How Man City is building an ecosystem around ‘under-served’ women’s football

Manchester City already sees women’s football as a “strategic investment” ripe for innovation, but a new report reveals a major barrier lies not only in speaking to, but also reaching, a new wave of fans.

Globally, women’s football is bigger than ever before. Not only in terms of eyeballs, but also in terms of its commercial growth, and that hasn’t gone unnoticed at Manchester City Football Club.

While on-pitch success helps (Manchester City’s women’s team finished second in the Women’s Super League last season), the club already saw women’s football as an important “strategic investment” that offers a new space in which to innovate, according to City Football Group’s chief commercial officer Nuria Tarre.

And just like the fans, the club wants to help the game grow.

A new global survey of 750 male and female fans aged between 16 and 24 conducted by Manchester City and football media group Copa90, found 95% of respondents think it’s ‘extremely’ or ‘quite’ important that the women’s game grows, compared to just 5% who believe it’s not important.

But at the moment, the game is almost solely relying on family and friends to spread the word, while the media and the clubs themselves have little influence. In the UK, for example, 69% of women’s football fans were introduced to the game by family and friends, compared to 13% who were introduced by the media and 4% by a club.

The stats are telling. They indicate football clubs are still trying to get a grasp on how they should be speaking to current women’s football fans and, more importantly, potential ones.

Speaking exclusively to Marketing Week, Tarre admits Man City is still very much in the “discovery phase” and is still determining the best way to spark conversation and interest.

“We’re always looking for new channels to encourage and help more people discover the game,” she explains. “We invest in dedicated resources to capture content for the women’s game and we use it across all sorts of platforms to make it more accessible. But we are still very much fishing for that discovery phase.”

Serving the ‘under-served’

According to the report, the women’s football audience feels vastly underserved, to the point that a core fan base has taken it upon itself to lead the charge in creating platforms for women’s football content, rather than waiting for traditional media to give the game more coverage.

“Fans complain about a lack of coverage and content. They’re asking for more and they feel they are hugely underserved from a content point of view,” Tarre says.

To better serve its audience Man City has merged its men’s and women’s social media channels to give the latter more visibility, which Tarre says is essential considering “some people didn’t even realise we had a women’s team”.

There are a lot more brands that should see women’s football as an opportunity to do something new and be braver.

Nuria Tarre, Manchester City

One of the findings that surprised Tarre is that women’s football has a much wider appeal than she expected that stretches well beyond its core supporter base. This has prompted the marketing team to consider how they can tap into that audience.

“There is potential to engage a wider audience that value it for what it is, football. And good football. There’s a wider audience that see it as a new form of football that is trendy and intriguing,” Tarre explains.

She adds that the women’s competition also offers the opportunity to be innovative in the way the club tells the players’ stories, but to do that there needs to be collaboration between the club, brands and its fans.

“There are a lot more brands that should see women’s football as an opportunity to do something new and be braver, because perhaps there are some things you wouldn’t do with men’s football that you could do with the women,” says Tarre.

“There’s a true opportunity for innovation. It’s not only about men and women, it’s about telling the story of performance and the players.”

The wider ecosystem

This year, Manchester City ended its long-standing kit deal with Nike in favour of working with Puma, in part due to the brand’s eagerness to “truly engage women in sport”.

Tarre says the club now feels it is better armed to illustrate to brands the sheer scale of the opportunity in the women’s game.

“We will be investing a lot more around content and women’s football now that we better understand what the hooks are that get us new audiences. Now we have to decide whether we are going to be even more active than we have already been,” she explains.

Tarre doesn’t just mean financially, though. Marketing spend on the women’s team is still lower than the men’s, but she says this is a result of complexities such as the size of the game and broadcasting, sponsorship and ticketing revenue.

She says: “What we are doing is putting the right infrastructure in place. But the salaries and the numbers of competitions they play very much depends on the structure of the women’s federation and the level of investment is not the same.”

Tarre insists that marketing can’t be made solely responsible for growing the appeal of women’s football. Instead, marketing is part of a wider ecosystem that can play an influential role.

“Broadcasters and media partners have a huge role in helping develop excitement around the game. Brands are the other elements that is important. Having more brands invest in women’s football means we can build an ecosystem,” she says.

“We see women’s football as a strategic investment. But we can’t do that by ourselves, which is a very important message. We need other players and federations to play their role.”

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