ponsorship deals are routinely mocked, from Manchester United’s mattress partners to Everton’s Angry Birds sleeves, with some companies all too keen to get themselves associated with Premier League clubs. And we roll our eyes at the latest madcap scenarios players find themselves in at launch events.

However Uefa’s announcement that it has agreed a seven-year deal with Visa as the first sponsor of Uefa women’s football deserves the celebratory tone with which it was unveiled. Because, for a change, it actually is a groundbreaking deal. Why? Because as Nadine Kessler, Uefa’s head of women’s football, said, the aim is “to assign a clear value to women’s football”.

“At the end of the day it’s not about the monetary value, it’s more about showing people this game has value,” she says. “This is the message we try to send out.”

One of the most common criticisms levelled at women’s football is that it is unable to stand on its own feet. There are many reasons why this is a red herring: historic bans on women’s football in a number of countries, attitudes towards women and sport, attitudes towards women in society generally and how girls build relationships with their bodies from early on are all matters that need to be taken into account. But more simply, aside from why it is so far behind the men’s game, the women’s game has every chance of becoming self-sustaining.

This deal is the biggest sign of that potential to date and it will also accelerate growth. Unbundling the rights to women’s football from the men’s for the first time means the Uefa will be able to measure the worth and growth of the game in its own right like never before. Under the new partnership all levels of the women’s game, from grassroots to the Women’s Champions League, will be backed.

This uncoupling isn’t just financial: Uefa had already separated the Women’s Champions League final from the men’s for the first time. “These are two projects which have a similar meaning and background,” Kessler says.

“It is great to be a part of the Champions League week, in the same town, etc. The attention is massive – the whole world is already there, it has its benefits. But again, how can you say just how many people came for the women’s, how much attention we created and whether we gave women’s football a moment of its own? We hope this will be further evidence of the fact women’s football should have a platform of its own and is capable of using this platform.”

The development of women’s football is uneven. A kind of antithesis of Uefa’s impressive news were the images of the women’s Copa Libertadores winners Atlético Huila apparently sleeping on the floor of an airport on their way home from the final. The South American Football Confederation’s commitment to women’s football is clearly not in the same place as Uefa’s. But what Uefa’s new deal does is go beyond showing doubters among the public that women’s football has value; it also shows those in power within football that it has value, for their image, for their growth as an organisation, and financially.

Kessler hopes that it does inspire to that extent. “It is not just Europe, it is not just Uefa – that is always the message I am trying to spread,” she says. “We need to really try to improve things together at the same time, from a confederations point of view, from a national associations point of view, even from a clubs point of view.

“The conditions, the stages of development, are still so vast. We have different stages of development within Europe itself but then compared to many parts of the world we are quite privileged.”

Big business does not do things out of the kindness of its heart. Companies get on board when they see a wave worth riding, when there is benefit to their organisation. Women’s football has something to offer, now it faces more ethical and political questions around sponsorship, such as who it partners with.


Source: The Guardian