Why Visa keeps sponsoring in-person sporting events

With a year to go on the sponsorship of the FIFA Women's World Cup 2023 in A/NZ, Visa head of marketing shares how the payment services provider is approaching the sponsorship and marketing opportunity

Ellie Carpenter
Ellie Carpenter

Demonstrating Visa’s commitment to constructive social impact, its broader payments capabilities and exclusive experiences for partners and consumers are all front and centre in its FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 sponsorship, its A/NZ head of marketing says.

The payment services provider has just kicked off its ‘one year to go’ program of marketing activities in anticipation of the women’s football tournament arriving in Australia and New Zealand in July 2023. It’s the first time the tournament will be played across two countries and 10 venues, and sees the competition expanded to 32 teams. Visa became the first ever Women’s Football partner at FIFA last year.

Under the sponsorship arrangement, Visa is planning a range of one-of-a-kind experiences for football fans globally. It will also activate the Player of the Match award, incorporate its Team Visa program for female footballers, and utilise exclusive marketing campaign assets in collaboration with partners.

Visa head of marketing A/NZ, Natalie Lockwood, told CMO ramping up the sponsorship activity comes after a year spent rolling out a brand transformation program. This aimed to reposition the Visa business as more than a credit card provider. Within this, the list of priorities has included brand building and activating sponsorships globally, including the new FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 event, as well as focusing on how to better partner from a marketing point of view with financial institutions and merchant partners.

“The brand program was driven by global changes to the way we pay and how our businesses make and receive payments. This has been changing dramatically,” Lockwood commented. “Our brand needed to reflect that we are more than a credit card, and highlight the important role we have connecting people, businesses and economies around the world through the power of the Visa network.

“With the announcement last week of one year to go for FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023, we have a fantastic asset to utilise and help build our brand and awareness. And importantly for our financial institution and merchant partners, this is about tapping into marketing assets around the FIFA Women’s World Cup and such a one-of-a-kind experience.”

The first key element of the sponsorship program is offering priority access to Visa cardholders for tickets to the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 before the general public in October.

“Host markets always tend to benefit more. The first thing we want to do is ensure A/NZ cardholders get access to the event,” Lockwood said. Such an exclusive benefit and one-of-a-kind experience not only helps the Visa brand direct, but also gives partners a way to reward their customers and Visa cardholders, she said.

As exclusive payments services category sponsor, Visa also gains a platform to showcase innovative ways of paying onsite. Planning has now commenced on activations and approaches taken on this front.

“We’re particularly encouraged by the excitement in women’s football. The UEFA Women’s Euro that’s on right now in the UK has had record attendance and ticket sales,” Lockwood continued. “With anticipation like that, we’re very much looking forward to next year and what it means for our cardholders and partners.”

Connection to sport

Visa has had a long history with iconic sporting events, sponsoring iconic global tournaments such as FIFA Men’s and Women’s events along with the Olympics. Lockwood described is as a long association “connected to events that connect the world”, noting Visa’s Olympics sponsorship commenced back in 1986.

“With women’s football in particular, we have been committed for 15 years and had been involved with FIFA in the past World Cups. As FIFA separated out the women’s event, we were the first partner to step up as a global women’s football partner,” she said. “It makes sense given Visa’s whole positioning and brand is about striving to connect the world and drive inclusivity and access.”

Lockwood also positioned FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 as a powerful platform to drive gender equity and empowerment of women and girls. This is not only achieved directly, but by allowing Visa to showcase other initiatives it invests in to support women on and off the pitch.  

One example launched in the UK in 2021 is the ‘Second half’ program, which aims to help female footballers navigate life post-football. The career development program is about tapping into those skills built as professional athletes and transferring those to the second half of their career in a workplace. According to Ernst & Young research, 94 per cent of women in the c-suite have played a sport at some time in their lives.

