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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!

More money, more problems?

Earlier this month, the rights to broadcast the Premier League in the UK from 2016 to 2019 were sold for a combined £5.13 billion. At over £2 billion more than the equivalent package from 2013 to 2016, this works out at £10.19 million per game over that period, or a staggering £113,000 a minute (which is still three times cheaper than Wilfried Zaha...). It now means that, when the deal starts, all Premier League clubs will receive more money for their domestic TV deals than any other club in the world, save for the two Spanish behemoths, Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Whichever way one spins it (and there are a lot of ways – including this excellent analysis from The Swiss Ramble), it represents a dizzying sum of money, but what are the implications of the new deal for the sport?

For football traditionalists, there is no shortage of concerns, including the introduction of Friday night Premier League football and the increased dominance of the Premier League over other domestic competitions (the £3.5 million prize pot for the FA Cup compares fairly unfavourably with the projected £152 million for the Premier League champions). But, perhaps most intriguingly, the announcement has caused football fans to sharpen their focus on how clubs utilise these vast sums of money.

With accusations of greed and wastefulness already commonplace, the increase in TV money will be an added stick for supporters to beat clubs with if there is no tangible change in the way that most fans feel they are treated. Rising ticket prices, poor matchday experience, difficulty of getting to matches and poor administrative club staff pay are all familiar, justified gripes from football fans that will be inevitably magnified by this influx of cash.

At the announcement of the new deal, Premier League chairman Richard Scudamore declared that the Premier League would be putting more money towards grassroots football, but also called on individual clubs to act to help fans, specifically around ticket prices. This sentiment was shared by many in the footballing fraternity, who queued up to heap pressure on Premier League clubs: Gary Lineker commented on Twitter that football was now ‘awash with money’, and called for clubs to ‘cut ticket prices and make it affordable for real fans to attend.’ Jamie Carragher continued the theme by stating that ‘ticket pricing, especially for away fans, has to change’, advocating a policy of ‘£20 for the 20 away games.’

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Although ticket pricing should be the minimum that clubs are doing to improve their relationship with fans, it will be intriguing to see their different approaches to it, and will be a fairly simple aspect to track. Will we really see wholesale changes or will we see the continuation of a general theme of token gestures from clubs (I got a £2 discount off a recent away match ticket from my supported club, which knocked the cost down to a much more manageable £53…)?

If no substantial action is taken by clubs, it is clear that fans will waste no time in airing their grievances. In a world where fans feel increasingly ostracised from the football club hierarchy, there has been a noticeable rise in high-profile protests by supporters using the level of focus on the sport as an opportunity to push their agenda. This fan action is not focussed solely around the issue of ticket pricing and club treatment of fans, but in recent times has also included high-profile protests against clubs signing particular players, club owners who do not seem fit for purpose and even the use of WiFi in stadia.

In a world where Premier League clubs’ financial power continues to rise exponentially, and where fans increasingly feel marginalised, we are progressively seeing examples of supporters effectively undertaking their own PR stunts. It is a disappointing sign of the times that the public tarnishing of clubs’ images (often by their own fans) and those of governing bodies is seen as one of few viable ways to force action.

Of course, this sort of protest from supporters can also have a negative effect on club partners; Portsmouth shirt sponsor, Jobsite were probably not delighted to be associated with the above march against club owners, who fans believed were wrongly appointed to their powerful jobs. But outpourings of fan sentiment like this can often give sponsors interesting openings. Not only does it give useful fan insights that can influence creative activations (maybe fans aren’t desperate for WiFi in stadia?) but more importantly creates opportunities for sponsors to step in and add real value for fans when they may otherwise be feeling neglected.

This can be in the form of clear, tangible demonstrations of support like increasing opportunities to get to games or cutting costs of getting them there, but also can be through adding value to the matchday experience. Also, as has been seen in high profile examples such as with Ched Evans, sponsors can use their considerable clout to reinforce fans’ views to push for action and influence clubs in a way that fans simply cannot.

It will certainly to be interesting to see if, and how, Premier League clubs look to help fans with the increased TV money. But, equally, if there is continued inaction, then the reaction from sponsors to these ‘injustices’ will be worth keeping an eye on.

Watch this space.