Another autumn, another new season of Football. The heady days of Summer and the Women’s World Cup seem far behind as you watch fifth-tier Boreham Wood men’s playing it out over a pasty. It costs £20 for you to see them play, but for £18 you could’ve brought the family along to the same ground to watch Arsenal Ladies play in the Women’s Super League. You remember that there was a lot of talk around the Women’s World Cup, and how it would change the game forever. There might’ve even been a memorable ad that you saw during the finals in the sun. But Autumn has come, and it’s business as usual at Meadow Park. You leave the field and see the Ladies training. They’ve just arrived from the World Cup, but their match will be less profitable and underattended than the men you saw plodding around earlier. What was all the fuss about?
We’ve acknowledged the power of brand activations during the Women’s World Cup. They give brands a cost-effective means of exposure, as well as providing those brands with an opportunity to showcase their Purpose credentials. Much has been made of the worthwhile efforts brands are making to highlight their commitment to the game for Women. When required, brands have not been afraid to step up and meet this opportunity head-on. In March this year, Barclays signed a three-year deal to the tune of £10 million to sponsor the Women’s Super League. As well as this, other sponsors such as Budweiser and Boots have all stepped up to the plate in creating sponsorship deals.
There is nothing wrong with riding a cultural wave. It’s admirable and newsworthy that brands are being supportive, but more needs to be done to ensure 2019 is the year we truly change the game from the grassroots up. This is a question about reach versus resonance. It goes further than just being a brand and spending budget over the course of an event. It involves embracing deeper sponsorship opportunities, working to make football matches a bigger experience and invest in grassroots participation.
Brands must support the players on and off the pitch
Right now, sponsorship is not meeting the needs of the players. In a recent report from BCW, 90% of players surveyed said that they might quit as a result of family, career or financial pressures. This is a direct result of lacklustre financial support, with most players having to take on night school courses to prepare for their post-football lives.
Christen Press, a player in the winning USA 2015 world cup team is uniting with her other teammates to set-up a privately owned e-com brand. This is to ensure they can benefit from increased commercial opportunities from the World Cup that sponsorship doesn’t cover. Their brand re-inc is an opportunity for these players to benefit more from their raised profile, rather than relying on others to do it. The fact that this is happening off their own backs is inspiring but is undeniably sad at the same time. In a recent BBC documentary, one of England’s Lionesses describes simply feeling out of her depth during a photoshoot.
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, the U.S.A’s Alex Morgan has over 6.5 million followers on Instagram. But on and off the field, players need more support and sponsorship needs to go beyond what has been done. Brands have a huge opportunity to create closer relationships with these players and be the support that they need, whether that be financial or by promoting their own brands.
Women’s Football can be a bigger family experience than the men’s game
Being more affordable than the Men’s games, women’s matches are already cost-friendly for families. This is a major point of difference between the men’s game. We know the Men’s matches are often more tribal and aggressive. National Governing Bodies like the FA are fighting a battle against racism and other kinds of abuse. If brands can encourage more people to get involved and attend matches, they can also take the initiative to ensure the atmosphere is different. Focussing on marketing to families instead of groups of men will help re-define the Women’s game. There is data to suggest that the women’s game is generally a nicer experience and the players themselves are better behaved too.
Brands must support the next generation of players into Women’s Football
We can extend the family focus to participation and not just communication. McDonald’s launched its Better Play initiative in 2014 which has encouraged grass-roots participation for a total of 12 years. Disney has built a three-year partnership with the English FA, where the brand uses their famous female characters as a way in to encourage young girls to play the game. Lucozade has also built on their sponsorship of the Lionesses by buying 90,000 minutes of playing time via grass-roots initiatives. But these examples are only UK orientated — and woman’s football is a global game. Brands can think bigger in encouraging more participation in Women’s Football.
Players need support. Fans need to be engaged. Audiences need to be won over. Brands are rightly taking advantage of the culturally relevant spike in attention around the Women’s game. But more than ever, brands need to be able to offer audiences a view into how they make the world better. There has to be a wider value attached to building relationships with users. The Women’s World Cup offers brands an opportunity to prove this to teams, players, and fans. After the final whistle goes, it will signal the end of one tournament, but it’ll kick-off a new journey for the game.