Balls, brands and women’s football

Our Leanne’s looking forward to supporting the Lionesses this Women’s World Cup and has been delving into the current marketing landscape to understand the scope for how brands can get involved.

Posted by Leanne on 04.06.19

I wouldn’t call myself an avid footie fan; I don’t follow any particular teams and did need an anecdote about shop queues and purses to understand the offside rule. That said, I’ve enjoyed every match I have ever watched and I can definitely get behind the national excitement that surrounds a World Cup.

Last year I was there with the best of them, cheering on the team between pints and hastily whispering to my friends to ask why the ref made the decision he did (apparently ‘because he’s a tw@t’ is a valid answer in football?).  It’s this sense of national pride, hope and enthusiasm which has me really looking forward to supporting our Women’s team, with just as much gusto, shouting and gesticulating as last year. We all should. Not just for the fact that we need something, anything, that could bring us together as a nation in a positive way, but also to keep this momentum going for a more equal society.

So, I started researching the current landscape and how brands and marketing can help change perceptions, in what feels like the brink of a large cultural shift in sports.

Social Landscape

There’s a plethora of articles out there listing facts and figures as to why getting your brand involved in the Women’s World Cup this year makes good commercial sense (and it does!). But rather than just repeat what’s already being said, I wanted to highlight why it’s also important to take a look at the social environment surrounding the tournament so you can tailor your brand messaging in a way that resonates well.

The push for gender parity has become one of the key movements of our time; it is a constant fixture in our news, on our campuses and in our public spaces. This extends as much to the pitch as it does to the boardroom and a quick search for news surrounding women’s football shows there’s a clear appetite amongst the followers of the sport to make sure that the WWC gets as much support as the male equivalent.

Twitter polled football fans on their platform and found that 63% wanted women’s football to receive equal coverage to the men’s game – a figure that jumps to 74% among 18-34’s. A third of these users also view gender equality as a major issue affecting women’s football specifically. Pretty compelling figures from just one social media platform.

It’s been nearly two decades since then President of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, infamously suggested that female players could boost engagement with the sport simply by wearing skimpier outfits (yes, that really happened). Fortunately, the world has changed a lot since then; FIFA is now pushing to level the playing field (pun intended) by aiming to achieve 1 billion viewers for the 2019 WWC and big brands like Visa, Boots, Barclays and SSE are realising the importance of supporting women’s football through a mixture of player empowerment and grassroots projects, encouraging the next generation of players to take up the sport and racking up a positive brand image in the process.

So, who’s watching?

A study by Nielsen covering eight key markets globally found that that 84% of sports fans are also interested in women’s sports, half of which were, you guessed it, women!

Over the pond, Influenster found the vast majority of U.S women surveyed planned to watch the WWC and hoped to see more global women’s sporting events broadcasted. Of those surveyed 99% identified as ‘heavy social media users’ and cited Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat as their main platforms of choice when keeping up with sports news and engaging with the event.

The same Twitter research I referenced earlier also highlights that the users surveyed thought the WWC was more ‘family friendly’ than its male counterpart, with calls from family-focused sporting events companies like ActiveKids for parents to get their children involved with and inspired by the WWC.

What does this mean for your marketing?

The cultural shift in football is very real; women in football aren’t just match-side eye candy. They’re strong and talented athletes and brands that showcase this are already seeing massive support.

As Nathalie Gordon, creative lead at BBC Creative, explains, “Over the last few years we have seen advertising change and it’s more important than ever to create work that matters – that really moves people and makes them think.” This is reflected in their ‘Change the Game’ FIFA 2019 trailer which is an unapologetic, inspiring ad, set to inspire future generations of girls across the nation.

Another great example is the witty ‘we may not have balls, but we know how to use them’ promo from the German team and their sponsor, Commerzbank. The video has already been viewed over a million times on social media, spreading the empowering message of ‘when it comes to role models, we just have to look in the mirror’ and reminding all the doubters out there ‘you don’t need to know who we are, you just need to know what we want – to play our own game to our own beat’. Auf geht’s, Mädels! 💪

To appeal to the family-focused audiences out there, brands should also consider a campaign message that includes the themes of encouragement and familial support. FIFA provide a great example of this with this year’s mascot, Ettie, the daughter of the 1998 mascot Footix. In a press release FIFA explain that, as a proud father, Footix saw his daughter to be a ‘dazzling talented and fearless player’ and is supporting her to embrace the sport and encourage a ‘new generation of young girls and women to get involved in football’.

