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Project Eight: Building Sponsorship Partnerships in an Explosive Women’s Sports Market

Project Eight: Building Sponsorship Partnerships in an Explosive Women’s Sports Market

Nate Hershenfeld

For many Canadian soccer fans, the countdown is on for the 2026 FIFA World Cup, which Canada will host alongside the United States and Mexico. However, one year before the kick-off of one of the biggest tournaments of all time, Canadian soccer will take another giant leap forward with the planned launch of Project Eight, Canada’s first women’s professional soccer league. 

At the SponsorshipX Toronto: The Future of Sports Marketing conference, attendees heard from Diana Matheson, Project Eight’s cofounder and National Women’s Team alumni, and AFC Toronto CEO Helena Ruken.

In their appearances at SPX, their messaging on the progress of Project Eight was consistent: we’re in the middle of an explosion for women’s sports and soccer, and it’s time for the big players to step up and be a part of it. Currently, the league has an impressive but small roster of investing partners, including CIBC, Air Canada, Canadian Tire, and DoorDash. Those partners will be the first to reap the benefits of getting in on the ground floor of a movement, but there’s tons of room for other partners to get in and make that leap with them.

That said, sponsors should understand the opportunities and differences between getting involved in a new startup league and an established “heavy hitter.” For example, the NHL— Canada’s biggest league (and whose annual All-Star Game was the focus of this edition of SPX) — has just over 70 partners of various investment levels. 

When a brand signs up for an NHL deal, it has the advantage of nearly a century (more, with certain teams) of audience and brand building. 

However, Project Eight will bring to the table one of the most engaged and supportive audiences imaginable. Using the men’s professional soccer league (Major League Soccer & Canadian Premier League) and the newly launched Professional Women’s Hockey League as examples, the soccer and women’s professional sports fans deeply engage with their teams, communities, and sponsors that help make it happen. 

You see it when attending Women’s National Team matches as well: the audience is filled with highly engaged families bringing their young girls who had previously been an afterthought in a crowded sports market. The numbers have also backed that, with Women’s National Team matches selling out every match across the country since returning home from the World Cup in Australia. 

The supporters of this league are there not only for entertainment purposes but because, as Diana Matheson said in her talk, “it’s the right thing to do,” and it’s up to partners to be there for that reason as well. 

Project Eight’s tagline is “More Than a League,” and they’re exactly right. Women’s sports aren’t just in a growth stage; they’re in an explosion stage, and partners who get involved now have the chance to be part of the foundation of one of the most critical moments in Canadian sports history.