Two-thirds of UK set to tune into the women’s World Cup, but are advertisers watching?

Despite an engaged, excited audience, brands are still failing to embrace the opportunities that the women’s World Cup brings

Nikky Hudson

Head of Product - Data and Programmatic Services Nano Interactive


The ad industry still suffers from sexism. But don’t take my word for it, look at the numbers. 

Exhibit A: the Women’s World Cup. In June, Nano commissioned research that surveyed a representative sample of 2000 Britons, two-thirds of whom said they planned to watch the 2023 competition.  Sources tell us peak viewing for the men’s team in Qatar hit 19.4 million. By comparison, the Women’s Euros final reached 17.5m UK viewers, while both figures don’t include those watching online. 

We should obviously be careful about any hasty claims here. But three-quarters of respondents also said they are more engaged than for the previous tournament in 2019. And when you add in the Lioness’ heroics at the Euros – especially if England go the distance, we could reasonably expect viewing to be higher than ever. 

The ad industry still suffers from sexism. But don’t take my word for it, look at the numbers.

Nikky Hudson, Head of Product - Data and Programmatic Services, Nano Interactive

Meanwhile, FIFA was embroiled in a spat with broadcasters over rights for the tournament. In Italy, the original offer stood at around 0.2% of the men’s competition in Qatar, though UK broadcasters settled on the giddy heights of an 8% equivalent offer. While the same piece makes the point that FIFA have their own cross to bear for where the women’s tournament sits right now, having deemed it “worthless and unprofitable” since it started, the media and marketing world hardly have the same excuse.

Live Sports & the Solution to Fragmentation

Clearly, rights costs are informed by advertiser interest. Which is baffling when you consider major sporting events were always supposed to be a solution to fragmentation in advertising, bringing together live moments and huge audiences, unmatched in a world of a million TV apps and devices. Not to mention Nano’s research here, which suggested that disposable incomes for those watching this year could be as high as £7bn. And that a quarter of viewers have household earnings of about £60k. Finally, dispelling any last assumptions, the gender split of those watching would be 52% male versus 48% female. 

Despite all of the above, as a piece in the Media Leader showed, advertisers are largely still not on board: “the lack of brand activation is hard to ignore” according to one agency leader. Experts blame early game times for the event, though games occurring during the work day in previous tournaments was notable in its absence as a similar issue. 

A Billion Viewers in 2019

FIFA's own statistics from the 2019 tournament show consumption was up 250% in Europe, and grew than 500% in South America on the previous event. The average global live audience across the competition was double the previous World Cup. And more than 400m people in Asia watched - more than a billion across all platforms. But despite all of this, the fact remains advertisers have arguably not jumped on board. 

Why is an industry that is normally such an advocate for innovation, media firsts, and – dare we say it, equality – not interested in the Women’s World Cup?

Why the WWC is Like Mobile

I’ve tried to place the emphasis above on numbers – in the hope of finding a logical argument for this. But I’m drawing a blank here. Perhaps the Women’s World Cup is like mobile. For years, and so many Mary Meeker presentations, with spend lagging inexplicably behind time spent on it?

Alternatively, perhaps advertising is just a sexist industry? In the absence of any other research into ad sector bias, not for the first time I’ll refer back to Kantar research here. It shows that 99% of laundry product ads and 70% for food and toiletry products were found to target women, while actual decision maker status is equally shared among both genders in most UK households. The same study found resulting negative impacts upon not just the campaigns in question, but the brands themselves that make such assumptions.

We all saw with our own eyes the huge impact of the Lionesses Euros win, eclipsing as it did even the efforts of the men’s team (sorry guys.) Naturally, we all expected this year’s Women’s World Cup to take women’s football to the next level. 

But when it comes to the ad business, for opportunities taken so far at least, it’s a six nil defeat.

Guest Author

Nikky Hudson

Head of Product - Data and Programmatic Services Nano Interactive


Nikky is responsible for Nano’s overall data & programmatic product offering, for use via managed or self-serve buying methods, aligning business goals with consumer needs and market demands; from off-the-shelf and bespoke data points through to white-labelled use of Nano technology and beyond.