Two Steps Forward, One Step Back – WSW16

Sitting in the audience at Monday's launch event for Women's Sport Week, I couldn’t help but feel the momentum behind the profile and awareness of women’s sport. We are moving in the right direction. The world is slowly waking up to an equal playing field and diverse boardrooms equating to a stronger economy and future. We already know the social and physical benefits of sport, and new research from Women in Sport and Investec goes further to highlight the benefits this gives women in their personal and professional endeavors – affirming what the majority of the room already knew.

This can be echoed across the past 12 months. In its entirety, the progress of Women’s Sport in the last year is positive. Yet there is still this underlying attitude that likes to rear its ugly head: we seem to take two steps forward, and one step back.

October 2015 | Chelsea Ladies Leading the Way.
For the second season running the Women’s Super League went down to the final game, with Chelsea Ladies clinching their first ever title. The win also landed Chelsea their second trophy of the season after their victory over Notts County in The 2015 SSE Women’s FA Cup Final. This success would have been unlikely had the women’s team’s future been left in the hands of the club’s board. It was the then Chelsea F.C. and England captain, John Terry, who came to the rescue when their budgets were cut in 2009.

November 2015| Slow Progess for NGOs
Change needs to start at the top. Having a greater number of women in decision-making roles will benefit sport at every level. The annual ‘Trophy Women’ Report, published by Women in Sport, highlighted that almost half of sporting organisations boards failed to meet the 25% gender balance guideline, while 16% were found to have no women at executive level at all.

December 2015 | Women’s Participation Rising Faster than Men’s
Good news: the gender gap is closing at a grassroots level. Sport England released its latest findings from its Active People Survey. The number of people regularly playing sport rose by 1.65 million between 2005 and 2015, with the rise driven by an increase in the number of women playing sport. 7.01 million females aged 16 years or over (31.2%) played sport once a week, with running the fastest growing sport for women.

January 2016 | Gayle’s Conduct Falls Short
Gender equality is not recognised by all. West Indies cricketer Chris Gayle rightly drew sharp criticism for his comments after asking out reporter Mel McLaughlin live on air. He was subsequently fined £4,900 for his remarks.

February 2016 | NFL Believes in Diversity
Across the pond, the NFL continued with its efforts to encourage female involvement in the sport. February 2016 saw the introduction of a “Rooney Rule” for women, requiring teams to interview female candidates for “executive positions”.

March 2016 | Indian Wells CEO Sparks Outrage
Another day, another example of a high-profile gender howler. Indian Wells CEO, Raymond Moore’s comments that the women’s tour “rides on the coat-tails” of the men’s game received widespread backlash, resulting in his resignation. This reignited the debate of women’s pay in tennis – despite the sport remunerating men and women equally across the four Grand Slams.

April 2016 | Netball Goes Full Time
England Netball announced that players would go full-time from June 2016, with 14 players initially selected to join the summer training camp. The move is part of England Netball’s mission to reach the 2019 World Cup.

May 2016 | Record SSE Women’s FA Cup Crowd
For the second season running, The SSE Women’s FA Cup Final was held in front of a record crowd. Nearly 33,000 people were in Wembley Stadium, with millions more at watching from home as Arsenal defeated current holders Chelsea to claim their 14th title.

June 2016 | Synergy: This Girl Does
Synergy’s event with Jacqui Oatley MBE, Tanya Joseph, Colin Banks, Ruth Holdaway and Carly Telford provided thought-provoking discussion. Brands left with a clear positive message on the commercial and social value to be gained from women’s sport partnerships. See here for our seven top takeaways from the day.

July 2016 | Royal Troon Enters a New Age
After Muirfield voted not to admit women members in May, Royal Troon showed the golfing world the way forward as their members “overwhelmingly” voted to allow women to join.

August 2016 | RFU Tackles Sexism
The RFU announced they are to award 48 new contracts, including 16 full-time deals, to members of the senior women’s squad ahead of their World Cup defense in 2017. The decision came as part of new £1 million investment in the women’s game, and will allow the squad to train full-time.

August 2016 | Olympic Coverage Backlash
Media coverage of female achievements during the Rio Games was consistently slammed as sexist and degrading. From Andy Murray’s put down of John Inverdale to Helen Skelton’s wardrobe debate, everyday sexism within the media was quickly shut down. The level of backlash to the media coverage showed a growing intolerance of gender inequality amongst sports fans and represents a new age of women’s sport reporting.

