Exclusive - Visa signed a landmark seven-year partnership with UEFA Women’s football in 2018 to become the first ever UEFA sponsor dedicated to the women’s game, and the company remains as determined as ever to help grow the sport ahead of what promises to be a momentous few years.
“We are very happy with what we have achieved so far, but at the same time it only renewed the notion of how much still needs to be done,” Adrian Farina, head of marketing for Visa, told 90min.
“This is more than just a sport. We see this as a movement and as a good metaphor to help us talk about things that are bigger than just sports. If you read about Visa, you will always see diversity and inclusion. Sport gives you a metaphor to talk about bigger things in society, but through a lens in which Visa has credibility – we have been involved in sports for 30+ years.”
Visa was also present at the FIFA Women’s World Cup in France last summer.
“It makes me extremely happy that during the World Cup in France last year, we were the most visible, involved, committed sponsor throughout the world. Not because of the amount of money that we put in, but because we were truly there, all in, finding ways to drive visibility,” Farina said.
“Women’s football connects us to the true origin of being a sponsor, which is we’re here to help the sport develop.”
The Women’s Champions League final last Sunday brought down the curtain on an unprecedented season in global football, when holders Lyon beat Wolfsburg in Bilbao (the destination for the rearranged mini-tournament) for their fifth consecutive title.
The competition is beginning to stand on its own feet, partly aided by a distinct separation from the men’s tournament, with previous women’s finals having almost been an undercard to a main event.
“I think UEFA has already taken the right steps by decoupling the location [from the men’s final], so now it has its own identity. The men’s Champions League [this season] happened in Portugal, the women’s is happening in Spain,” Farina explained.
The coronavirus crisis stopped the usual mini-festival of football in the intended host city, but it has become a television spectacle this season instead.
“Unfortunately, we won’t be able to see what we were all hoping for, which was that this was going to happen in Vienna, the lead up to that as we’ve done last year and events in the two or three days prior to the game,” Farina said.
“That’s not happening, but to compensate we have the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final all in a matter of days. I think we are moving in the right direction but there is still so much more to do.
“Years from now, we want to be seen as one of the key companies that helped the game get from Point A to Point B.”
The pandemic led to the cancellation of domestic seasons across Europe. Despite the disappointment of a lack of action in the campaign that was initially fed by momentum developed at last summer’s World Cup, Farina is optimistic the game won’t be badly hurt longer-term.
Part of that reasoning, especially in England, is that women’s football is already more established than it was only a few years ago. There is also still plenty to look forward to, even though two major international tournaments had to be pushed back a year each.
“Although [coronavirus] is not something we wanted to happen, I don’t think long-term or medium-term it’s going to hurt,” Farina said.
“We’ve had this hiatus, but we’re already working full on for next summer. But think about the next three years – you have the Olympics next summer with women’s football being a marquee sport, a year later the European Championship in England, and a year later you have the next World Cup in New Zealand and Australia, which is going to be phenomenal as well.
“Our eyes and aims are all in that direction.”
The more exposure women’s football receives, the more it is accepted. In Scandinavia, it is already there. In Farina’s words, England and Germany are ‘almost there’ too, although there remains work to be done in eastern Europe. Turkey, however, has been a recent success story.
“Eastern Europe is the area where we are a bit more behind, but Turkey is one of the best stories of the last year. Besiktas got their team and our [Visa] ambassador over there is phenomenal. All of a sudden we started to see very, very hardcore traditional football clubs go all in behind women’s football and the tide has turned more quickly than we would have thought,” Farina said.
Over the next 12 months, Visa is keen to keep going and do even more in the women’s game, promote tournaments, improve exposure and support players.
“Our [first] aim is to get geared up for the Women’s Euros [in 2022]. In the next year we want to be clear on how we make that the most successful football event ever, to make us laugh about France , which was already phenomenal,” Farina commented, looking ahead.
“Two, is that we continue to solidify our relationship with partners like UEFA and the players – I think there is always more we can do together.
“Finally, that we advance even further in some of our programmes like ‘Second Half’ [helping players transition into retirement and a post-playing career] and what we’ve been doing with individual players, where we basically support them in side projects – Kosovare [Asllani] going back to Sweden and setting up a football clinic there, or Nadia Nadim.
“We have many players that say, ‘I want to be part of the solution for future generations, can Visa help in some way?’ Success for us would be a combination of these three things.”