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Put your mark on the growth of women’s football: Business has a pivotal role to play, says head of MK Dons Ladies

SUCCESS for the Lionesses in winning the UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 tournament in July and bringing back a major international trophy to these shores for the first time since 1966 can be a springboard for women’s football in Milton Keynes.

The business community has a key role to play in backing development of the game locally, with interest in sponsorship opportunities at MK Dons Women as the club looks to capitalise on the spike in interest after England’s 2-1 triumph over Germany at Wembley.

The profile of the women’s game has soared since that heady evening on July 31 and MK Dons have wasted little time in calling on the city’s business community to “join the train” as the club looks to move from tier 3 of the women’s game to the WSL Championship.

  • Pictured top: Lionesses’ captain Leah Williamson was born and raised in Milton Keynes. The city council is considering plans to award her the Freedom of the City in the wake of her leading the England team to EURO glory.

Stadium MK also had its days in the football spotlight, hosting three group games and the EURO 2022 semi-final in which Germany defeated France 1-0.

MK Dons currently runs teams from teenage via under-19 and under-23 to the club’s first team. There are 270 girls registered with the club.

Before EURO 2022, there was minimal interest from businesses in supporting the women’s teams. Only Marshall Amplification, based round the corner from Stadium MK, were supporting the team through a shirt sponsorship deal for the past three years, and a handful of businesses providing player sponsorship. Since July 31, however, the Dons have fielded a dozen enquiries from businesses interested in being associated with the club through player and match sponsorship.

Food manufacturer Brioche Pasquier is the main sponsor of the MK Dons Sort & Education Trust, of which the women’s section is part. The SET delivers programmes around Milton Keynes and beyond encouraging healthy active lifestyles among young people and hosts football in the city’s schools in a bid to help young people channel their talent and to make good life choices.

“What the Lionesses have done for women’s football and for football generally has been incredible,” says Jack Sharp pictured, MK Dons SET’s head of football and performance under whose remit the women’s section of the club falls.

“Now we are looking for organisations that want to help to grow women’s football and business has a pivotal and critical role and put their mark on the development of something that is going to be huge. That is really exciting for any organisation.”

Striker Lucy Wood has returned to Stadium MK from Leicester City Ladies on loan to MK Dons for the new season.

Support begins from as little as £35 for a season ticket to all home games, 11 of which will be played at Stadium MK. Sponsorship of a player means an investment of £200 + VAT, £50 of which goes straight to the sponsored player to assist with her expenses.

The long-term ambition is promotion to the WSL Championship but that would involve a compulsory move to become a professional club. The cost: at least £650,000 per year, likely up to £1 million, says Jack. The current recruitment model for players revolves around the club finding and developing its own talent alongside the Dons loaning players from higher up the football pyramid to give them game time as they develop their professional careers.

The Dons already has strong links with Arsenal, Birmingham and Leicester City ladies but to develop its own talent to compete in higher divisions means a focus on the girls academy – another area where business support will be vital, says Jack. “It is a big deal and it will allow us to do it on our own. To keep the girls academy producing local Milton Keynes talent we need a business prepared to be a major sponsor.”

His call to businesses is to follow the example of Marshall Amplification and Brioche Pasquier and support the club so that the legacy of the Lionesses’ EURO 2022 success is strong and long-lasting.

“It shows the power of partnership,” says Jack. “Supporting the Women’s team is also empowering the SET to invest in developing Milton Keynes as a community. Businesses can be at the starting point of the journey and that is now – if they do not get involved, they may miss the train. It is already in the station and ready to depart.”

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