Photo by Jeffrey F Lin on Unsplash

Watching women’s sport

The revolution will be televised

In the second installment of their quarterly series with The Marketing Society, On the One are once again looking at culture’s leading lights using an Activist Mindset to drive change in their communities.

This time, we’re looking at the unstoppable rise of women’s sports and the booming fan culture that surrounds the watching experience outside of the stadium. Recently released figures from the Women’s Sport Trust show the highest viewing figures ever with a 28% increase on 2022. Whilst the scene is growing in the UK, there are some serious waves breaking on the other side of the Atlantic.

A growing scene is blowing up in the USA with bars such as Sports Bra in Portland, Oregon showing exclusively women’s sports. There’s something undeniably DIY about it all - when owner Jenny Nguyen was denied funding, the team struck gold with a Kickstarter campaign that surpassed their wildest dreams. Ask for a pint and you’ll likely be served a women-owned brand such as Bra Code or Queer AF which contributes to the community vibe.

Closer to home, we’re seeing London’s fan-favourite watch zone Boxpark elevate the watching experience for women’s sports. From LADbible’s iconic coverage of the Women’s Euros there to the chain’s #WOMXNWHOPLAY campaign (partnering with Chivas) play a part in creating a more inclusive, unique and fun environment for fans looking to show up for women’s sport.

To ask what’s next for the women’s sport watching revolution, we passed the mic to some leading activists in our network:

Baller FC
 

Baller FC
Baller FC
@ballerfc_ldn

 

We first got to know Baller FC during our watch party for the Red Roses at Valderrama’s sports bar. Since the venue’s inception they had established fun vibe in the basement there, where fans of the women’s game could could count on the Women’s Super League being shown.

Founder Rachel Gould explains the story behind her DIY collective:

“Baller FC - or Baller Friends Collective - is a community of women’s football fans who want to watch the game with like-minded people in an inclusive, welcoming, but most importantly fun and energetic atmosphere. We noticed venues were either not showing the game, or the sound was off, or the atmosphere wasn’t inclusive. So, we took matters into our own hands.

For example, during the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup we hosted a Festival of Football at Signature Brew in Haggerston before moving to Signature’s flagship brewery in Walthamstow for the final. Our Lionesses screenings were fully booked in minutes every time with a waitlist of 1,500 for the final.

We strive to make it a totally welcoming and inclusive experience. Everyone gets greeted on the door by the Baller crew and if you come down on your own, we make a special effort to introduce you to regulars.

Most of us have at some point felt alienated or uncomfortable in a football environment whether it's in a stadium or in a pub. It can feel very euphoric to be able to express yourself in a space where you won't be judged.

Engage your community


In pubs, I think the key thing is speaking to and understanding the community and working with them to create the right atmosphere and experience. Women’s football fans have spent years having a terrible experience in pubs, so you can’t just stick a chalkboard outside saying you’re showing the Lionesses and expect people to come in their hundreds. They want reassurance that they’re going to be with like-minded people and not subjected to misogynistic comments throughout the game.
 

Is there spaces for brands on the bench?
We started working with Gillette Venus as part of their Move Your Skin campaign, led by Lotte Wubben-Moy. That campaign is all about helping women and non binary people feel less skin conscious when playing football or exercising in other ways. That is very in line with the Baller ethos, which is about celebrating and showing your passion for the game in a safe judgement-free environment. They have an amazing gallery of inclusive images that we displayed at Baller FC screenings.

Set Piece Social
 

Set Piece Social
Set Piece Social
@setpiece_social

 

Naomi and Kate Fitzgibbon are women on a mission. Partners in business and in life, they decided to take the first steps to setting up their own sports bar - what will become Set Piece Social - after feeling frustrated at men’s sports monopolising the screens in their local pub.

“We went to watch Chelsea FC Women and they let us put it on for a bit. But after a while some guys took over and we were switched off… and it was only like a Third Division game! We thought “is that where women’s football is at?”

Quick to take action, they’re planning a pop-up at Hatch in Homerton with a view to setting up a permanent venue in 2024. Following a similar model to restaurant startups, it too has a community spirit to it and both are quick to assert what makes watching women’s sport special:

For everyone, by everyone


“The men’s game does have a reputation - whether it’s exclusionary, racist, homophobic behaviour and that's not very family-welcoming. If you have kids and you want to bring them down to watch the game at our venue, we’d welcome that too.

Often, overly boozy environments are where people can start fights with the opposing team. So, having good non-alcoholic options where we can push female-owned brewers is important to us. There's also less tribalism in women's football - we know lots of Chelsea supporters but we do go to other matches, have friends into other teams and go with them to support too.”

Brands need to score early to invest


“The crowd funding element has worked well in the USA and our aim is to have that as a strong part of our opening, hopefully by the Olympics in Summer 2024. But brand investment is important too, particularly if done on a local level. Jameson did a merch collaboration for Ex- Girlfriend FC and Guinness of course have always been great too. We’d love to hear more from these brands to contribute to our launch.”

Thinking local, at your local


“We're looking at East London for that launch and I guess the reason for that is there's a very well established grassroots football scene here. I mean there's so many like Hackney Super League, and lots of creative and exciting women's grassroots teams. Our December pop-up in Homerton will be gathering information, testing the waters, collaborating and show everyone what we want to be about.”

Victoria Rush, Director of “No Woman, No Try”
 

Victoria Rush
Victoria Rush, Director of “No Woman, No Try”
@victoriahrush

 

Victoria made waves on the scene last year with her directorial debut “No Women, No Try” which highlighted the plight of women in contemporary rugby. Its candid and emotionally charged storytelling gained it rave reviews and as it turns out, plenty of relevant talking points as relates watching the women’s game:

Be the change you want to see


“I feel really comfortable watching sport in a pub but I tend to be one of four women among hundreds of men and I don't know if there is that watch experience for women's sport. So during the Women's Rugby World Cup, even though the games at six thirty in the morning, the fans were coming up with ways to watch it together in pub environments.

We’ve normalised watching women’s sport in small groups and watching men's sport in pubs with hundreds, so I think it takes dedicated spaces and a bit more planning and forethought from like the clubs or the unions to make that change”.

Trust the data


“You can't say the market's not there when you've never tried and I think that's what had happened historically about women's sport. The data just said there's nothing because they gave us nothing. Now we’ve had the investment, we can test the audience and it can grow from there - the viewing figures are there, attendance is there. Give us something and see where that goes.”

Build it and they will come


“We ended up partnering with Stonegate Pubs, who own the Sports Bar & Grill in Victoria Station, during the Rugby World Cup. It all started on Twitter when we were all joking around, they popped in and went, “well we've got a pub for you”. Someone else came in and went "we'll run a panel show for you” and from 7:30AM we were all there for the Red Roses vs France.

You need more brands like that. You know that you have to start somewhere and it and it goes out saying the numbers are never going to be equal to that of the men's in terms of turnout for the first few goes. Somebody's got to break the mould and normalise it”.


The above interviews are extracts from On the One’s “Active Listening” interview series. To find out how their insights could benefit your brand, campaign or business, please get in touch.

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