Sport: Women's football is a super experience

The FA called in Iris PR to help launch its semi-professional Women's Super League.

Boot-iful: girl band PArade supported the launch
Boot-iful: girl band PArade supported the launch

Campaign Launch of The FA Women's Super League
Client The FA
PR team Iris PR and in-house
Timescale April-May 2011
Budget £300,000

Games in the Women's Premier League, the previous top division for women, were often cancelled due to poor facilities and attended by fewer than 100 fans.

Credibility of the game was lacking, with low awareness of female players and league domination by Arsenal Ladies. Women's football had struggled to get coverage in the male-dominated national sports pages, and female consumer press had not previously been targeted. The FA wanted to change this with the launch of the WSL.

Objectives

  • To develop a creative idea to act as a hook to bring all the elements of the launch and ongoing promotional plan together
  • To drive awareness and attendance of launch games by providing a greater fan experience, positioning players as icons and driving credibility.

Strategy and plan

The league is primarily aimed at nineto 15-year-old girls. In order to reach this difficult teen audience, Iris PR's campaign Call the Shots allowed fans to make decisions about the league, their club and match-day experiences via Facebook and at matches. This included player of the month, music played at half-time at live matches and the naming of the super league's mascot, Berry.

To counteract the fact that teen media were reluctant to feature football, Iris rec-ruited girl band Parade, which was suited to teen press and had a strong social media presence. The band took part in a media day, photoshoot and provided Twitter and Facebook updates for the month leading up to the launch, driving fans to Call the Shots on the FA WSL Facebook page.

The agency recruited several players from each club to act as ambassadors for the campaign and tour the UK with Call the Shots kits to act as spokespeople and rec-ruit fans. A launch event was held at Wembley, with all eight team captains present, allowing access for interviews alongside England Women's manager Hope Powell.

Measurement and evaluation

More than 50 pieces of national print coverage ran during the launch week, with 32 national radio pieces including BBC Radio 1 and 2, and Woman's Hour on BBC Radio 4. Thirty-three national TV pieces were secured including on Daybreak and Football Focus. Before the launch, two WSL players appeared on Sky's Soccer AM and a presenter from BBC's Kickabout trained with Bristol Ladies. Five features and 17 online hits were secured in teen media.

Results

The campaign increased attendance by 467 per cent compared with the Women's Premier League. Independent research commissioned by the FA showed that 44 per cent of football fans were aware of the FA WSL four weeks into the first season. The first live match was watched by more than 100,000 on ESPN. It was the most watched show on the channel that day and had similar viewing figures to that of a Scottish Premier League match.

SECOND OPINION

Stuart Skinner, Associate director, PHA Media

Iris PR identified the importance of building regional communities of young, female followers of women's football and offered them a stake in the sport through the 'Call the Shots' initiative. The campaign may only have been two months long but its central strategy of targeting grassroots fans and players creates a legacy for the Super League.

Perhaps the brief's biggest challenge was to change perceptions of the sport. Facebook is a sensible platform from which to encourage interaction among fans and including key players in a UK tour acknowledges the power of idols similar to those that populate the men's game.

Advocates in the teen media are integral to the grassroots campaign but reaching the mainstream consumer media is equally important; the tribal nature of football in the UK indicates that, if they are engaged in the right way, many staunch fans would be ready to broaden their allegiance to include their nearest Women's Super League team.

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