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Back to Hockey: a winning approach to grassroots

Trying to fit playing sport around work and having a social life is difficult especially when you haven’t played since leaving school or university. What can be done to help rectify this? In 2010 England Netball created Back to Netball, an initiative which has helped encourage women who thought their playing days were over to get back into the sport. The campaign has been hugely successful with over 60,000 women getting back into netball which has naturally benefited the sport from grassroots to the elite game.

England Hockey took a leaf out of the same book a few years back to create their own Back to Hockey campaign – using eye-catching creative to get lapsed players back into the sport, more recently evolving the initiative to make it as relevant and powerful to audiences as possible.

Reinventing Back to Hockey

2014 was a hugely successful year for the initiative, with 53% of players stating they wanted to take part in more Back to Hockey sessions within the club environment. This subsequently saw over 2,500 players regularly attend Back to Hockey sessions across England. To innovate for this year’s campaign, England Hockey connected with Sport England campaign ‘This Girl Can’, which has helped to improve and build upon the marketing of the initiative.

By using the same principle as Back to Netball, England Hockey have been encouraging hockey clubs to reach out into their local communities and encourage former players – women in particular – to put on their trainers and head towards their local club. Attracting female players back into sport has traditionally been a difficult task as there are numerous barriers to participation for them, therefore, the investment that governing bodies make towards similar campaigns is vital towards their success. Not only are England Hockey making the scheme more appealing to clubs by emphasising the potential of attracting new members, they are also encouraging clubs to use their own social media channels to help spread the word of the initiative further afield.

My own hockey club, Winchmore Hill and Enfield HC, has taken part in Back to Hockey this year, which has seen a massive positive impact within the club, as well as a growing interest in hockey from media within our local community. With the sports pages traditionally dominated by football and cricket, our local paper has helped us advertise the weekly sessions, which has widened our search for new ‘lapsed’ recruits. With the help of new creative content from the ‘This Girl Can’ campaign, there has been a focus on combining simple skill-based drills with games, which has helped to slowly introduce lapsed players back into the sport.

Not only have we gained new members who have already started playing in our summer league teams, attendees have loved the laid back, enjoyable style of each session, which has seen us retain 70% of attendees from the first sessions we ran. From my own experience of the campaign, I’ve noticed a huge positive effect it has had, not only on our club members volunteering to coach and umpire each session, but also on how much the lapsed players have grown in confidence since we launched our weekly Back to Hockey sessions a few weeks ago. This has been particularly evident in our female players.

New Marketing Approach

In marketing terms, England Hockey’s tie-up with ‘This Girl Can’ has allowed them to produce a variety of content with a similar creative look and feel. The content has been shared via the governing body’s social media channels, which the participating Back to Hockey clubs across the nation have reciprocated through their own channels. Aligning with the high-profile ‘This Girl Can’ campaign has given Back to Hockey a shot in the arm, and allowed them to reach a wider target audience than it would have done previously. Using copy and imagery which is both inviting and current, especially for a more predominant female audience, has allowed the campaign to become much more relatable for the lapsed players.

This new content has also seen England Hockey completely readdress their current marketing of the women’s team, which previously would have had the same approach as the men’s. England Hockey have not only identified that when they are promoting the women’s team to a female audience they shouldn’t be focusing on the physical nature of the sport, but also that they should be showcasing the sport in a different environment. Profiling the women’s team in articles like The Daily Telegraph’s recent piece has highlighted the current shift in perception of the sport, which has seen an increased appetite for televised coverage of matches and internationals to be played within the UK.

England Hockey and England Netball have created impressive and engaging initiatives that challenge the significant drop-off in sports participation between school and adult life, with England Hockey’s connection to ‘This Girl Can’ hugely aiding their cause.

Is this simple concept something that other sports can learn from and adapt to their own sports? I definitely think so.

Sport Sidelined: A Synergy Snapshot of The 2015 General Election

As Ed Miliband stated, the 2015 General Election is set to be the ‘tightest for a generation’. With policy focus on heavyweight areas, and media attention revolving around the potential results and the resultant political permutations, you could be forgiven for growing weary of the wall-to-wall election coverage.