Nike captures this sentiment in their inspiring ‘Dream Further’ ad. In the ad you can see the promotional products Nike has released to tie in with the World Cup, but these take a backseat to the heartwarming narrative of a young girl following her idols and growing in confidence on her journey to become a player in her own right.

Sponsorship

In the leadup to the last WWC in 2015 Dave O’Connor of sports Marketing Agency, GMR, wrote that “It is not often that a brand gets an opportunity to break new ground in global sport, but women’s football is showing signs of offering just that.”

This year, there are already many great examples from brands who have committed to exploring the  potential of the WWC and whilst the market is gaining popularity in 2019 (and certainly ahead of the next WWC in 2023), the WWC still remains a fresh and exciting opportunity for brands to shine away from the cluttered market of men’s football.

As Laura Weston, board member and trustee of the Women’s Sport Trust explains “If you measure women’s sport by the same metrics as men’s sport, it’s going to be difficult for a client to sell in. Whereas if you actually look at the broad opportunity, it is much more accessible than men’s sport and produces much more interesting content. It’s about having a different vision and not just seeing it as a little CSR project.”

Not only is the WWC and women’s football more accessible, it also provides brands with the opportunity to step away from established tropes in male-dominated marketing and do something new and interesting.

Online

Women’s football has a solid history of creating record-breaking buzz on social.

For example, back in 2011 whilst Twitter was still in its infancy, the final match of the Germany WWC between the U.S. and Japan broke a record for trending Twitter topics, despite not being broadcast on network television.

Then, during the last WWC in 2015, tweets about #FIFAWWC were viewed 9 billion times and during the Women’s EUROs in 2017, UEFA national associations reported over 16.42 million interactions across their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram channels and reported huge growth in following across all these channels.

A quick trip to Twitter and Instagram shows that there are already thousands of impressions for #WWC2019 and #FIFAWWC and many more relevant hashtags besides; there are a multitude of existing communities and conversations going on and knowing how and where to find them can help you target your marketing campaigns to best get them involved.

Offline/TV

We’ve seen from brand examples covered in this blog that there are a lot of grass roots projects. If you can, get your brand involved in supporting local clubs or school sports initiatives aimed at building up the next generation of players.

Then there’s TV advertising. Which is obviously expensive but worth capturing some figures for reference. The 2015 WWC was televised in 188 territories reaching a record 750 million viewers globally. The final alone had 26.7 million viewers – more than the men’s final from the year before and more than the Grammys even! This number grew again for the 2017 EUROs, breaking its own records.

Again, keep in mind that FIFA is pulling all the stops to bring viewership up to 1 billion this tournament and with international interest in the WWC on the rise, it’s worth exploring how you can position your marketing to coincide with the peak viewing times.

Beyond TV, brands could also explore promotions on product packaging. Lucozade are leading by example here by releasing 16 million special edition bottles featuring Lioness Players. Claire Keaveny, head of marketing at Lucozade Sport, said “We’re delighted to be using [Lucozade Sport] to further increase awareness and interest in the women’s game.” As we draw closer to the main event there are bound to be more and more promotional products hitting the shelves so keep your eyes peeled!

So, get involved! Just make sure it’s meaningful.

There’s a real appetite in the consumer market to see the WWC get the same exposure and backing as the men’s and brands are helping to make this a reality.

When interviewed by Marketing Week about the reasoning behind sponsorship of the tournament, the Visa Marketing Director for the UK & Ireland, Suzy Brown, explained “When people make decisions about brands, sure it’s about the product, but it’s also a lot about what a brand stands for: its beliefs, its views and more critically its actions.”

So, if brands can make a positive attempt to support Women’s football and continue to do so past the WWC, they’ll be contributing to a genuine and meaningful push for parity.

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