September 2016 | ‘Vast’ gender wage gap still exists
As we begin to feel we’d climbed the summit, our summer and post-Olympic come down was worsened by the Gender Balance in Global Sport report. Published by Women on Boards, it found significant differences in pay for men and women in basketball, golf and football.

September 2016 | City Make the Front Page
Ending on a high, Manchester City claimed their first WSL title in style, beating the current champions 2-0 and earning a rare front-page slot in The Guardian. A watershed moment for the women’s game, and a huge step forward for Women’s Sport.

Recapping on the year, it is apparent the media, sponsors, governing bodies and NGOs are all saying, doing, or acknowledging what needs to be done to continue to move forward. Disappointingly, the work of the many is all quickly undermined by the headline-grabbing actions of the few. Fortunately, opposing these outdated perceptions is a much stronger force and fans are ready to openly voice their outrage and disagreement. 10 years ago complaints would be buried in the news editors’ inboxes; today sport is an ongoing social media spectacle, and fans are the harshest, but most honest critics. Harnessing the power of them will be integral to really making a difference. Surely this, combined with new research, is enough for us to take action, instead of continuing to simply highlight the issues? I remind myself that we’re preaching to the converted: a room full of women – and men – who are at the forefront of advocating and supporting change.

We retweet, like and love posts from people that share and validate our opinion. But we are people who love sport, work in sport, and are already invested in it promoting women’s sport.

So, how do we only move forward? Women’s Sport needs to evolve from a movement into the norm. Women's Sport needs bigger brands that talk to a bigger audience. Brands have the power to reach the masses and be a part of social change.

After all, actions speak louder than words.

Gold in Rio. What Does this Mean for Women’s Hockey?

Ever since I picked up my first hockey stick at the age of 12, I was hooked and the aspiration of playing for my country was born. To watch the Team GB women win gold in Rio and stand on the podium was one that I’ll remember forever. Not only has this made me immensely proud to play my sport, but the implications of this victory for hockey – and women’s sport in general – are unimaginable. This medal has paved the way for my sport and, arguably, secured its future success for many years to come.

To understand what winning gold in Rio means for the hockey community, let’s look at its impact on clubs, the media and what this means for the future.

1. Developing #Back2Hockey

Each year England Hockey run #Back2Hockey, an initiative which encourages clubs to engage with their local community to help with each club’s annual recruitment drive. Following the success at Rio, it’s expected that clubs will see a huge increase in participants from local schools and from ‘lapsed’ players (those who haven’t played hockey since leaving school or university).

Building on the first year of #Back2Hockey in 2014 (see my previous blog here), England Hockey have created #HockeyFest – a festival which encourages clubs to not only recruit new players, but celebrate hockey in the community over the course of the summer. Clubs have also been encouraged to hold inter-club tournaments, watch hockey matches live from Rio, as well as promote their activity across social media and through local press. Clubs with an affiliation with a medal winner have hosted coaching sessions with the GB players to inspire new members.

2. Riding the Rio media wave

Over the course of the summer, media interest in hockey has grown significantly. The Olympic Semi-Final and Final were shown live on BBC1 and BBC2 – the first time in the sport’s history. 9 million tuned into the Final, the huge demand pushing back BBC News at Ten to a later time.

Since their return to the UK, the gold medallists have been kept busy with a wide variety of appearances, from BBC Breakfast to A Question of Sport. None more so than Kate Richardson-Walsh, my personal hockey hero, who has arguably cemented herself as a national treasure. Over the years, Kate has been a figurehead for GB Women’s Hockey and was rightly appointed as flag-bearer at the Olympic Closing Ceremony. She first made the headlines at London 2012, where she fractured her jaw in Team GB’s opening match against Japan, but after receiving medical attention, she continued to play in the rest of tournament. The victory at Rio 2016 was the crowning glory of her career and will no doubt inspire a new generation of players.

3. The future – what does this mean now?

So, they’ve inspired a nation over the summer and are now seen across multiple channels promoting their success, but what does the future now hold for hockey in Britain? Well, it’s looking bright. Over the next few years, England Hockey have secured the right to host multiple international, as well as domestic competitions, to be held at London’s Lee Valley Hockey Centre and at Wembley Arena.

From the Men’s Hockey World League in June 2017 to the Women’s World Cup 2018, watching live hockey will be more accessible than ever. Sky Sports broadcasted the Women’s European Championships in 2015 and more coverage is planned. Sky Sports are a champion of GB Hockey and the team regularly feature in the Sky Sports Sportswomen TV programmes.

