When the final whistle sounded in a dramatic Women’s Rugby World Cup final last Saturday – where the Black Ferns triumphed over England in a historic win for the host nation – a record-breaking crowd of 42,000 fans celebrated.
Heartbreak, of course, for the Red Roses fans watching at home, ready to see their 30-game unbeaten streak stretch to just one more game. Meanwhile, for those with a Kiwi persuasion, rejoice.
An impressive 1.3 million New Zealanders watched the Black Ferns triumph on the world stage, more than the All Blacks who won the 2015 Men’s Rugby World Cup final against Australia. It was a powerful symbol of the game’s quicksand in a country that has historically been centered on the All Blacks but is now leaning behind the Black Ferns.
Regardless of your affiliation, however, the five-week tournament at this game at Eden Park provided a triumphant showcase of women’s rugby. It felt like a harbinger of a bold new era for the game. From the Women’s Six Nations (and thus the Red Roses’ first standalone game at Twickenham) to the 2025 World Cup in England and beyond, all the ingredients for a decade of growth are now in place.
opportunities for brands
Brands are being drawn to the potential of women’s sport right now. Many, like LinkedIn at this year’s UEFA Women’s Euros, are brand new to sports sponsorship. They understand the unique value it offers and want a chance to get ahead of their competitors. Between 2013 and 2017, there was a 37 percent increase in sports sponsorship deals for women, and those numbers continue to rise. Women’s sport in the UK is set to generate $1 billion in revenue by 2030, so rugby is riding that wave.
Mastercard was the first company to partner with World Rugby’s commercial program Women in Rugby, and Capgemini is following suit this year. As part of the agreement, the global payments giant was announced as a founding partner of World Rugby’s Pacific Four Series, a new competition to be established in 2021. The pan-regional tournament featuring the USA, Canada, New Zealand and Australia had a successful second season earlier this year with the goal of boosting the competitiveness of women’s football to an elite level.
Other high-level competitions are likely to follow, including the Capgemini-backed ‘WXV’, due to start in 2023 as World Rugby looks to ‘charge’ the sport.
Not perfect, but progress is being made
While nights like Auckland offer an exciting glimpse into the future, it was a case of evolution rather than revolution. There were mistakes like the scheduling mishap that saw the All Blacks play a friendly against Japan at the same time as the Black Ferns World Championship Quarterfinals. Not to mention financial realities, like the Red Roses’ travel economy while the men’s team flies on business, hampering momentum.
However, the combined effort of individual unions and World Rugby continues, major brands are aligning, revenue streams are consolidating and interest is growing. The goal now must be for more of the leading nations to find a path to professionalism beyond England and France. That means not just contracts, but approaches to infrastructure, coaching and development pathways across the rugby ecosystem. This can redefine the way women’s football is viewed, from the grassroots to the elite.
A model to imitate
Rugby bosses would have watched with both envy and excitement as English women’s football reached its peak at Wembley in July. The lionesses won the Euro and with it the hearts of the nation. Fresh stars were born, new fans were won and the FA Women’s Super League is now seeing record ticket sales as a result.
The RFU will have a similar vision of a clear autumn day in 2025 and a sell out crowd at Twickenham Stadium for the Rugby World Cup final. With a total of 150,000 fans attending this year’s edition – triple the number of Ireland in 2017 – the numbers are certainly going in the right direction.
But that day may come sooner. Twickenham will host their first standalone Tik Tok Women’s Six Nations fixture in April next year when the Red Roses host France in a finals game that is sure to draw the attention of a public buoyed by the continued success of England women’s sports teams.
The defining image of that seismic day at Wembley Stadium was Chloe Kelly driving away with the win and her shirt off. It offered a vision of the future of female sports stars: relatable, ambitious and authentic. It also demonstrated exactly the kind of visual representation of female athletes that Getty hopes to make ubiquitous through its new photography guidelines.
Series like Capgemini’s “Transformational Stories”, O2’s quirky look at the Red Roses’ World Cup campaign and Amazon Prime’s bold documentary “No Woman No Try” also ensure additional notoriety. Victoria Rush, the director of the Amazon documentary, brilliantly captures the devotion – of working full-time jobs and gaming at the same time – and challenges – the deplorable online abuse – that remain a reality when you’re a gamer.
As a player, Rush also knows that this type of content is vital to the future health of the sport. Because it’s these stars, seen for who they are, that breathe new life into grassroots football.
Is the future gold and green?
The Australian women’s rugby union team, known as the Wallaroos, would have hoped to put a more indelible mark on this year’s tournament. An impressive performance against the eventual winners in the group stage belied their amateur status and pointed to a bright future.
your time will come. From 2025 the global rugby calendar shifts towards Australia – with a British & Irish Lions Tour in 2025 followed by back-to-back World Cups. Add to this the tantalizing prospect of a potential Women’s Lions Tour and such a smorgasbord of elite rugby is sure to have an electrifying impact on women’s football both in Australia and around the world.
An exciting calendar looms, punctuated by tent pole moments, each playing its own unique role in catalyzing irrevocable change for women’s football.
Victoria Monk is Director of Communications for CSM Sport & Entertainment