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.

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.


Brands, Bands, Fans: What Music & Sport Can Learn From Each Other

Sport is way ahead of music when it comes to brand investment. It’s at least ten times bigger worldwide and the gap is growing. From a niche play only 40 years ago, sports marketing has boomed.This hasn’t happened by accident.

Sport set out to make it happen, and has done so brilliantly. With the fall in revenues from traditional sources, in particular record sales, the music industry has never needed brands more than today, not just as replacement income but also for marketing support. So what can music learn from how sport has so successfully attracted brand partners and budgets – and what can sport learn from music?

What Music Can Learn From Sport?

1. Sport has made brands a fundamental part of how it presents itself – broadcasts, events, leagues, teams, stadiums, players. This has done many things, but in particular it has normalised sport’s relationship with brands, in a way that is still evolving in music, and made sports fans more accepting of brands in sports than they are in music – although this is now changing for millennials who accept brands operating in the music space.

2. Sport has used the media to make itself and its brand partners impossible to miss. Globally, sport is ‘always on’ – and always on screen. Music, by contrast, rarely gets a look in and has nowhere near the exposure.

3. Sport has made itself easy to buy. Although, like music, sport is a complex ecosystem of rights, it’s alleviated the problem by commercialising its assets specifically with brands in mind, bundling rights and minimising buying points. Music is still wrestling with the problem of being much more complex, and much more difficult for brands to buy.

4. Sport thinks long term. Most big brand partnerships in sport are built around multi-year agreements – usually over a minimum of three years, although even longer deals are not uncommon – enabling brands to plan long term strategies with all the benefits that brings to both sport and the brand. In contrast, music deals tend to generally be short-term tactical hit and runs which scratch the surface of what is possible and often result in low ROI and poor experiences.

5. Sport can be a powerful ally: when sport and music come together, the results are often amazing. Adidas’s collaboration with Run-DMC. The Super Bowl halftime show. Coke’s 2010 World Cup collaboration with K’naan. And – as our recent #TalkinRevolution music marketing panel event at Spotify demonstrated - the natural synergies which happen when brands bring artists and sports stars together. The potential is huge and the possibilities are endless.

What Sport Can Learn From Music?

1. Although sports marketing budgets dwarf those in music, music offers brands the same mass reach and arguably even greater emotion. This emotion is what drives the relationship between brands, bands and fans, inspiring product demand and marketing pull. Sport gets this, but can take lessons from music’s much greater focus on creating credible brand partnerships and avoiding over-commercialisation, which we also talked about at our #TalkinRevolution event.

2. Music can be a powerful ally for sport, generating both connectivity and emotional engagement. Think of the Three Tenors and Italia 90, and probably most effectively of all, the Three Lions, which became the soundtrack of Euro 96 and still resonates today.

3. Music is brilliant at marketing to the young, as Engine’s Cassandra Report consistently demonstrates. Millennials, for whom music is a bigger passion than sport, embrace brands who provide them with music experiences, especially online. In contrast, the audience for most major sports, which are heavily reliant on TV, is ageing. Music is inherently viral online, fuelling many of the biggest social platforms. By leaning into music, sport can dramatically increase its reach and engagement – especially with the young.

4. Music is still under-exploited by sport. Traditionally the music industry has led talent and content decisions, often with poor results – most recently UEFA agreeing to use Alicia Keys for the Champions League Final. Wrong act, wrong demographic. Sport should get on the front foot and insist on better, insight-driven choices.

5. Sport is terrified of risk. Music embraces it. Yes, risk needs to be minimised, but risk can be good. No risk usually results in less or no interest. Building on this ‘edge’ creates stand out and differentiation. Look no further than Nike and Red Bull, for both of whom risk has been central to their sports strategies for years.

In summary, music clearly has much to learn from sport’s advanced commercial strategies. But conversely sport can learn from the edginess, risk and social glue that music creates. More joint ventures, and better execution, can create huge synergies for brands, bands and fans. Sport and music just need to lean in to each other more. The only limit is the power of our imagination. Let’s make it happen!

This is an enlarged version of a piece originally written by Arnon Woolfson and Tim Crow for Music Week.

