ours.”

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