The rise and fall – a brief history
It’s 1920, and a packed stadium of 53,000 people roar in celebration as the Dick, Kerr ladies’ team wins 4-0. The game raises £3000 (the equivalent of £140,000 today) for charity for ex-servicemen.
In 1921, only months later, the Football Association announced that playing football is “quite unsuitable for females and should not be encouraged” and they banned women from playing on FA pitches. It’s thought this is because the teams were getting too popular and not making money for the association like the men’s teams. Despite this popularity of women’s football, the crowds fade into obscurity as the teams are left to play local parks and muddy rugby clubs.
For 50 years, men’s football progressed, gaining popularity and featuring on early TV sets. FIFA began for men in 1930, taking teams across the world to compete for the ultimate prize of the World Cup, but it won’t be until 1991 that women compete for their first World Cup. In the following half a century, women’s football fades into obscurity with the increasing stereotype of it being a man’s game.
The rise again – PR strategies
In 1969 Woman’s Football Association was founded and fought to bring women’s football back to the British consciousness, campaigning to be able to play on football pitches again. In 1971 the FA rescinded their ban. Today, 3 million women and girls are now playing football and the Lionesses fought for victory in the final of the world cup final, watched by an expected 2 billion people globally.
We look at the PR and communications strategies that are helping women’s football succeed, building brand awareness and changing public opinions.
Clear objectives and brand messages
“Women’s football is for everyone, regardless of ability, age or background”. UEFA use a concise set of brand messages to achieve their goals and reach their audience.
From the aim to be allowed back on the pitch to the goals of today’s FA, the objectives have always been clear and ambitious, making up for lost time. In 2017 they launched Gameplan for Growth, aiming to double women’s football participation but also sustain their growth by doubling the number of fans too; they achieved this by 2020.
“Getting sports journalists to endorse women’s football and dispel the myths associated with it is an important step in changing the perception of the game”. Amplifying a brand’s voice through trusted sources can help build familiarity. Attending or hosting events and interacting with audiences in person will build awareness and add humanity to a brand.
Lots of the focus of the women’s team has been on education and grassroots. Changing perceptions at school level has made a path for girls to start football young. They have also opened up career pathways in coaching, refereeing and other non-playing roles, supporting the growth of women in the sport.
“Traditional media relations remains an important component of any communications activity”. Newspapers and magazines help to reach a target audience, allowing space to tell a story and comment on important issues to the brand or set itself apart as a thought leader.
In 1969, the Women’s Football Association used newspapers and print media to broadcast their desire to play as well as advertise for pitches that will take them and players for their team. Today, being able to easily watch women play on TV at home has opened it up to new audiences and helped to start bridging the gap with men’s football.
”Defining who they are, what they stand for and how they will interact with their audience”. Online interactions are really important in the modern world of connected communication. A clear and authentic brand identity will build trust.
Women’s football uses social media to position professional players as role models for girls, showing them what is possible. They also use the platform to follow the player’s journeys, see behind the scenes and build tensions and hype before games and help create a story for their audiences.
We can’t wait to see how women’s football progresses and where the Lionesses go next.
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