To ensure that they continue with the momentum created from Rio, England Hockey have given clubs and previous event attendees early access to tickets. The attendance at the first international tournament will be a big test to see if the governing body can utilise this increased interest. My belief, given the reaction post-Rio, is that they can.

A relevant question for the future is how brands can capitalise on the team’s success this summer. Investec, the women’s Principal Sponsor, have quickly started their activity with the team following their return from Rio. They’ve helped to raise the players’ individual profile by having a stylised team photo shoot taking place at a country estate with interviews highlighting interesting facts about them. Ahead of the Olympics, Investec also released a series of emotive and inspiring films which highlighted both key players and the head coach, on their journey to becoming GB Hockey team members. This included one of the team’s superstars, Maddie Hinch, who, with her incredible performance in the Final, helped to grab many ‘armchair’ fans’ attention.

The GB team’s win at Rio has clearly put international hockey and women in sport back on the news agenda. England and GB Hockey are on the right road to maintaining the sport’s momentum; however, more can be done to build excitement and participation ahead of Tokyo 2020.

To do so they must utilise hockey’s stars in innovative and engaging ways to help promote the sport and women’s sport in general. With the upcoming events planned, this is a very exciting time for hockey.

Women’s Sport Week 2016

Taking over our blog today, in honor of Women's Sport Week, is Anna Kessel, renowned sportswriter for the Guardian and the Observer, as well as Chair and co-founder of Women in Football. In June, Anna was awarded an MBE for her services to journalism and women in sport.

What makes sport so important to you? Why have you made it your mission for other women to embrace this?

Because for me, sport has remained this last bastion of male privilege in which women have been, and continue to be, excluded. And that's just rubbish because sport is great fun - why should women and girls miss out? It's also hugely important pretty much every way you look at it - the United Nations say sport has the power to tackle gender inequality across the globe, EY says sport can help women to smash the glass ceiling in their careers, and you've only got to think about it for two minutes to realise that sport is the perfect antidote to all the body image woes debilitating women in the Western world. With the 'fourth wave of feminism' at play everywhere we look at the moment - from fashion to TV, advertising to politics, I was determined that sport should not be left untouched by this modernising force. Sport needs women, and women - I think - need sport.

There was huge public outcry to the media’s sexism towards the female Olympians at Rio this summer. Were you surprised by the public’s response?

I was thrilled that everyone I knew was talking about a Hungarian swimmer whose husband was given the credit for her medal winning performance. Previously, those stories have barely registered in the sports pages, let alone the mainstream media. But over the summer every women's outlet going - not to mention national newspapers - published story after story about the sexiest episodes plaguing the Games. It was a real watershed moment, women and men outside of the usual sports audience waking up to some of the injustices that routinely take place in sport, and feeling outraged about them. It's all part of the bigger, and very important, picture of a widening slice of the population wanting to engage in sport and caring more about what happens in sport.

Women arguably have less time than ever before to participate and engage with sport. What can brands do to help make sport more accessible women with those time constraints?It's all about changing the usual offerings that sport gives us - thinking outside of the box, thinking from a range of female perspectives. Some of the solutions are obvious - for example Chelsea football club offering a crèche at Stamford Bridge for their fans. I'm pretty sure they're the only Premier League club to do this (something they should really shout about). Or it might be about creating a family led sporting experience e.g. Jessica Ennis-Hill has just launched a series of sporting days out for all the family, which fits in perfectly with families wanting to make the most of their leisure time together, be more active, spend more time outdoors, be healthier. The Cycletta series offers women various distance cycling events, followed by beauty treatments - which might not be everyone's cup of tea (and I know some women who will actively hate that sort of thing!) but ultimately, it's about offering a wider range of experiences for women to connect with, and putting across a very clear message that sport is for women, of all types, backgrounds and ages.

Should brands be leveraging their influence with men’s clubs/sport to help women’s teams/sport – for example should Adidas be pushing Manchester United to create a women’s side?

Yes! For anyone passionate about women's sport the fact that Manchester United continues to ignore women's football is a travesty. But, ethics aside, surely it makes business sense too? Currently sportswear giants are only making use of half of their potential market. Imagine if they could sell female specific football boots and kit to women and girls? At the moment girls and women who play football have to make do with boys and men's kit - even at an elite level (much to my irritation.) Look at the explosion in fitness clothing sales for women, don't sports brands want to capitalise on that to include sport specific kit? Add to that the recent trend for femvertising, and the power of championing women in connection with brands and it seems a no brainer - to me - that doing 'the right thing' by women and sport ticks all the boxes.