Another global Visa program, called She’s Next, orients around supporting female entrepreneurs through educational tools, mentorship and funding. Closer to home, Visa supports an advocacy program called Global Sisters, which sees local Visa employees mentoring female entrepreneurs.

Natalie LockwoodCredit: VISA
Natalie Lockwood

“We are certainly looking at other ways with Women’s World Cup coming to market to transfer some of those great programs from around the world and export them to Australia and New Zealand,” Lockwood added.

She agreed brands are increasingly taking a necessary proactive role in society and culture.

“Social impact and business are no longer mutually exclusive. The decisions a consumer makes of where they shop and what brands they utilise comes down to values,” Lockwood said. “Being involved with an incredible platform like FIFA Women’s World Cup is such a wonderful way to demonstrate our purpose, which is about uplifting everyone everywhere by being the best way to pay and be paid. It’s a great platform to demonstrate that in action.”  

Another area Visa uses its sporting sponsorship platform for is its Team Visa athletes. Last week, the company extended its partnership with ambassador and Australian Matilda’s star, Ellie Carpenter, and welcomed newcomer, Football New Zealand’s 2020 Female Player of the Year and Football Ferns player, Claudia Bunge, to its Team Visa ranks. Through the program, Visa helps athletes and their careers beyond the pitch. The two women join a group of over 550 athletes in the global Team Visa program including 19 women footballers.

“If I think about the profile of Ellie Carpenter and how she shows up, plus her following on social media, these ambassadors are great spokespeople for what we do and represent, and the globality of what they do, travelling the world, presents a number of connections between us and their personal brand on and off pitch,” Lockwood said.  

“We’ll continue to develop programs to support women, not just on the field or sporting arena, but outside the arena as well.”

Why in-person, live events sponsorship remains a critical marketing tactic

With such a long lineage in sponsoring global, in-person sporting events, Visa clearly has a lot of experience in the brand benefits of these activities. But with sports marketing undergoing significant disruption and renovation during the pandemic, how both sports and wider events sponsorship will perform for brands is an interesting question.

Lockwood said this form of sponsorship will only pay more dividends as we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Sport in itself, and other event platforms, inspire and unite people,” Lockwood said. “By nature of the sporting event, you have that common platform. What it also allows us is that experiential component – the atmosphere and talkability of being there experiencing a one-of-a kind moment. FIFA Women’s World Cup in A/NZ will have 32 teams, playing across 10 stadiums. To be there and witness that in person, seeing families there with their daughters – it’s the experience side you talk about once the event is over. Being part of that uplifting movement, and having our customers and cardholders being there experiencing that – there’s no better way to connect.”

Coming out of a pandemic, people are looking forward to experiencing things in-person, Lockwood said. “I think they’ll come to it with more enthusiasm and looking forward to being there in the moment,” she added.

“We have seen many events becoming more cashless in a post-Covid world an as exclusive payments sponsor and in stadiums, so it makes sense again for us to be there in a post-Covid world.”  

Lockwood noted the audience for FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 plays to the heartland of Visa’s core target audience. She pointed out the event is now attracting both men and women, as well as younger demographics turning up to support female teams.

“It’s a general population audience we expect to be at FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023. The profile and popularity of women’s sport, and women’s football in particular, is very impressive,” she said.  

Short-term metrics Visa will use to understand the impact of its FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 sponsorship include brand building, plus how financial and merchant partners leverage marketing assets. But Lockwood stressed the sponsorship is considered in the context of a broader sporting event sponsorship approach.

“This is one of several great sporting events we are able to provide access to cardholders to and help our partners leverage. For example, outside of the FIFA World Cup, we have the Paris Olympics in 2024. So we don’t see this as standalone,” she said. Globally, Visa is also involved in the UAFA in Europe and US Female Football Federation and its tournaments.

“Yes, we’re definitely tapping into the excitement of welcoming the rest of the world to A/NZ shores. But we see it as part of our broader sponsorship program and an ongoing way we provide value to cardholders and partners.”  

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