However, there has been very little attention paid to the topic of Sport. It's clear the seductive vision of the Olympic legacy promised in the 2010 UK General Election has not been realised. London 2012 brought more Team GB medals than any other Games, but participation levels in the UK are still falling, and yet Sport has been sidelined in the 2015 party manifestos. Within the combined 327 pages of the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos, there were collectively 23 sentences referencing the subject. Not only is this disappointing, but it also seems illogical considering the impact Sport can have on on other policy areas, not least as physical inactivity is said to be costing our national economy £8.2 billion a year... 

We must therefore ask: what effect, if any, will the election have on the Sport and sponsorship industry? To find an answer, we pored over the party manifestos, and delved into the political news archives to establish which elements of pre-election party chatter around Sport would actually make it on to the election agenda.

A summary of the major points can be found in our infographic here

For a more detailed view of these key topics, please read on...

 Funding cuts leave door open for brands

Funding V2

In the weeks leading up to the 2015 General Election, much of the rhetoric has focused on each party’s approach to reducing the UK’s vast deficit (£101.8bn in 2014 alone). This need for collective belt-tightening makes cuts inevitable. With parties keen to ensure focus on the heavyweight policy areas, such as Education, Housing and the NHS, Sport has taken a back seat.

The prospects for sports funding, especially at the grassroots end of the spectrum, are poor. Whilst this is a worrying trend, any funding shortfall could open opportunities for brands to bridge gaps to provide capital, manpower, facilities and amenities. Work like McDonald’s grassroots football campaign and Barclays' ‘Spaces for Sport’ programme have shown that brands can provide vital funding, equipment and coaching where there is a real need. With cuts to be made, and a prioritisation of welfare services, sponsors could play a key role in keeping Britons active.

Manifesto game plans show limited football focus

Football V3

MPs are often accused of politicising football, but parties have comfortably avoided any such accusations around this election, by barely including the national game in their manifestos at all. Following the February announcement of the new Premier League TV deal, worth £5.14 billion, leading politicians wasted no time in adding their two pennies, but Labour's manifesto was the only one to mention the subject.

Miliband has pledged to ensure the Premier League delivers on its 1999 promise to invest 5% of its domestic and international television rights income into funding grassroots. Further, Labour look to mix pounds and passion with a proposal to enable accredited supporter trusts. The move would mean fans could hold their football club far more accountable by appointing and removing at least two of the directors, and purchasing shares when the club changes hands.

The trickle-down of funds from the new TV deal and the enhanced ability for fans to hold their clubs to account could mean an evolving role for brands. Sponsors' changing role within football can be seen in recent high-profile examples, including that of Ched Evans, where club partners successfully supported Oldham fans in their calls to cancel the signing the player following his previous jail sentence.

After their focus on 'Reclaiming The Nation's Game' at their 2014 conference, it was hoped that football may play a large part in the Liberal Democrats' manifesto, but there were discouragingly few references. One of the few sport-related pledges concerned an exploration of safe standing, a stance that is sure to please a number of fans. Given the popularity of such a policy among football supporters, it might be tempting for brands already involved in the sport to show their own support by influencing policy-makers on this topic.

Worrying times for alcohol, betting and fast food brands

Restrictions V2

Alcohol, betting and high fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) brands would have been following the manifesto releases with a sense of trepidation, given the noise from major parties last year. Labour were most forthright in their views, referring to sponsorship of sports events by alcohol brands as 'potentially harmful' and calling for a debate on current rules. Their pre-election consultation on sport also included references to introducing a levy on betting companies, which could act as a new revenue stream for community sport. Additionally, a leaked document also proposed a 9pm watershed for TV adverts for unhealthy products that might appeal to youngsters – a policy mirrored by the SNP.

However, upon manifesto releases, there was barely a mention of marketing restrictions in any of the aforementioned industries. This does not mean these policies have been forgotten, rather, they appear to have been temporarily sidelined, due to the focus on 'safer' traditional policy areas. Given the impact any fresh legislation could have on brand advertising and sponsorship approaches – as well as marketing budgets – companies and rightsholders in the firing line will have to keep their eyes open.

A lot to learn on school sport

Schools V2

A minimum of 2 hours per week from Labour, £150 million investment a year from the Conservatives and half a day a week from the Greens. These are the manifesto pledges made by the parties on the subject of school sport. The immediate question is, of course, what on Earth do they all mean? Comparing these disparate units of measurement is an almost impossible task, and that’s before chucking in extra layers of confusion, such as Labour's rebuttal that the Conservatives' promise actually represents a reduction of current funding, when taking inflation into account.