There are a lot of sports with big viewerships at the Olympics, take Gymnastics as an example, but are without major sponsors or profile domestically. Why do you think this is?

Because for aeons everyone's just accepted a particular hierarchy in sport, namely that men's Premier League football attracts all the cash and all the attention and not much else is worth bothering about. But the exciting thing about doing something new, and taking a risk, is how new ideas can fly and really take off. And that's a great creative space to be getting involved in, and potentially financially rewarding too.The Women's Boat Race is the classic example - Helena Morrissey bought the event for a song, and got a 10-fold return, as well as front and back page coverage of her brand in doing so, because she created a moment for the sport, a historical event. Last week I received an email advertising the gymnastics World Cup taking place at The O2 in London, marketed by Matchroom - Barry and Eddie Hearn's business. No one ever usually bothers with World Cups in Gymnastics, they're below World and European champs in the pecking order....and yet, as soon as I read the email I wanted to buy the family day ticket so I could take my daughter to watch the sessions because she - like millions of others - watched the Rio Olympics, thought, "wow", and asked, "Mummy when can we go and see the gymnastics in real life?"

Anna’s book Eat Sweat Play: How Sport Can Change Our Lives has been long listed for this year's William Hill Sports Book of the Year award.

Women’s Sport Week 2016

In our second instalment of special guest interviews to celebrate Women’s Sport Week 2016 we spoke to Baroness Sue Campbell, Head of Women’s Football at The FA. A former England netball player and coach, Baroness Campbell assumed her position at UK Sport in 2003, a year in which she also received a CBE for her services to sport. In that role, she was responsible for the strategies that led to Team GB’s record-breaking performance at the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Baroness Campbell’s appointment to Head of Women’s Football in 2015 was made at a time when the sport has been enjoying an upsurge in popularity and is a real opportunity for her to help shape the future vision and strategy for girls’ and women’s football.
This year you were appointed as Head of Women’s Football for The FA. Tell us a bit more about this role and why it appealed to you?

It is a great privilege to be working as Head of Women's Football. So much has already been achieved, but it is now the time to take the game to a new level and ensure it realises its potential. My role is to work with everyone in the game to develop a new national strategy – doubling the number of women playing the game, doubling the fan base and achieving consistent success on the International stage.

How important is the women’s game to The FA? Martin Glenn has said it is a ‘priority’ for The FA but what does that mean?

Martin is very committed to support the development of the women's game and has made it a top priority for the whole of the FA. There is enormous enthusiasm, passion and support within the football family to get this right.

What is your vision for Women’s Football in the UK? What do you think the “step up” is after the Lionesses’ success in Canada at the 2015 FIFA World Cup?

The game has huge potential to grow and develop at every level. The success of the England team in Canada has raised the profile of the game and set new expectations. The next step is to provide a wider range of opportunities for young girls and women to play, coach and officiate, create a clear talent pathway that is accessible for all girls – no matter where they live – and develop a sustainable, successful high-performance system.

How much do you think it is lack of opportunity vs. challenging perceptions that limits the number of female players coming through?

It’s both! We need to provide a range of opportunities that meets the needs, interests and motivations of all girls and women – whether they wish to play for fun, fitness and friendship or they even have an ambition to play at the highest level. But we also need to change the brand and image of the game and develop a wide-ranging communication plan to reach more girls and women.

What power does football have to change the lives of girls and women in society?

There are some massive challenges facing girls and women in society. Growing issues over their physical and emotional wellbeing, the potential negative impact of new technologies leading to bullying and isolation, a growing complex, multi-cultural society and a lack of employment and leadership opportunities. No sport on its own can resolve these challenges, but the strength of the football brand, combined with the massive potential to grow the game means that football could make an immense contribution to women's role in society.

What do you think needs to change to get girls into sport in their early formative stages of their life?

There is no question that basic physical literacy should be in every primary school and that all sports can play their part in providing support to schools, developing quality after school programmes and providing a range of community opportunities so that all girls can experience and enjoy being active. Primary years can motivate or deter young people for life, so we have to get it right!

Does it trouble you that the likes of Manchester United have no senior women’s team? Is there a plan to get more support from the Premier League?

The teams in the FA WSL are there because of the commitment and excellence of highly motivated individuals who are passionate about the women's game. We want to spread that passion and get more people working to improve opportunities for women to play and succeed in the game. One of my first meetings was with Richard Scudamore at the Premier League, because it is important that we all work collaboratively to achieve the ambitious targets we have set for the women's game.

Are there other governing bodies in the world of women’s football and sport that you are taking inspiration from?

