Something is happening in the women’s game. A stirring in its soul, moving it from the fringes to the mainstream. And, with the UEFA Women’s Euro 2017 tournament about to take place this summer in the Netherlands, this represents a major opportunity for brands.
This once ignored and peripheral strand of sport is now moving front and centre into our world. In the US, this isn’t even news. Across the pond it has never been the weaker link. Young girls are streamlined into the game with professional coaching from an early age. It is the new team sport, period. It has parity with the men’s’ game and feels all the better for it. And now the inexorable rise of the game in the US is finally being matched by something of a cultural wave over here in UK.
We live in a post-"Like a girl" and post "This girl can" world. There is no movement we need to create, or campaign we need to drop. We’re in a world where the groundwork has been done and thankfully we no longer see playing "Like a girl" as something derogatory, on the contrary it is worn as a badge of honour. Young children who saw England’s fantastic run in the 2015 women’s World Cup went straight outside in their gardens and pretended to be the very female players who got so close to glory for the national side.
It felt like parity with the men’s game was close when we were able to choose to take the role of a woman in Fifa 2016. It might feel absurd to describe a mere video game as a key moment, one in which playing in the virtual world is seen as something important. But it is. The importance and role of gaming is absolute because it’s a young Generation Z game before the game, enacting their dreams through the virtual space.
Women’s football is no longer the poor relation, this isn’t about an apologetic conveyance of the game. But here’s the challenge. Why are brands not queuing to be a part of it? So-called early adopters who are quick to jump on the latest social platform are surprisingly hesitant to go deeper and quicker with women’s football. Instead, brands which already have a commitment to the game merely fulfil obligations with activations but at a fraction of the costs they might fork out in the men’s space.
The men’s game has changed completely due to shifts in audience behaviour and technology. But the industry ‘game’ is struggling to keep up.
Stepping in as a brand is never easy in this cluttered space, which has so many obstacles and inefficiencies wrapped up in rights, trademarks, copyright and just what people perceive as ‘right’ or not.
But women’s football is a wide-open space, a blank canvas ready to be worked on and built out. Everything points to a sports media world entirely predicated on our relationship with mobile. Every aspect of the opportunity falls out of the incredible rich potential of working within the mobile space on a sport built on passion but without issues.
In women’s football the audience and fans are firmly embedded within messaging eco-systems, the influence of which can be exploited. There’s no better proposition for a brand than to be suggested within actual authentic conversations. Similarly, the prevalence of proximity and geo-location opportunities mean that savvy brands can augment the lives of women’s football fans so as not to be an annoyance. If you’re going to a game, then being told better routes, how to buy cheaper tickets, or receiving a heads-up on your favourite fast food is something you welcome, not disregard.
And this is all currently untouched territory in the women’s game. There’s absolutely zero clutter and noise. We have a game going through incredible change, and the big Women's Euro tournament this summer that will ignite interest and millions of young minds all over again. Yet brands are strangely slow to jump on board something they can at least partially own.
It is high time that marketeers, media agencies, and brand owners progressed beyond their historic buys and activations and instead unleashed big, bold, brave and creative thinking into the pure white snow in front of them.
James Kirkham is head of Copa90