Lionesses squad announcement aims to make similar marketing campaigns obsolete

With just under a month to go until the Women’s World Cup kicks off in Lyon, the eagerly anticipated squads were announced. England was the first home nation team to announce their squad, doing it in a rather eye catching style.

It’s no secret that women’s football has yet to reach the heights of men’s football, but the 23-woman squad announcement was one way that showed the FA are trying their best to drum up support for the Lionesses. Having won the SheBelieves Cup in March, the Lionesses overtook the host nation France to go into third in the FIFA rankings, making them one of the favourites for the competition.

So the strength of the squad is known to be there, but the women’s team is still lacking in popularity. This is the complete opposite of the men’s team, shown by the video that the FA released to announce the men’s squad for the 2018 World Cup.

The men’s campaign featured young people announcing the names of the stars representing the Lions on the international stage. This approach was taken because in the male game players are idolised, but the Lions wanted to show that they are human too. That thought process was also at the heart of the Lions’ Den series over last summer’s tournament – it allowed fans to be closer to the players and get to know them more, not just watch them from afar.

The women’s campaign had a similar allure to it, but as we know, a very different strategy behind it: to make the players more recognisable. As the German women’s team pointed out last week, they, like many other female teams, play for a country that doesn’t even know their names. And yet, the Germans have won the European Championships eight times. Phil Neville made it clear, this campaign and this World Cup is not just about showing the quality of women’s football and about inspiring the next generation, but making sure their names are heard.

They certainly made a start on that journey with the squad announcement. Combined, the stars they enlisted and – as well as the Lionesses accounts, with just 120k followers on Twitter and Instagram – can count a total following of 219,820,300.

Of all the stars who took part, it was Emma Watson who had the largest combined following across the two platforms above with 29.1m on Twitter and 50.6m on Instagram. Her tweet has had 827k views, 2.4k retweets and 30.4k likes.

Although marketing women’s football begins from a lower base than the men’s game in terms of player recognition, there are some benefits to that. Female players are not seen as unapproachable, unlike their male counterparts. This allows the top tier of the Women’s Super League to target advertising around families, with players regularly interacting with fans. Growing their profile may harm their ability to be approachable, with all the issues that come from increasing fame. But, if teams continue to produce down to earth content which allows fans to get to know the players, players can still be viewed as approachable, especially if the family fun days and planned meet and greets continue.

It’s clear the women’s game has a long way to go, as highlighted by the fact that 88% of players receive less than £18,000 a year, according to a survey released by FIFPro in August 2018 of 99 WSL players. The hope is that the World Cup gives the perfect international platform to highlight the value of the women’s game. The quality of the football and the increased notoriety of the players, which this campaign and World Cup hopes to increase, will result in these figures changing and the professionalisation process being accelerated.

A great World Cup campaign on top of the recent investments made by Barclays and Boots would showcase the determination to accelerate the growth of women’s football. With just 1,800 female players registered with UEFA, the hope for the tournament is that it will increase the reputation of the women’s game as well as the players and lead to even greater commercial success – in turn raising the wages of the players themselves.

The aim, then, is that campaigns like this will be unnecessary in future as women’s footballers gain a large enough following to create their own momentum.

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