There is always much to learn from everyone across the world of football and in other sports. But I am sure the majority of the country was inspired by the GB women's hockey team’s performance in Rio. It was the style of their success that was so impressive. The very best of women's sport. It would be wonderful if we could have a GB football team in Tokyo to inspire us all.

If you could change just one thing in women’s football, what would it be?There is much to be proud of in the women's game. The key to achieving many of our goals is to attract the investment and marketing support of a range of commercial partners committed to the women's game.

How important is continued commercial investment for women’s football in this country?

Very important at every level. We will be seeking corporate partners who can work in partnership with us to market the game to girls and women across the country and whose business mission aligns with ours.

What do you think is the biggest area of opportunity for a brand in women’s sport?

Any brand coming into the game at this point will be entering girls’ and women's sport at a time when the physical and emotional well-being of young women is a major growing concern. Investment in women's football is an investment in the future health of the game, women and society as a whole. It is the opportunity to transform a generation of young women.

This week it is Women’s Sport Week. Can you see a time when we won’t need special weeks to raise awareness of women’s sport and how far off are we from that time?

The special focus on women's sport is key to raising awareness and celebrating all that is being achieved by women at every level of sport. The media have gradually improved their coverage of women's sport, but we still have a very long way to go!

Who do you currently think are the greatest role models in women’s sport?

Women's sport has many individual role models and the members of the England women's football team are among the most inspiring. It is not just their achievements we should celebrate but the journey they have taken to get there – overcoming so many barriers and setbacks to reach their goal. At the grassroots end of sport, my role models are the volunteer coaches who turn out in all weathers to support their players and develop their talent.

Who is your biggest influence on you when you were younger and now?

The biggest influence on me as a young person was my dad, closely followed by my PE teacher. Today I am inspired by young people who, given a chance, always amaze you!

Changing Perceptions in Women’s Sport

On Monday 26th September there was a picture on the front page of the Guardian showing Manchester City Women celebrating the moment they became WSL Champions. On the front page. Now that is a step in the right direction. Less than a week later, the football club completed the double by winning the Continental Tyres Cup. There wasn't even time to put the champagne back on ice.

Female sporting role models surround us and it is brilliant. But, with all of these successes, it is important to take a step back and assess the impact this is having on women’s sport and, more pertinently, on young girls around the country. It would be difficult to argue that the aforementioned role models aren’t encouraging women to be active. But do they engage those that simply aren’t huge sports fans? Yes, Manchester City Women were on the front page of The Guardian and quite rightly the story focussed on their on-pitch successes. However, would you flick to the back pages to read the full story if you didn’t like football? Would you even notice it on the front page? Maybe not.

Inspiring young girls around the country to play sport can’t only be about the success of elite athletes. Moreover, changing perceptions of women in sport won’t be achieved solely in the back pages of the paper. It is, in fact, this prerequisite for somebody to like sport in order to play it, that might actually be putting people off. Instead, the value of sport and the impact it can have must be communicated in a much broader way which is relatable to all (sports fan or not). Not everybody should require an ambition to be the next Steph Houghton in order for them to feel empowered to kick a football. Young girls should instead want to go and play because the results are more far-reaching, they transcend sport itself. And because their everyday role models (enter mum and dad) are encouraging them to do it. Even mums and dads that don’t have a deeply ingrained passion for sport themselves.

A recent post on the Facebook account of ‘Parenting Girls – Raising Good Women’ argued that parents don't simply pay for their kids to play sports; they pay for the opportunities that sports provides to develop attributes that will serve them well throughout their lives. Respect, teamwork, winning and losing. The fundamental life skills that make up a well-rounded person. A recent ParkLives film by Synergy client Coca-Cola takes this one step further showing that sport can quite simply bring children, parents and communities together.

And the simplicity of this is what makes it the perfect area for brands to explore. It’s far too easy for us to simply tell the story of a female that has defied the odds to reach the pinnacle of her sport. Of course these stories can be incredibly powerful, but they aren’t always relatable. Instead we should be telling the stories of how football, and sport generally, has impacted the day-to-day lives of normal young girls. How it can build their confidence and enrich their social lives. How it has given them the tools to succeed academically. But most importantly, how their parents supported them through this process and encouraged them to play. Because this is a parent’s responsibility.

Which might just be the key.

Parents have a responsibility to encourage their children to be active. They also have a responsibility to change the perceptions of women’s sport with their own children – it should start at home. So let’s encourage them to do it. At the very least, we might make mums and dads think more about the power of sport. At best, we might empower parents to take their daughter to the park to play football, regardless of their ability or previous interest in the sport.

