Cat Watson, director of women’s sport of Pitch International, organizer of the Arnold Clark Cup, spoke to Stu Robarts about creating the tournament, what’s on offer for its partners, and what it means for women’s soccer.

Tomorrow (February 23), the final round of fixtures of the inaugural Arnold Clark Cup takes place, through which the winner will be decided.

The new women’s national teams invitational soccer tournament, which kicked off on January 17, was created by Pitch International through a four-year deal with the English Football Association (FA) announced in December last year.

It takes the form of a four-team round robin with the team that is top of the league table after all rounds of fixtures declared the winner.

After two matchdays of the tournament’s first edition, with one left to play, Canada sit top of the pile on four points ahead of England and Spain on two apiece and Germany on one.

At the end of January, UK commercial broadcaster ITV was announced as the host broadcaster of the tournament, with a host of other international media partners said to be giving the tournament a reach of over 100 million households worldwide. That figure has since risen further.

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The commercial partners for the tournament, meanwhile, are social media platform Twitter, soccer outlet Goal, digital media management platform Greenfly, and the Women In Football professional network for the sport.

As director of women’s sport of Pitch International, Cat Watson has overseen the development of the Arnold Clark Cup and of its commercial and broadcast partnership portfolios.

GDS: How was the idea for the Arnold Cup conceived and developed, and how does it differ from other similar tournaments?

CW: As a long-term partner of the FA, Pitch has been involved in growing the women’s game through the distribution of the FA Women’s Super League (WSL) to more fans around the world than ever before. That common goal of strengthening women’s football led to a discussion around the possibility of England hosting a world-class tournament on home soil in preparation for the Euros this year, the World Cup next year, and then the Euros again in 2024.

Our focus has been on securing the best possible opposition for England to really test themselves against and delivering a tournament that enables the players from all four nations to operate in as professional an environment as possible, exactly the same as when we organize matches for the Brazilian men’s national team.

How did Pitch go about engaging the teams, national bodies, and other stakeholders?

Pitch has managed more than 50 international football matches all over the world, so we have a lot of existing relationships within football, including governing bodies. We couldn’t be happier with the quality of the teams we have involved in year one and are optimistic about future editions too.

What is on offer for sponsors and other partners and how is the competition leveraging its offer?

The chance to be a part of something totally new and to position themselves right at the forefront of driving elite women’s sport forward. All our partners are excited about this tournament being a platform to boost the visibility of these athletes and are aligned in their desire to use the tournament to drive forward their own gender equality initiatives.

[UK-based used car retailer] Arnold Clark, our title partner, employ many talented women as engineers and mechanics – roles typically considered ‘male’ roles – and want to raise their brand awareness amongst women to be seen as an employer of choice for women as well as men across all the roles they have on offer.

It’s no secret that football is still a male-dominated industry and Women In Football, with who we have a partnership, do so much amazing work to promote gender equality in the football space. We’re also delighted to have Twitter on board as our official social media partner, because they are committed to supporting women working in sport, particularly those working in the public eye, and are developing new tools to try to minimize the abusive content that they might otherwise be exposed to on their platform.

How did Pitch go about securing the broadcast reach of 100 million+ households worldwide and what are reasonable expectations for TV viewing figures with that reach in mind?

This number has actually gone up! We are delighted that we’ve been able to broadcast the Arnold Clark Cup matches live to the entire world. This is through a combination of free-to-air deals in key markets including the UK (ITV), Spain (RTVE), and Germany (ARD/ZDF), as well as coverage in Canada (TSN), South and Central America and the Caribbean (ESPN), Israel (Charlton), and Sub-Saharan Africa (WSport).

In all remaining territories, we’ve partnered with the Football Association to host each of the matches live on their FA Player [streaming platform] so that fans all over the world can enjoy the action. We are hopeful that raising international awareness of the FA Player may also increase the global audience of the FA WSL which is available on this service.

What does Pitch hope to achieve with the tournament for women’s football and how unfortunate is its clash with the SheBelieves (another four-team women’s national invitational tournament, being held in US from February 17 to 23) in that respect?

An increase in seriously competitive fixtures amongst top teams in professional environments can only be a good thing for the whole of international football. The structure of the international football calendar means there are only limited windows in which the top teams can come together to play in these invitational events.

Having multiple major tournaments in this February window allows more teams to get the competitive game time they need to see where they are at ahead of the pinnacle events and continue to push forward in their development. Of course, it also means fans get more opportunities to see top players in action.

How long-term are plans for the tournament and how big can the tournament be commercially?

We have entered into a four-year agreement with the FA under which we will continue to organize the event and England will continue to be one of the four competing teams. Setting up a brand-new event from scratch is never a risk-free exercise, but doing so under the shadow of the UEFA Covid-19 requirements that remain in place has been particularly challenging.

After navigating these hurdles and delivering a successful inaugural event, we are optimistic that, assuming there is a relaxation of Covid restrictions, 2023 will see our original plan of double-header games coming to fruition so that fans will be able to see all four competing teams with just one ticket. We have ambitious plans for developing the event commercially and fully anticipate the commercial growth of the tournament building on an upward trajectory over the life of that agreement.