A 4-1 win over France in Phil Neville’s first game as head coach at this month’s She Believes Cup pointed to a positive future for the England women’s team in the coming years.
It was England’s second win in 44 years over France and only their second win after two previous visits to the annual tournament in America. A draw with Germany and a narrow loss to the USA — ranked No2 and No1 in the world respectively — suggests Lionesses could build on the progress already made at the 2017 European Championships and 2015 World Cup at next year’s World Cup or even a potential home tournament in 2021. Elsewhere, more signs of the game’s good health are visible the women’s FA Cup final has enjoyed large crowds and the Women’s Super League has become exclusively for full-time professional players.
However, rivalling all the progress made on the pitch for the biggest story surrounding women’s football in recent years was the fall-out of Mark Sampson’s dismissal for “inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour” amid accusations of racism.
And yet for the Football Association's (FA) head of commercial and marketing for women’s football Marzena Bogdanowicz, whose job it is to translate the on-pitch developments into revenue, even the plethora of negative headlines that accompanied the story last year demonstrated that women’s football had arrived as a mainstream sport.
“What has surprised me than anything is the level of media profile that we’ve received over the last few months,” Bogdanowicz told City A.M.
“Five years ago we would never have had that. That is the trajectory that the women’s game is on. It’s changing day after day. The media attention is much higher than it’s ever been. That is all positive and shows the potential that is there for the women’s game.
“The level of media interest in the women’s game just means that we’re going to have a real trajectory going forward for where the game can go.”
A large component of Bogdanowicz’s role — created by the FA for the first time in 2017 — is to get sponsors and commercial partners working directly with the women’s game, not as a nice bonus from sponsoring the men’s team.
Bogdanowicz, who helped turn Great Britain at the Olympics into the internationally recognised “Team GB” while at the British Olympic Association and has nearly two decades’ worth experience in the sports marketing space, is insistent that the FA has made large strides in recognising that its commercial power does not only lie in its men’s teams and competitions.
“Absolutely, without question,” she says.
“My role in itself shows the FA’s commitment to to doing things differently and with a greater focus. We’ve also appointed a huge number of roles specifically for the women’s game on coaching, participation, performance but also in broadcast, social [media], digital, partnerships.
“A lot more individuals now are working specifically on the women’s game but in a way that’s integrated across the business, not isolated in one division.”
Bogdanowicz is a key figure in the FA’s bid to host the 2021 Women’s European Championships — England are currently the only bidder — and points to next year’s World Cup in France as opportunities to grow both the participation and commercial base of the game.
“We’ve got a World Cup in 2019,” she says.
“It’s going to change the game, I think, in terms of a different commitment from some of the brands now.
“[The European Championships] 2021 will be a huge opportunity if we can get that bid over the line. We’re really excited. We know the power of hosting an event, a major tournament. We’ve seen it for cricket, and in the future hockey and netball. It makes so much sense to have women’s football as the next showpiece event because that’s what inspires a generation.”
Hosting a major tournament would be the FA’s biggest bet yet on women’s football. The next step for Bogdanowicz and her team is to get sponsors to put their chips on the table too.