So what is the endgame? Somebody with no interest in sport is impacted by a sporting story. It’s something we tried to achieve when working with SSE on their ‘Dads and Daughters’ series. A football story that is about way more than just football. It’s about family bonding. It’s about overcoming challenges in life. It’s about togetherness, inclusion, equality and being a part of something that can change your life for the better. And it so happens that it couldn’t have happened without two things: dedicated parents and the power of football.

Therefore, the challenge is clear: we must talk to all parents about sport, not just those that are sports fans. And we must engage them with the power sport can have on the everyday lives of their children – regardless of whether or not their daughter might one day be pictured celebrating on the front page of The Guardian.

Women’s Sport Week

There is nobody better placed to talk about Women’s Sport Week than the CEO of Women in Sport, Ruth Holdaway. Ruth took up her role as Chief Executive of Women in Sport in November 2013 and since joining the Charity she has set about creating and embedding a new vision to transform sport for the benefit of every woman and girl in the UK.

Welcome to Women’s Sport Week! In its second year, Women’s Sport Week is a celebration and showcase of the brilliance that women’s sport can bring – at every level. From the benefits that come from playing sport from a young age to develop life skills, to the benefits sport can bring to your health as your body changes with age. From the inspiration of major events like the Olympic and Paralympic Games and World Cups, to the economic growth sport contributes to in the UK.

Sport is essential – it’s as simple as that. Sport really should just be a normal part of life – something you do as a kid, take with you into adulthood, possibly make a career out of on the field of play or in the office of the governing body, and something you enjoy as entertainment – be it having fun with family and friends playing rounders in the park or just cheering on your local team.

But for many, many – too many – women, this is not the case. Women in Sport is the UK’s leading charity dedicated to transforming sport for the benefit of every woman and girl in the UK. Our research shows the huge gender gap that exists in sport. 1.6m fewer women playing sport once a week than men, around 50% of the National Governing Bodies of sport with less than 25% of the membership of their Board made up of women, only 17% of female coaches in sport, only 0.4% of all commercial investment in sport going to the women’s game…the list of inequalities goes on. It needs to stop: right here, right now.

Women in Sport is privileged to work with fantastic partners like the BBC, Sky Sports, British Rowing, the Women’s Sport Trust, Sport England and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Together we have created Women’s Sport Week – a week when the nation can celebrate the successes of our brilliant female athletes. Just remind yourself of the more recent achievements, like GB’s Hockey team and individuals like Dame Sarah Storey winning golds in Rio; England’s Lionesses bringing back a bronze medal from the FIFA World Cup, or, better still, England’s women winning the Rugby World Cup…I could go on and on. And on.

Women’s Sport Week is also a time for all of us women, who lead busy and complicated lives, to remind ourselves that there is a sport out there for all of us. We may not have loved sport at school, but as the This Girl Can campaign has reminded us, talented or not, sport can make us feel good about ourselves, give us back a bit of sparkle and be great fun. I hope Women’s Sport Week will give mums, daughters, aunties, sisters and nieces nationwide, the inspiration and practical help to give sport a go. For more on this check out and @womeninsport_UK or simply #WSW16. Finally, I really hope Women’s Sport Week will awaken brands to the power of sport: a healthy workforce will improve your productivity – so help your employees, and yourselves, to get active. And as we showcase how successful our women are, I hope an increasing number brands will see the potential to reach out to their customers by supporting and sponsoring women’s sport.Women’s Sport Week is great – but ironically I’d like it to be a thing of the past. The sooner we reach a point where the statistics I mentioned above start to level out, our work will be done – and I for one look forward to that day.

Happy Women’s Sport Week – for as long as it’s needed.

This year Women in Sport is proud to launch Women’s Sport Wednesdays, a fundraising campaign encouraging the nation to come together to play sport and raise money to help women and girls reach their full potential through sport. For more information on how you can get involved click here.

Women’s Sport Week – 2016

This week we are celebrating Women’s Sport Week #WSW16 with a take-over of our blog & social channels.We are passionate about raising awareness of, and reducing, the gender gap that exists in sport - in participation, media coverage and within our industry.

We believe that brands have a massive opportunity to engage with 7 million active women by investing in women’s sport, raising its profile and making a real difference.This week we will bring you a number of different perspectives from the world of sport - Ruth Holdaway CEO of Women in Sport, Baroness Sue Campbell Head of Women’s Football at The FA and Author of Eat, Sweat, Play Anna Kessel along with lots of our own thoughts and opinion.