Sports Fans, Social Media and the Millennial Myth

The world’s biggest brands tirelessly strive to deliver rich, digital, sports marketing experiences that stimulate fan conversation, ignite fan interaction and create new fan communities. But, is this what the millennial sports fan really wants? Our ‘Social Sports Fan’ research strongly suggests not. We present a much simpler perspective on what motivates global millennial sports fans to use social media. We expose some perhaps inconvenient truths for an industry more inclined towards ‘new ideas’ than ‘good ideas’ – those built on the solid consumer insights we all know feed the most exciting and effective campaigns. The headlines: - It is not interactivity and rich content experiences that millennial sports fans want from social. It’s real-time content, immediately and easily accessed. - It is not the most official and trustworthy content that millennial sports fans want. It’s a wide breadth of perspectives – they don’t care where their content comes from. - It is not recognition and reinforcement of their identity that millennial sports fans want from social. It’s much more ‘to me’ than ‘from me’. We explore the above and much more in depth. We discover that younger millennials behave quite differently to older millennials. They do want to share their opinion. They do want to use social as a means of expressing who they are.

Our aim is to help brands and rights holders come up for air and see through the relentless development of new social platforms, communities, products, apps and widgets…to focus on what sports fans really want from social media. Our mission is to champion a smarter breed of content. To cut through the crap and deliver the kind of results that can be achieved when the superpowers of sport and social come together. Enjoy the read…
Fill out my online form.

Standard Life Investments and The Lions: the big cat is out of the bag!

The big cat is out of the bag: on January 11 Synergy helped Standard Life Investments announce their agreement to become the Principal Partner of the 2017 British & Irish Lions tour to New Zealand.

After months of hard work, initially in supporting Standard Life Investments negotiate the partnership, then into campaign planning, the launch featured five legendary Lions as brand ambassadors, whose stature reflected Standard Life Investments’ world class positioning.

The launch was staged at The Gherkin, the iconic London base of Standard Life Investments, and generated impressive results:

As part of the launch we produced this spine-tingling film evoking the Lions’ unique heritage and highlighting the shared values and ambitions of the two new partners – enjoy.

To complement the Lions partnership, Standard Life Investments’ is also a Worldwide Partner of the Ryder Cup – a unique, prestigious and highly effective combination that delivers powerfully and precisely to the needs of the business and the brand.

Roll on Hazeltine 2016 and and New Zealand 2017!

Success & Scandal: The Inspiring Early History Of Women’s Football

Goodison Park was packed to the rafters as 53,000 fans watched Alice Kell – captain of Dick, Kerr’s Ladies – score a hat trick in her team’s 4-0 win over St Helens Ladies. By all accounts, the 14,000 supporters turned away from the stadium missed a great game of football. The day was Boxing Day; the year, 1920.For the best part of a century this game stood as the record attendance for the women’s game. It wasn’t till London 2012 when 70,584 saw England beat Brazil 1-0 that this dusty record was broken. In recent years – and especially in the wake of the England’s heroics at the 2015 World Cup – women’s football has been experiencing an extraordinary rise in popularity. England’s semi-final against Japan peaked at 2.4m viewers on BBC 1 and Round 7 of The FA WSL in July 2015 experienced record crowds. Moreover, the Women’s FA Cup – boosted by SSE’s historic title sponsorship – drew 30,000 to Wembley.A challenge for the game’s champions and sponsors is to consolidate and grow this fanbase ahead of the European Championships in 2017.

Given compelling stories celebrating brands’ pasts are often the backbone to strong campaigns, (see Johnnie Walker and Lloyds), perhaps the same strategy could be applied to women’s football, given its fascinating and tumultuous history…

In 1894, feminist Nettie Honeyball founded an unprecedented entity – the British Ladies Football Club – with the aim, she said, of “proving to the world that women are not the ornamental and useless creatures men have pictured”. It was a radical idea and led to the first official recorded game of football between two women’s teams. This took place in 1895 when a collection of players from North London took on their Southern counterparts.

A “huge throng of ten thousand” travelled to Crouch End to witness the spectacle. There followed a series of games, raising money for charity, around the country. Some reporters were sneering, “the laughter was easy, and the amusement was rather coarse” (Jarrow Express); whilst others were supportive, “I don’t think the lady footballer is to be snuffed out by a number of leading articles written by old men” (The Sporting Man). However, by the time the year was over, crowds – apparently blasé to the novelty – had petered out and the women’s game disappeared.