The lack of a substantial commitment by any party ensures that schools still remain fertile ground for sponsors, as Lloyds Bank National Schools Sports Week programme has shown, and brands that can best understand where funding gaps will arise, once the anointed party has implemented their policy, will be best placed to create fruitful partnerships.

Closing the gender gap

Gender V2

The push for equality within sport, in terms of both participation and representation, is gathering pace, with FIFA’s No to Racism and Sport England’s ThisGirlCan campaigns being just two high-profile proof-points. But whilst all parties vocalise support for women’s sport when prompted, the Conservatives were the only party to clearly put pen to paper, pledging to push the number of women on national sports governing bodies to at least 25% by 2017. The Green Party included a more vague reference to ‘setting targets for participation by women’.

The silence was particularly disappointing from Labour, who had put a primary focus on the subject within their pre-election sports consultation. Within the party's ‘More Sport For All’ document, there was even suggestion of a government fund incentivising commercial sponsorship of women’s sport.

Such silence presents sponsors with the opportunity to bridge the gap on gender policy. The profile of women’s sport is growing, but investment accounts for just 0.4% of the value of all the sponsorship deals and just 7% of total sports media coverage. As outlined in Synergy's NowNewNext article on the subject, brands can make a real difference within women's sport if their activity is grounded in appropriate insights. Savvy sponsors with existing partnerships stand to benefit the most. Our advice to the (right) brands not already engaged would be to get involved whilst you can.

Tories target American Sport

US Sport V2

Increasingly popular in the UK, it was never going to be long before US sport landed on the political agenda. Referenced in the Conservative manifesto, David Cameron aspires to increase UK links with the major US sports, with a long-term view of franchises based in the UK. More than 600,000 people have already attended each of the previous two NFL events on Regent Street, and the Jacksonville Jaguars have long been rumoured to become a permanent NFL London-based franchise. On top of this, Britons have already witnessed regular-season NBA games on home turf as the Global Games Schedule expands overseas.

The globalisation of sport, as discussed in Synergy’s NowNewNext report, is happening fast. It seems that a Conservative government would be prepared to turbo-charge this process. Sponsors need to be ready for the opportunities - and challenges – that this will bring.

Minority parties explore major changes

Minority V2

Despite UKIP repeatedly referencing their support for ‘unifying a British culture’, the promise may be somewhat inhibited by a pledge to abolish the Department for Culture, Media and Sport as part of their streamlining measures. Given the department’s crucial role in administrating UK sport at every level, including a major role in delivering the Olympics, the policy seems potentially ill-judged.

Another policy that stood out from the manifestos was the Green Party’s position on horse racing. The proposal for a whip-free Grand National, and consequent ‘full review of the sport’ would represent a step towards the event being cut from the sporting (and sponsorship) calendar altogether. With £80m bet every year by the British public and 600m TV viewers globally, the policy would have widespread impact.

These more outlandish promises might be laughed off in almost any other election campaign, but given the likely delicate balance of power, concerns are justifiable, especially if either party were to grab power under a coalition or alliance.

Conclusion

Boiling 500+ pages of manifesto down into a seven-point snapshot was easy. Not because the Synergy Insights team comprises some of the brightest sponsorship brains in Britain (although this may well be true), but because sport and sponsorship have largely been sidelined by the UK political parties. While our seven snippets show that the parties have not been totally silent, one thing is emphatically clear:

Sport could use sponsors now more than ever.

 

Sources

Conservative Party https://www.conservatives.com/manifesto

Green Party https://www.greenparty.org.uk/we-stand-for/2015-manifesto.html

Labour Party http://www.labour.org.uk/manifesto

Liberal Democrat Party http://www.libdems.org.uk/manifesto

SNP http://votesnp.com/docs/manifesto.pdf

UKIP http://www.ukip.org/manifesto2015

Gambling Watch UK http://www.gamblingwatchuk.org/

Office for National Statistics http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/index.html

Sport England https://www.sportengland.org/

Sport and Recreation Alliance http://www.sportandrecreation.org.uk/

Sports think tank http://www.sportsthinktank.com/