Why Eni Aluko’s Under Armour Deal Is Bigger Than You Think

“Aluko’s unique position as a role-model to women and girls alike takes Under Armour in to a space where they can truly connect with consumers”

Last week marked another welcome breakthrough for women’s sport. Under Armour announced a long term sponsorship deal with Eni Aluko, the first of its kind for a WSL player, making the England international the first UK based female footballer to join #TeamUA.

But while we celebrate another positive step forward for women’s sport, we must also take a minute to applaud Under Armour. In signing Eni Aluko they have taken themselves into a new space. Forget Lionel Messi. Ignore Neymar. They both have their (obvious) merits. Eni Aluko is the secret weapon.

So why is this partnership so special?

As a female athlete (who, by the way, has been instrumental in raising the profile of the women’s game here in the UK), Aluko has the power to transcend football. Her impact will be bigger than selling a pair of football boots. With over 100 England caps to her name, Aluko has arguably been the most high profile advocate of women’s football over the past five years and is hugely respected within the game. After becoming the first female footballer to appear as a pundit on Match of the Day, Aluko headed to the European Championship’s in France this summer as part of ITV’s broadcast team. Suddenly we have an athlete that is not only inspiring girls to play football, but inspiring women within the wider confines of sport. She is famous for her determination and drive to succeed both on and off of the football pitch.

And guess what? Under Armour share these values. A match made in heaven may be a slight exaggeration, but it’s pretty special. The brand are no strangers to addressing stereotypes that exist in sport. In fact they are proud of leading the way in this field. In 2014 they made headlines with their (literally) hard-hitting ‘I WILL WHAT I WANT’ campaign alongside Gisele Bündchen. The point of the campaign? To inspire. To break down barriers. To overcome.

So, this is where the next 12 months will be interesting. Under Armour must now activate this sponsorship in a way that is only possible with a female athlete in Aluko’s position. Her unique position as a role-model to women and girls alike will take Under Armour in to a space where they can truly connect with consumers. Challenges that women and girls face in sport can be addressed and the next generation of young aspiring female footballers can be inspired. Eni Aluko is the only athlete on Under Armour’s UK roster that can tell this story in a truly credible way.

Will other brands follow suit?

Although they are the first sports brand to strike a long term partnership of this kind with a WSL player, it would be naïve to view Under Armour’s investment in women’s football as a risk. While a recent SSE campaign proved that Aluko is already a massive inspiration for girls around the country, the potential value for brands working in women’s sport is great.

According to Sport England, there are over 7 million women engaging with health and fitness in the UK today. 75% of women want to get into sport and those participating is increasing at a faster rate than men. Couple this with the fact that women’s buying power combined with increasing influence now drives 70-80% of all consumer purchasing in the household (Ernst & Young) and you have a marketing formula that is going to work.

As Synergy’s recent ‘This Girl Does’ event uncovered, brands must connect to their audiences in an authentic way in order to engage. When you talk to people in the right way, they can’t help but want to get involved. Sport England’s #ThisGirlCan campaign proved this by shifting women’s perception to feel like sport is a place where they can be.

So, what next?

In Eni Aluko, Under Armour now have the opportunity to engage with women and girls in a unique way. Let’s hope they do it. We can’t wait.

The Future for Women’s Sport: Learnings from our This Girl Does Event

Women’s sport is a really good investment. We have proof. It is time that brands understand what the opportunity is. Expertly hosted by Jacqui Oatley, MBE, Sport Presenter and Journalist, Synergy’s This Girl Does panel consisted of Tanya Joseph, Director of Business Partnerships at Sport England; Colin Banks, Head of Sponsorship and Reward, SSE; Ruth Holdaway, CEO Women in Sport; and Carly Telford, England and Notts County Footballer.Watch the video in full here.

Here are our 7 top takeaways from the day:

Untapped potential

Tanya Joseph, who orchestrated the widely successful campaign #ThisGirlCan, shared that the work was built on research revealing 2 million fewer women do recreational sport than men, but 75% of women say that they would like to do a lot more sport. As Joseph suggests, when women make up over half the population and are responsible for the majority of purchasing decisions made in the home, that’s a lot of untapped potential. Joseph claims that the campaign was so successful due to an acute understanding of the underlying fear of judgement that goes hand in hand with exercise for many women. Being able to liberate women from this fear of not being comfortable in their own bodies in a tone that is not patronising or preachy, has so far inspired 2.8 million women to get active.

