Uphill climb for sponsorship of first women’s football World Cup in Middle East

Although football is relatively undeveloped in the country, the arrival of the Fifa Women’s Under-17 World Cup will go a long way to putting it on the sporting map. But there are challenges to overcome.

Japan and Spain battle it out during the 2014 final in San Jose, Costa Rica. Jamie McDonald - Fifa/Fifa via Getty Images
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Qatar’s role as host of the 2022 Fifa World Cup finals has garnered headlines around the world, but Jordan will stage the Middle East’s first women’s football World Cup tournament.

This September, Jordan hosts Fifa’s Under-17 Women’s World Cup finals and the event represents a major opportunity to develop the game there.

‘This is not just a football event,” says Samar Nassar, the chief executive of the Local Organising Committee, who faces a number of restrictions from Fifa in trying to market the event.

“Six sectors were closed to us when we went into this and now eight are closed,” she says. “We can’t get sponsors in sectors where Fifa have sponsors. Kia are a Fifa sponsor so we can’t get a car sponsor and Coke are a sponsor, so we can’t get a soft drink sponsor.”

At the last U-17 Women’s World Cup in 2014 in Costa Rica, eight national supporters were brought on board. These were predominantly Latin American companies, such as Banco Nacional and Banco Popular and the local telecoms operator, Kolbi.

So far, there are just two national sponsors in Jordan: Manaseer Machinery and local telecoms firm Zain, but banking is also not open to Ms Nassar’s team.

“We are negotiating with Fifa to get banking back but it’s closed to us now. We have two sponsors and more in the pipeline. There is eight months to go and we are positive.

“We have worked a lot with advertising companies on how important this is to Jordan and really stirring the emotions.”

As a youth tournament, the U-17 Women's World Cup could tempt some youth brands, according to the sports research consultancy Repucom.

“Major international brands are already involved in football in Jordan, including adidas and Pepsi, and there are local brands that have successfully used their involvement in the sport to grow their businesses,” says Jon Long, the managing director of Repucom Middle East.

“Around two-thirds of the population is under 30, which – in spite of the many social challenges – makes it an interesting opportunity for other international youth-orientated companies looking to enter the market.”

Jordan’s standing in the football community has grown through Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, the president of the Jordan Football Association, who has twice run for the Fifa presidency.

The national team has attracted high-profile figures such as the former England international Ray Wilkins, who was the coach in 2014. Despite good crowds for the derby between Al Faisaly and Al Wehdat, the Jordan Pro League has less interest than other leagues in the region.

“There is certainly scope for [the sports industry in Jordan] to grow but – according to local experts – it will only do so if this event is used as an opportunity to upskill local people working in the industry,” says Mr Long.

“The event will certainly improve the playing and training infrastructure in the country but, perhaps more importantly, it serves as an opportunity to reinvigorate interest in the local league.

The organisers, however, want to create a wider appeal to fans and sponsors.

“We are not looking for the regular football crowd,” adds Ms Nassar, a former Olympic swimmer who competed in the Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004 Games. “This is an Under 17 event and we want families to come to the stadiums.”

That may also help to attract different sponsors to Jordan, which beat Bahrain, South Africa and Uruguay to secure the finals. The decision by Fifa’s executive committee was unanimous but represents a risk in going to a nation that, in commercial terms, remains relatively undeveloped.

Repucom values the sports industry in Jordan at just over US$250 million, which is a mere 15 per cent of the size of the industry in the UAE, but winning the rights to host the U-17 tournament has quickly had a positive impact.

Within six months of the award, the inaugural Soccerex Asian Forum was held in Jordan in May 2014. “We try to position our events in markets where there are big tournaments and the U-17 Women’s World Cup was part of that,” says the Soccerex marketing executive Freddie Rose.

The forum was held in conjunction with the Asian Football Development Project at the King Hussein Bin Talal Convention Centre and 650 delegates attended. The forum returned to Jordan in May 2015, when 897 delegates from 84 countries ­attended.

“At the inaugural event we wouldn’t expect to have that many clubs. In 2015, there was an increase in delegates across the board but there were more clubs,” says Mr Rose.

Of the buyers in attendance last year, 35 per cent came from football federations, 33 per cent from governments, 20 per cent from football clubs and 11 per cent from brands and sponsors. Ms Nassar was also there to launch the tournament emblem and the Soccerex Asian Forum will return to Jordan this year in conjunction with the U-17 tournament.

Television coverage will be important in raising the event’s profile and the tournament, which only started eight years ago, has already proved popular.

Research for Fifa by Sponsorship Intelligence claimed a total audited television audience of 24 million viewers for the 2008 tournament in New Zealand, with 673 programmes producing 1,343 hours of coverage.

Fifa does not have audited figures for the last event in Costa Rica in 2014 yet, but the 2012 Women’s U-17 World Cup in Azerbaijan produced 2,142 broadcast hours to 170 ­territories.

The highest levels of dedicated in-home coverage were from licensees across Africa and the Middle East, where a total of over 971 hours was aired across 67 territories. SuperSport provided the highest contribution with 768 hours of coverage across 21 separate channels in Africa, but Al Jazeera Sport – now beIN Sports – aired more than 122 hours across the Middle East and reached more than a million viewers.

For this year’s event, BeIN has the rights in the Middle East. There are also separate agreements with the European Broadcasting Union for 37 countries in Europe, and with Eurosport.

When Eurosport screened the 2015 Women’s World Cup from Canada, 33.8 million people had watched the finals before the knockout stage alone, but the channel is guarded about viewers and its plans for coverage of the U-17 tournament.

A spokesman describes viewing figures for the last two events as “pleasing”.

The spokesman adds: “For the event held in Azerbaijan in 2012, when the timing of matches worked particularly well for Eurosport’s audience, we saw figures at a similar level to our average live audiences for all football matches for the year.”

This year’s tournament in Jordan has a lot to live up to and as a global event for women in a Muslim country has the potential to be transformational, but only to a certain extent in commercial terms.

“Football is already really important in Jordan but in spite of Prince Ali’s involvement in the Fifa election and Hasan Ismaik’s significant stake in [the German football club] TSV 1860 München – a Jordanian who made his money in the UAE – we are not going to suddenly see Royal Jordanian Airlines sponsoring several teams in the Uefa Champions League or a Jordanian-owned European club with the financial muscle of Manchester City,” says Mr Long.

A better gauge of Jordanian ambitions perhaps lies in the recent acquisition of the English club Bristol Rovers by the Jordanian Al Qadi family. The deal gives the family, which has interests in tourism and banking, a 92 per cent stake and will help to deliver a long-mooted new 21,000 capacity stadium.

Rovers, although chasing promotion, are in the fourth tier of the English game but the deal, like the U-17 Women’s World Cup, is yet another small step forward in the commercial evolution of Jordanian football.


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