Did you catch England playing over the weekend? Not that dismal Nations League snooze-fest. No, this is an England team that — wait for it — wins, and often.
The Women’s World Cup kicked off last week, and there’s something in the air. This year something is different to tournaments past.
Tickets for the final and semi-final at the 59,000 capacity Olympique Lyonnais sold out in a record 48 hours. There’s a remarkably high chance our Lionesses will be in both. And if you didn’t snatch a ticket, in a first for the women’s game, every match is on the BBC, many during prime time.
The above wouldn’t be groundbreaking for the men’s game. Apart from the fact we might win, anyway. But with the FA lifting the ban on women playing only as recently as the seventies, in many ways the rights that women have been gaining outside of the sport have not been echoed within. Its time is well overdue.
One reason for its ascent into the public conscience is a raft of significant commercial deals — the Lionesses are being backed by Budweiser, Lucozade and Boots, while Adidas, Coca-Cola and Visa support the tournament proper. Big brands, laying their cards on the table for the women’s game.
Even those not sponsoring the tournament are in on the action, with Nike releasing its ‘Don’t change your dream – change the world’ spot last week.
It is a typical (and by that I mean good) Nike ad, that could have been released around any major tournament in the past few years. It features the stars of the elite game — stunning skills, a competitive spirit, and the pomp and emotion of a big tournaments — in the kind of slick, engaging film that we have come to expect from hot shop Wieden + Kennedy.
The difference – and why it’s being seen as newsworthy? It focuses on women.
It doesn’t make a big – or indeed any – deal about this. It presents them as they are, elite athletes who have reached the top of their game; it presents the football as it is – competitive, skillful, emotional. Phew. Does anyone else think it feels like about time?
This leaves us feeling like it’s aimed at all football fans, regardless of gender, as much as the female footballers of the future, who will no doubt (and quite rightly) be loving seeing their game getting the same treatment and billing as the men’s.
It’s as much about the players as the game this time, with Lucozade also having released a fantastic spot focussed on making female players household names, and jibing at those that have given condescending pats and claps to them over the years.
But Lucozade does so with more emotion and less of the heart-pumping excitement than Nike’s spot offers – which also puts aspiring footballer 10-year-old Makena Cook in the spotlight, something that’s sure to appeal football-loving parents across the country.
Nike has a decent track record, having supported female athletes for longer than most; it builds nicely on their Dream Crazier campaign earlier in the year, and should contribute to the long overdue rising momentum of women’s sport.
The shame is that this isn’t more commonplace and is still considered news.
Of course we should be celebrating our women in the same way as the men, and our girls in the same way as our boys. Of course we should be saying this is football, it’s exciting, watch it, love it, enjoy it.
If we don’t, we risk preaching only to the converted. If you wanted to sell a low emission vehicle to a petrolhead you wouldn’t bang on about its green credentials, you’d tell them it’s nought-to-sixty capabilities.
And that’s the point. As marketers, we have to think about what our audience wants first and foremost, and when that comes to football, it’s simply to be entertained.
If brands want to find ways to contribute to the overdue elevation of women’s sport, then they must play on what we already know gets people excited about a tournament — rather than acting like it’s a hard sell.