Increase in role models

Carly Telford acknowledged that 2012 was when women’s football really got put on the map in this country. According to Telford, what the nation saw was the same as the men with regards to the passion they felt and the honour with which they represented the Three Lions. This, combined with the media putting them on a pedestal, encouraged record audiences. Before 2012 there were no female sports role models and in the past five years the nation has been inspired by the success of the Lionesses, Olympic and Paralympic athletes and our talented rugby union team (among many others).

The Opportunity

The figures show that a vast receptive audience exists. Women’s sport makes up less than half a percent of sponsorship going into sport, so “whatever you are looking at there will be an opportunity” says Ruth Holdaway. In the next three years the women’s Cricket World Cup (2017), the Hockey World Cup (2018) and the Netball World Cup (2019) are all being hosted in this country. According to Holdaway, the plan is to offer all three of these sports to every single school girl across the country which presents a real opportunity for brands to inspire our nation’s girls and reach their parents. It is also a great example of how innovative the rights holders are being working together to strengthen the offering.

Accessibility & Storytelling

Not only are our female role models so much more accessible they have really powerful stories for brands to tell. Superstars in men’s sport are shut off to their fans; they are a step removed by the PR teams managing their channels. Telford explained that female sports stars are far more accessible and more likely to engage personally with their audience. Their stories can connect, because ultimately they are women ‘like you’. As Tanya Joseph so aptly put it, ‘Women want to see themselves reflected in marketing.’

Chicken & Egg

The barriers to investment were brought up by Oatley asking “do you need success first before investment comes, or do you invest early and be part of that success from the start”? It was fascinating to hear from Colin Banks at SSE about how they reached their decision to sponsor the Women’s FA Cup. He started off by stating that when developing their sponsorship strategy women’s sport rose to the top in terms of value for money, and meeting core brand and business marketing objectives. From a brand perspective, Banks pointed out that “commercial ventures need return”. For SSE women’s sport was a no-brainer and they have seen real, tangible return on their investment. Banks also said that when meeting with the rights holders there was true willingness to bring partners into the fold; “exposure is of course key, but the days of media coverage being the be all and end all are over, it’s about how you engage with your audience”. So far, so successful for SSE and The FA.


For brands to engage the key is to connect to their audiences in an authentic way; when you talk to people in the right way, they can’t help but want to get involved. #ThisGirlCan proved this by shifting women’s perception to feel like sport is a place where they can be. Open, honest conversations with all stakeholders and your audience are essential to ensure your brand connects. According to Telford, where you will find success is when you move away from this ‘puppet on a string’ approach to working with athletes. Brands also have much more to being to the table, to generate the much needed awareness to genuinely build the sport, instead of paying vast amounts of money in exchange for reluctantly handed over assets and limited access to players that is often the experience in the men’s game.

Don’t miss out

According to Joseph “in five years’ time people will be kicking themselves that they didn’t get involved earlier”. It’s becoming quite evident that SSE has set a historical precedent in this space and we at Synergy hope to see many more brands follow suit..

If you’re interested in discussing Women’s Sport further please get in touch with Synergy’s Lisa Parfitt –

The Momentum Behind Women’s Sport

It’s been business as usual this week at Synergy, because we’ve been celebrating and championing the momentum behind women’s sport.

On Tuesday night we were celebrating the SSE Women’s FA Cup, which we partnered our client SSE in creating, winning the inaugural ‘Empowering Women Through Sport’ award at the UK Sponsorship Awards. Fantastic recognition for SSE, our team, and a sponsorship that is literally a game-changer. It is focused on a commitment to invest in the women’s game with funding dedicated to creating a national programme of girls-only football activity and, as the first ever major sponsorship of the Women’s FA Cup, it signals the growth and stature of the women’s game.

And the day before, we championed women’s sport and, in particular, women’s tennis following Raymond Moore’s sexist idiocy and Novak Djokovic’s ill-advised, and subsequently retracted, reaction, when I made the point on that night’s main BBC evening news bulletin that women’s sport worldwide has greater momentum and investment behind it, by every measure, than ever before.

Further proof of that — if it were needed — and of the popularity of women’s tennis arrived the same day from the latest ESPN Sportspoll, sent to me by my friend and ex-colleague Alex Balfour.

Female sports fans are the biggest growth area in the last ten years in the US, whereas male fans in the 12–34 year old segment have decreased.

Look at the biggest ethic grouping among WTA fans in the US…

And where are they in the US? The south. These aren’t Federer, or Nadal, or Djokovic coat-tailers Mr Moore: they’re Serena fans.

Go Serena. Go women’s sports.