Twenty years later, with World War I raging on the Western Front, The FA suspended the Football League as players joined the ranks in the trenches. Meanwhile, 900,000 women were sent to work in munitions factories, where kicking a ball around at lunch breaks was a welcome respite from their dangerous job. From these kick-abouts, ‘Munitionette’ teams from various Northern factories were formed.

The most famous and successful of these was from Dick, Kerr’s & Co. in Preston. The team’s first match drew a crowd of 10,000 but this success was unlike the short-lived successes of 1895. Dick, Kerr’s Ladies went on to play numerous matches, raising £70,000 (£14m in today’s money) for charities supporting ex-servicemen and other causes. True, there were mutterings of the game’s unsuitability for women but the crowds continued to pour in even after the war ended – 35,000, for instance, saw Alice Kell’s team play Newcastle United Ladies at St James’ Park in 1919.

Alongside Alice Kell, Lily Parr was Dick, Kerr’s Ladies star player. One local newspaper wrote that there was “probably no greater football prodigy in the whole country” and it is said her shot was so hard it once broke the arm of a professional male goalkeeper. Parr’s 31 year playing career saw her score over 1,000 goals, 34 in her first season in 1920… not bad for a 14-year-old.

1920-21 represented the peak of Dick, Kerr’s success. In 1920 they represented England, beating the French women’s team on both sides of the Channel and finished the year at Goodison Park in front of 53,000 fans (by comparison 50,018 attended the men’s FA Cup Final that year). Meanwhile, 1921 was packed with 67 fixtures in front of a cumulative audience of 900,000. Yet, 1921 was also the year of the second downfall of the women’s game, courtesy of a directive from The FA banning female teams from all FA affiliated stadiums and grounds.

The perennial complaint against women’s football – and the excuse used by The FA – was that it was harmful to female health. In 1895 the British Medical Journal had declared “We can in no way sanction the reckless exposure to violence, of organs which the common experience of women had led them in every way to protect.” Now in the ’20s, Harley Street’s Dr Mary Scharlieb wrote, “I consider it a most unsuitable game, too much for a women’s physical frame”.

However, one might argue that these medical opinions were merely a pseudo-justification for The FA’s real fear that women’s football represented an uncomfortable shift in society’s hierarchy. Now the war was over, here you had female teams – “in knickers [shorts] so scanty as would be frowned upon” – attracting more fans than many men’s games being played on the same day.

What’s more, the women’s football matches, which had raised thousands for charity, were now supporting the struggling families of miners during the 1921 Miners Lock Out – a politically charged dispute where miners were had been banned from working in the coalfields, having refused significant wage reductions.It was a lethal combination: Women flouting the role dictated to them by social convention to play a scandalous sport that drew bigger audiences than their male counterparts, whilst raising funds in support of anti-establishment trade unions.

The FA’s ban effectively squeezed the sport into obscurity. Whilst teams such as Dick, Kerr’s continued to play, their banishment to nondescript playing fields meant that never again would they be cheered on by thousands in Goodison Park or St James’s. Years in the wilderness followed until the FA ban was finally lifted half a century later, allowing the game to begin its slow recovery. Although that’s another story for another time…

Back in 2016, with the women’s game reaching the popularity levels of the 1920s, the challenge is to maintain its upward trajectory ahead of, and beyond, forthcoming major Tournaments. The stories, characters and controversy from women’s football’s intriguing past are potentially a real starting point from which to catalyse powerful campaigns around the sport.

Shelley Alexander, ‘Trail-Blazers who Pioneered Women’s Football’ (BBC)
John Simkin, ‘British Ladies Football Club’ (Spartacus Educational)
John Simkin, ‘History of Women’s Football’ (Spartacus Educational)
‘The History of Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge’ (The Guardian)
‘WW1: Why was women’s football banned in 1921?’ (BBC)

A Year To Remember: Synergy’s 2015

It’s been another year to remember for Synergy and our clients. So, with 2015 heading for the history books, in time-honoured fashion we’ve taken a little time to record and reflect some of our highlights – and there have been so many that we couldn’t quite whittle it down to ten, so eleven it is. We hope you enjoy reading about it as much as we enjoyed living it!

