"The game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged,” said the FA, when it banned women from playing on FA-affiliated pitches in 1921. Another 76 years passed before women were allowed to play professionally again in England.
Now, driven by #WePlayStrong, UEFA’s first pan-European campaign for women’s football, the 2017 Women’s Championship, is proving to be another major turning point for the sport.
Channel 4 is currently showcasing the tournament for the first time and bolstering its coverage with tactics that echo its “We’re the Superhumans” campaign for The Paralympic Games. Interest in women’s football is increasing, with 3.3m people watching Channel 4’s coverage of England’s quarter-final match against France last Sunday – a huge increase from the 2.4m who watched England lose to Japan in the 2015 World Cup semi-final.
So far, so good, but there’s still a long way to go. How can women’s football clubs maintain the hype from Euro 2017?
The biggest challenge is generating enough revenue to reinvest into better facilities, training, wages, marketing, and so on. This becomes especially difficult when we consider that football is one of the worst offenders in sport for pay discrepancy.
The winners of this weekend’s Women’s Euro 2017, for example, will take home €1.2m, in comparison to the €8m pocketed by the men’s team last year.
Women’s football clubs urgently need to generate more sponsorship opportunities to boost revenue, either by expanding existing partnerships or securing new ones. So how can they continue to ramp up their appeal to potential sponsors?
More eyes on the sport will naturally attract the attention of brands, so the key lies in continuing to raise awareness of women’s football among the general public.
The first step towards achieving this is recognising that football fans are more than just football fans; they are individuals with interests and activities that extend beyond the sport. To engage them, teams therefore need to generate a complete view of who their fans are, where they are located and what inspires them, so they can identify how and when to connect with them for the greatest results.
Fortunately, gathering this information isn’t as complicated as it might seem. Like any other member of our digitalised society, football fans engage with topics that interest them via a range of devices and touchpoints. And in doing so they produce multiple streams of data that, when combined, can be used to create real-time intelligence that offers an all-inclusive picture of individuals and how they prefer to interact with the sport.
Once football clubs have obtained this in-depth understanding, they can then build data-driven marketing campaigns that reach fans at the ideal moment to encourage action. For example, by alerting fans in a specific area to local women’s football matches and offering them exclusive ticket discounts via their preferred social media network, clubs can increase attendance at — and awareness of — each game. And the combination of packed stalls and increased online buzz is a highly effective way to capture the attention of potential sponsors, and entice them to invest in up-and-coming clubs.
Bigger sponsorship enables more opportunities for football clubs to gain exposure, and the possibility of impressive broadcast revenues that fuel future development. Being recognised as a great club can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. But the challenge is getting there.
The Euro 2017 may have pushed women’s football firmly into the spotlight, but the hard work starts now. By implementing a comprehensive data strategy to bolster general awareness of the sport and attract fans to physical matches, women’s football clubs can catch the eye of those all-important sponsors for a more lucrative – and equal – future.
Ken Parnham is general manager for Europe at Near