Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Marketing Highlights from SportNext's BeNe Womens Football League Seminar

This Monday I had the chance to take part in a seminar entitled "Sportmedia als Katalysator Voor de BeNe League" [Sport media as a catalyst for the BeNe women's football League] at the Philips Football stadium in Eindhoven. This young lady Anouk Hoogendijk of Ajax's newly formed women's team, under the management of Marleen Molenaar, was the "talk of the town" during the event.

How indeed can the newly launched Belgium/Dutch top football league use sport media as a catalyst? But for what goal? Is the goal to further increase the number of girls/women playing football? Or is the goal to raise the amount of fans of women's football? Or to get more media and sponsorship interest into the sport to professionalize it? Or all of the above? What are the measurable goals for this league? This was unclear, shouldn't there be a number of realistic and well defined goals to track success against? When is this league a success? I unfortunately missed Jan Willem van Dop's kick-off speech, as this might have answered these questions for me.

The seminar had some very interesting speakers, these were my highlights and key takeways from their presentations and talks:
  1. Bob Madou who presented the new media campaign to re-brand the Belgium national football team the "Red Devils" - he showed that setting well defined stretch goals for the campaign and focusing on dialogue with the audience and emotion was key to achieving success with the campaign.
  2. Joris Coppes who talked about how important new media such as Twitter would be for each BeNe player to use as a channel to communicate with fans and interested parties - he showed with the help of statistics, that the stories of the individual personalities are more important than those of the clubs/league themselves.
  3. Peter Sprenger who expressed his strong belief in this league and women's football in general. He explained that it is in fact the fastest growing women's sport in the Netherlands, with 200,000 female players in Netherlands and Belgium - indeed why then is there so much pessimism then around the possible success of this league?
The speakers and event got me thinking about how the league can use sport media as a catalyst. Of course how you use it, depends on your eventual goals. I would focus on the goal of getting seven times as much sponsorship money into the women's game to professionalize it by 2015 [the year of the 7th FIFA women's world cup in Canada] - without sending women's football down the same slippery path as the men's game. With this goal in mind, then the below are some possible suggestions:

  1. Target a different audience than the men's game. Focus on families and the 200,000 female players of football in Belgium and The Netherlands. Try and fill stadiums based on "an affordable family day out". In the female game [so far] there is less racism and violence than men's football - this is new/different and an attractive proposition for a new type of audience. Tickets should be affordable for the whole family and the day should be an experience, including meeting the stars, signature moments, shopping at the location and perhaps Tweetups so the hard core fans can meet the players/stars they follow in social media channels.
  2. Position women's football differently than the men's game. Obviously the female game is going to be less physical and fast, just as the William's sisters in tennis can't beat a male player in the top 300 in the world. Celebrate the differences - in tennis this means rallies that go on for longer. In the women's football game this means a smoother, more tactical build up and passing game, which builds excitement and there are less unnecessary interruptions and more goals. It is a real team sport with less ego's than the men's sport. These differences can be used to an advantage with this new target group. The novelty of a watching a female match should also not be underestimated.
  3. Brand players who need to create content and stories. Players like Anouk Hoogendijk are very media/camera friendly, everything should be done to ensure these types of players get airtime and exposure. But the players can, as a team take a leaf out of the book of the Springboks in the run up to their countries hosting of the World cup rugby. The girls teams could tour the local football clubs, do training sessions and engage with the youth players [boys/girls] and spread the message of equality in football and fighting obesity. Female football stars need to have a higher calling than is experienced with the male stars, this is what will create stories and content on top of their performance on the pitch. Of course female football and fashion looks like a perfect combination to some, but why not go beyond that obvious easy "commercial" win, to bigger societal issues. 
  4. Re-package fan membership and tickets. Clubs that have a female team should have them playing on the weekend, so families can come for a day out. Friday evening is not the optimal time or day to get this new target audience. Preferably the schedule for the women would mirror the men's weekend matches [like in tennis with females and males playing a tournament at the same time]. However the females would play in a smaller stadium [that feels fuller] on the same day as the men's team is playing, so there is buzz and atmosphere around the club and the two locations and the media is present and can switch between the two matches, resulting in perhaps more media coverage for the women's match. Then the club could create new packages for families and offer a ticket for the men to see the men's team plus an add on ticket for the girls to see the girls game.
  5. Direct market not mass market to fill physical stadiums. Filling stadiums helps with getting the media coverage and sponsorship money, although it is a bit of a  chicken and egg situation. Attendance at live matches via the internet is a great way of getting measurable eyeballs and impressions and that should be explored as part of the promotional and product marketing mix, like squash is  narrowcasting its top tournaments via the internet. However TV broadcasters and sponsors will be interested mostly by the physical attendance at the stadiums and the eyeballs via TV networks. In order to fill the stadium, the promotion of matches needs to be more targeted than it has so far. Billboards at train stations is not targeted enough and will be a very costly effort with little return. Start with directly targeting players and their family at their local football clubs and football grounds and via the clubs websites or Facebook pages.
I can't wait till the next SportNext event in February, I hope it will be as thought provoking as the last. Plus I would love to get more involved and help out the league or football clubs with making this the success it deserves to be for the clubs and the fans, but particularly for the players like Anouk who are so passionate about their sport and giving it their all, day in day out.




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