How the FA Cup is broadening its appeal

The FA’s marketing manager on its new headline sponsor Emirates and using Instagram to reach a younger audience.

With the third round of the newly-titled Emirates’ FA Cup kicking off this weekend, the domestic football competition’s marketing manager Lucy Roberts-Hartley says it is now focused on channels such as Instagram and aiming to add more excitement to its messaging in order to stay relevant.

Last May, the FA announced that Emirates would take over from Budweiser as the primary sponsor of the competition in a £30m, three-year deal.

While the announcement wasn’t surprising given Emirates’ recent aggressive sponsorship activity across different sports, the move represented the first time the FA Cup had renamed the competition to include a brand in its 144-year history.

And Roberts-Hartley hints that the FA had braced itself for a more negative reaction from some quarters.

She told Marketing Week: “There was perhaps a fear that the media and some fans would criticise it but the world of football has changed now and it is attached to brands. The majority of fans and journalists understand that.

“Emirates have a real credibility within sport and fans get that the core values of the FA Cup have not been compromised; we really hope we can extend this sponsorship beyond the three years.”

A changing tone of voice

With well over a century’s worth of history, the FA Cup is very much dictated by its past winners and losers.

However, Roberts-Hartley said it has made a conscious effort this season to make the competition more exciting to appeal to millennials and get the phrase ‘Emirate’s FA Cup’ into the public lexicon.

FA Cup 2
Arsenal won last season’s FA Cup, which then had Budweiser as its primary sponsor

“We have repositioned the brand and changed the communication of our values to better connect to youth. Instead of using retrospective language like ‘giant killing’ or ‘history’ or ‘heritage’, we are now all about excitement, risk, and unpredictability,” she explained.

This change in messaging extends to Emirates and the FA’s supplier partners such as Budweiser, EE, William Hill and Nike. Roberts-Hartley said the FA will also use Emirates’ global expertise to expand the competition into international markets.

“Our broadcast viewing figures are really strong internationally and the final is shown in over 80 international channels. Last year we worked with Budweiser in China and this year we will utilise Emirates for brand new activity within the UAE and US to increase engagement overseas.”

Teaming up with Instagram

In last season’s competition, which Arsenal ended up winning for the second year in a row, the FA experimented with bloggers, allowing them behind-the-scenes access.

And Roberts-Hartley said the FA Cup will work with Instagram for the first time this season, allowing it to shoot exclusive images at games to then distribute across the photo-sharing network.

“We worked with a lot of vloggers last season as they can connect us directly with our target audience of 18-34 year olds,” she adds.

“Bloggers are talking and sharing photos from the FA Cup directly to their peers instead of it just coming from the FA. There’s a lot more authenticity in working directly with Instagram and bloggers.”

Lucy Roberts-Hartley, marketing manager at The FA

As a result of this social media-based approach, the FA says it saw an 8% increase in the likelihood of 18-35 year olds attend matches in last year’s competition.

Embracing live streaming

Live streaming in particular has become a point of bother for many sports broadcasters, with fans now live broadcasting big boxing or football matches directly onto apps such as Periscope for their followers to watch for free.

However, Roberts-Hartley said the FA and its broadcast partners must be ready to embrace every new technology or risk being left behind.

“If you resist technology like [live streaming], you will get left behind,” she explained. “We have two great domestic broadcast partners in BT Sport and the BBC, and they are innovative and forward thinking. I hope and expect together we will start to embrace new things moving forward.

“Who knows, perhaps in 10 years time there will be people in the crowd wearing virtual reality headsets?”

Appealing beyond the norm

The FA has also launched a new Twitter account this season called ‘I Am The FA Cup’ to appeal to its target audience of 16-34 year olds. To tap into gaming, the FA has also launched the first ever Emirates FA Cup gaming tournament for tech-savvy fans.

Ultimately, Roberts-Hartley said the FA is trying to ensure that the competition can remain relevant amid the growing financial clout and growth of the Premier League and Champions League.

She concluded: “It is getting more and more challenging to keep up [with Premier League and Champions League] but we are making great progress.

“We tend to attract a difference audience for commercial partners, and families love the FA Cup as it is more of a one-off spectacle. But with the digital activity we started last year and are moving on this year, we really want to get the 16-36 year old, who is really into the Premier League and Champions League, also much more engaged with the FA Cup.

“We will always look back and celebrate the past but with our marketing and brand we must look forward too.”

Latest from Marketing Week


Access Marketing Week’s wealth of insight, analysis and opinion that will help you do your job better.

Register and receive the best content from the only UK title 100% dedicated to serving marketers' needs.

We’ll ask you just a few questions about what you do and where you work. The more we know about our visitors, the better and more relevant content we can provide for them. And, yes, knowing our audience better helps us find commercial partners too. Don't worry, we won't share your information with other parties, unless you give us permission to do so.

Register now


Our award winning editorial team (PPA Digital Brand of the Year) ask the big questions about the biggest issues on everything from strategy through to execution to help you navigate the fast moving modern marketing landscape.


From the opportunities and challenges of emerging technology to the need for greater effectiveness, from the challenge of measurement to building a marketing team fit for the future, we are your guide.


Information, inspiration and advice from the marketing world and beyond that will help you develop as a marketer and as a leader.

Having problems?

Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3703 or email

If you are looking for our Jobs site, please click here