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02.19.18 - Comments Off on Accelerating the growth of women’s football

Accelerating the growth of women’s football

We are the home of football. So why do the majority of us struggle to name three of the England women players? Why don’t more of us turn up to games to show our support? And why don’t broadcasters and rights holders invest more heavily?

Broadcasters need to educate audiences and create regular appointments to view

Consumption of women’s football is growing rapidly. Over 750 million people tuned in to watch the Euros last year. In England, the success can be credited in large part to Channel 4. As a broadcaster, they recognised the need to invest in educating their audience on who they are watching, what they are watching and where to find it. With the support of McDonald’s as the exclusive broadcast sponsor, Channel 4 rolled out a TV spot featuring Liv Cooke, England’s first female professional football freestyler, as well as a print, radio and digital campaign. By ensuring that women’s football was hard to miss rather than hard to find, 4 million turned their TV’s over to Channel 4 to watch England play the Netherlands in the semi-final. This marked the highest audience figures for the channel in 2017. We need this approach to be the rule rather than the exception.

As well as educating audiences, broadcasters also need to normalise women’s football by creating easy-to-find regular appointments to view. As well as enabling audiences to make women’s football a viewing habit, it provides a platform for female players to grow their own personal profiles and build their fan base.

Players need to invest in building their own media platforms

Social media has led to the democratisation of influence, it’s no longer limited to top performers on the field. If female players wish to grow the number of fans for the women’s game and build more financially rewarding careers, they need to invest in their performance off the field as well as on it. They need to develop their skills as media personalities, content creators and distributors, they need to grow their professional networks and they need to view themselves not just as professional athletes, but also as media owners.

So why, in an age of democratisation, are female players failing to build a significant audience and drive commercial revenue? There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, it’s not in the interests of clubs to support players with personal brand building, it only serves to increase their market value and their chances of being poached by another club. Secondly, personal brand building is a bit at odds with the team culture, a problem that isn’t a challenge in other sectors like music, fashion and the arts. Thirdly, with the exception of US players like Alex Morgan, there are very few best practice examples from within sport for female athletes to aspire to.

Brands like adidas are calling out for female athletes with influence but the reality is that models and bloggers, not athletes, are delivering better ROI when trying to sell product to women. In order to change this, players need to be able to compete, not with male athletes, but with women of influence from outside of sport who are out-performing them off the field.

Rights holders need to adopt a longer term strategic approach, invest in dedicated leadership resource, have more conviction in the commercial opportunity and ensure a competitive and compelling game

The FA has invested around 62.33 million euros over the last four years, with the goal of doubling the number of women and girls participating in football by 2020. The result? England have the fourth highest number of female players in Europe and the fastest growth rate. More rights holders need to view women’s football (and women’s sport in general) as part of a longer term strategic approach, rather than expecting an unrealistic immediate return, all too often based on little to no investment.

As well as adopting a longer term strategic approach to investment, rights holders need to invest in leadership roles dedicated to driving the growth of the women’s game. Baroness Sue Campbell’s appointment as the head of women’s football at The FA not only made a statement about the FA’s ambitions for the women’s game but also guarantees there is a credible voice at the table to champion the women’s game. Only time will tell if she can be a real driving force for change.

There is also a need for boards and executive management teams to better educate themselves on the women’s game, this will result in organisation wide buy-in and conviction in the stand alone commercial opportunity. In the US, the women’s national team outsell the men’s in gate receipts, as well as total commercial revenue. One of the reasons for the disparity between the US and UK, is a result of under-investment across different level of the women’s game. The move to an unbundled sponsorship model, where rights to the women’s game are seen as a stand alone commercial opportunity, will be key to growing the game.

From a competitions perspective, competitive and compelling leagues are key in order to create an exciting spectacle for fans. Time will tell if the FA’s plans to restructure and expand the Women’s Super League for the 2018/19 season will have an impact. In order for this restructure to work, clubs will need to ensure whole club buy-in of the opportunity of the women’s game, as well as making a financial investment which reflects this. To put things into perspective, if Manchester United committed just 0.01% of its projected revenue for this year, it would give a women’s team £5.8m to kick-start its program.

What does the future hold?

Women’s football has experienced significant growth to date. However, in order to realise the potential of the women’s game we need a longer term strategic approach from all parties: broadcasters need to educate audiences and create regular appointments to view; players need to invest in building their own media platforms; and rights holders need to adopt a longer term strategic approach, invest in dedicated leadership resource, have more conviction in the commercial opportunity and ensure a competitive and compelling game.

Published by: wearedisrupt in Football