1. Winning Sport Industry Agency of the Year

Where else to begin but Synergy winning Agency Of The Year for the second time at the BT Sport Industry Awards back in April. Acknowledged as the biggest and most prestigious award in UK sports marketing and sponsorship, the Sport Industry judges reserved particular praise for Synergy’s creativity and vibrant culture – the latter being clearly on display in the celebrations which lasted through the night and into the next day!


2. Front and Centre at Rugby World Cup 2015

We were proud to play our part in the biggest and best Rugby World Cup yet, working with four of the RWC tournament sponsors – Canterbury, Coca-Cola, Emirates and MasterCard – as well as ITV RWC broadcast sponsor SSE and England Rugby partner BMW. Roll on Japan 2019!


3. Helping SSE take the lead on women’s football

One of our proudest moments in 2015 was to support SSE in a landmark agreement to become the first ever major sponsor of the Women’s FA Cup and commit to grass-roots funding that will make a real difference to girls’ football. The visionary nature of the sponsorship and the success of our SSE #GirlsTakeover campaign has set the benchmark and hopefully paved the way for many more brands to get behind women’s sport.

4. Celebrating Capital One’s Little Legends

This year we re-imagined a showpiece Wembley football final for Capital One. To climax the 2014/15 Capital One Cup campaign, we used the final to showcase and celebrate football’s ‘Little Legends’, handing over 45 key roles at the final to kids between the ages of 6-14, including hanging up the kit, carrying flags, delivering the match ball, singing the national anthem, performing the half-time entertainment and delivering a match report for a national newspaper!

5. Taking SynergyLive To The Next Level

Back in 2013 we were the world’s first sports marketing agency to launch a real-time social media service, SynergyLive. This year we took it to a new level. Two examples. We helped rugby fans to #seebeyond with Accenture, producing fast-turnaround data-visualisations designed for sharing, such as this.

And for BT, we re-imagined wheelchair rugby for the connected era with a cutting-edge production of the BT World Wheelchair Rugby Challenge at the iconic Copper Box, integrating wow-factor digital such as The Smashmeter into the viewer experience.

6. Filming Another Royal Salute Story of Power and Grace

Following the overwhelming success of our first Royal Salute film, which generated millions of views worldwide, we teamed up again with the brand this year for another iconic film, The Rider, featuring Nakoa Decoite, the big wave surfer and polo pro. Shot on location in Maui, the film tells the incredible story of one of the world’s most uniquely talented and intriguing personalities. Enjoy…

7. Making The MARTINI Terrazza The Talk Of The Town

We’ve proud to have once again helped bring MARTINI’s legendary style to F1, taking the now-legendary MARTINI Terrazas to six cities from Barcelona to Sao Paulo. The Terrazzas treated almost 50,000 beautiful people to each city’s very best music, art, fashion and food, making MARTINI F1′s coolest and most desired brand.

8. Keeping Sport On The Election Agenda

They say sport and politics shouldn’t mix, but we took a different view back in May during the UK General Election, spotlighting the surprising (or unsurprising, depending on your point of view) lack of sports strategy in the major parties’ manifestos. The result was one of our most-read blog posts of the year.

9. Discovering Different With Nikon

2015 saw Synergy work with Nikon for the first time, creating the #DiscoverDifferent campaign – unforgettable photographic experiences curated by Nikon experts, revealing the hidden delights of some of England’s most iconic cities.


10. Taking A Shirt Launch To New Heights

Another rugby highlight from 2015, and our biggest, most innovative and effective shirt launch ever. Our ‘Launched By The Loyal’ campaign for Canterbury enabled thousands of superfans to launch the England Rugby World Cup shirt simultaneously from their social media feeds, led by three who sky-dived a giant replica from 12,500 feet over Stonehenge with the Red Devils. The results: huge media coverage and record shirt sales.

11. And Finally…Opening Synergy Stateside

Our final highlight of another amazing year is of course the launch of Synergy in the US, which saw us welcome back Dom Curran as US CEO (once a Synergist, always a Synergist) and Ryder Cup Worldwide Partner Standard Life Investments as a founding client. Synergy US is go!