Why Women’s Football Is An Open Goal For Brands
Brands can find meaning and connection with fans of every stripe, by Lucy Banks, Head of Content for Brands at Google EMEA.
A World Cup in any sport always has the chance to be a culturally-defining moment. Think of Jonny Wilkinson slotting home the winning drop goal in the dying seconds of the final of the 2003 Rugby World Cup in Australia, or the hysteria around the England Men’s performance in Russia during the long, hot summer of 2018. It’s hard to tell which was more exciting – the team’s nail-biting journey almost all the way, or Gareth Southgate’s emergence as a team manager with class, skill and an era-defining taste in waistcoats.
The slightly less scorching summer of 2019 didn’t put a dampener on the nation’s latest sporting obsession, the 2019 Women’s FIFA World Cup. Women’s football can often be marginalised and left in the shadow of the men’s game – but that all looks set to change, in part thanks to the ways football professionals have been able to reach fans through digital platforms like YouTube, proving to marketers the value of the sport once given airtime. Audiences are burgeoning and brands are beginning to take notice.
Ahead of the Women’s World Cup kick-off in Paris, brands such as Boots, Mars and Lucozade all announced high profile sponsorship deals with the English and Scottish Women’s national sides – while Visas signed a partnership with USFA to become the biggest global sponsor of Women’s football. This follows Barclays becoming the first sponsor of the Women’s Super League in a deal described by the Football Association as the “the biggest ever investment in UK women’s sport by a brand”.
Advertisers would do well to consider how they can tap into the beautiful women’s game while its hype only grows – we know audiences are consuming huge amounts of content around the teams on YouTube, giving advertisers a key opportunity to reach an engaged and passionate audience if they can tap into the right message.
Interest in the women’s game has skyrocketed – boosted by the huge amount of content on YouTube surrounding the players, the teams and the growing culture of women’s football. What is driving all of this is accessibility? Accessibility to watch the games themselves, and also access to highlights and other content made possible through sponsors. Storytelling is at the heart of it.
For example, Copa90 has rapidly evolved invested in expanding its content dedicated to women’s football, hiring former professional footballer Rebecca Smith as the publisher’s first Global Executive Director of the Women’s Game to help boost the women’s game on its channels. It’s also increasingly working with presenters like Chelcee Grimes, a British singer songwriter and striker for Fulham Ladies, who bring unique personality, style and fan culture to the game.
Another example is the Offside Museum. This is a virtual museum from Google Arts & Culture which is compiling the stories of women banned from playing the beautiful game for various daft reasons across the world between 1921 and 1979. A video, telling these women’s stories is available on a microsite – www.offsidemuseum.com – as well as on YouTube.
It is quirky, informative content like this that fans of the sport are flocking to, and which is opening up and demystifying women’s football like never before. Riding on the success of earlier initiatives such as This Girl Can, Gatorade has launched Sisters in Sweat campaign, aimed at getting girls who are 1.5 times more likely than their male peers to drop out of sports by the age of 17, back on the pitch or track.
For the FIFA Women’s World Cup, the drinks brand extended this campaign to feature US football legend, Mia Hamm and a young female hopeful in a YouTube film, Every Day is Your Day. It takes the famous Dr Seuss poem Oh, The Places You’ll Go and applies it to that moment of anticipation at the mouth of the tunnel, just before players hit the pitch, and encourages viewers to wonder what that world might hold for them. The film has had over 12 million views in a little over two weeks since it debuted on YouTube
These examples also reflect that part of the reason women’s football hasn’t resonated is not just accessibility, but because of its tone. Historically, publishers and brands too often when authoring content ‘for women’ get it wrong. It can come across as patronising, or simply just fail to engage. Placing women at the heart of the coverage – as creators, commentators, critics, curators, schedulers – means how they create and engage are both different. Being able to own the game and the story, on their own terms, is what works for women on YouTube.
While matches during major events like the World Cup remain destination viewing round a TV set, today that screen is joined by laptop, tablet and mobile as fans delve deeper into the conversation. Football engages viewers like no other. In fact recent research from Google has found that videos featuring Lionel Messi had 10 times greater watch time than the NBA’s reigning most valued player, Russell Westbrook, for example.
And it’s not just celebrity names that are the big draw. Viewers are hoovering up content on trickshots, drills and skills (all up six-fold) and highlight videos (up nine-fold). One key demand is that football fans expect to see behind the scenes and off-field action content to find out how their heroes really tick. This content helps drive engagement in the game itself.
Speaking on the record breaking BBC viewing figures after the Lionesses 2-1 victory over Scotland, England left-back and Manchester United captain Alex Greenwood said “It’s unbelievable. It shows just how far the game has come – to have the crowd and the support we had in the game was one thing, to see the figure afterwards was another. […] You’re never going to change some opinions, but those figures speak for themselves.”
And the figures do speak for themselves. Football has provided a lucrative route for brands to engage with men for decades, and the Women’s World Cup is serving as an eye-opener for many as to how far the women’s game has come – both on the pitch and off it. For brands, there has never been so many avenues to tap into this fever and engage with a diverse audience of deeply-engrossed, passionate fans through the beautiful game.
Image: PA Images