Huge year ahead for the industry

No industry, not even football – so often a bastion of resilience in the face of crisis – could escape the ravages of Covid-19 totally unscathed.

Yet, as we have become accustomed to, the industry has found a way to plough on, and can now look forward to brighter days ahead. Euro 2020 is on the horizon and as the vaccine roll-out gathers momentum, organisations are beginning to plan for the prospect of fans returning to stadiums. All of which provided the thrust of our first webinar of the year, ‘Kicking Off: Why Football Will Bounce Back in 2021.’

In a session expertly marshalled by CSM’s Mike Geggus, our stellar panel – featuring Tottenham Hotspur’s Fran Jones and Rehanne Skinner, Lucozade Sport’s Matt Riches, UEFA’s Kieran Nokes and Unilever’s Willem Dinger, reflected on a tumultuous 2020, before turning their attention to how football and all its stakeholders can recover in 2021.

We kicked off with a discussion around the initial response to Covid-19, with collaboration and a desire to help out a unifying theme. As Fran revealed, Spurs immediately reached out to the government, NHS, and local communities to try and ‘meaningfully help the situation.’ The same attitude underpinned Lucozade’s response to the crisis, who, as Matt Riches noted, handed over their social media channels to personal trainers in the UK for 100 consecutive days, to help protect their income.

The overwhelming feeling, was of an industry pulling together. As Kieran noted, ‘communication, honesty and the strength of our relationships with our sponsors was key’ to weathering the initial storm, a point reaffirmed by Fran who spoke of ‘stronger relationships with colleagues, partners and the community’ as a result of the pandemic.

The conversation soon turned to the women’s game, and Rehanne Skinner – Head Coach of Tottenham Women, was refreshingly honest in her assessment of how Covid-19 laid bare how far the women’s game in the UK had come. Undoubtedly, the Women’s Super League and its clubs were hit hard, but as Rehanne pointed out ‘a few years ago, I’m not sure the women’s game would have survived something of this magnitude… the way it’s evolved since then has enabled it to continue to thrive despite the pandemic.’

It was a point reinforced by Kieran, with UEFA Women’s Football buoyed in recent years not just by securing high-profile partnerships with Nike and Visa, but also its increasing reach across social media. All that bodes well ahead of its upcoming Euro 2022 tournament and the launch of its revamped Women’s Champions League.

So what does the future look like for women’s football and what holds the key to ensuring its continued growth? For Rehanne, it centres on participation and investment. ‘Increasing youth participation helps build a grassroots fanbase, whilst added investment elevates the standard of the professional game making it a more attractive game to both cover or go and watch.’

The more people watching, the more attractive it becomes to brands, with Matt reflecting on Lucozade Sport’s 2019 Lionesses campaign as ‘brilliant….it felt like a real step change had been made in how the country viewed the women’s England team.’  Matt followed by calling for greater visibility of women’s football, raising a salient point that arguably the most famous woman involved in UK football currently is, in fact, a pundit rather than a player. ‘It’s the visibility Alex Scott has through punditry which has helped make her a household name’, Matt said.

Attention then turned to 2021, with a focus on how clubs, governing bodies and partners were preparing for the potential return of fans.

Willem Dinger, Global Sponsorship Director at Unilever, was enthusiastic about the prospect, asserting that ‘there’s no substitute for fans actually being there.’ But, given the success of Rexona’s digital initiatives launched in lockdown, he also sounded a note of caution: ‘we’re not going to lose sight of what’s been impactful for us as a business in the last 12 months.’ With a new partnership announced in December with the One City Disability Team programme, Rexona will continue to use football as a key platform to empower people of all abilities to transform their lives through movement.

At UEFA, huge amounts of planning is ongoing to ensure all its upcoming fixtures will take place safely, whilst Kieran revealed that plans are being drawn up with regards to reintroducing fans into venues. He spoke for all of us when revealing that he was as excited as anyone to ‘go out and see a ball being kicked in a stadium.’

Aside from preparations for the Lionesses’ Euro 2022 campaign, Lucozade Sport have just launched an innovative partnership with non-league superstars Hashtag United – covering both their non-league and esports teams. Matt Riches explained the strategy behind that: ‘we love this convergence of sport, gaming and lifestyle. It offers us access to a new generation of fans which we hope we can inspire, too.’

For Spurs, much of the year ahead will be driven by a desire to fully capitalise on the potential of its new, state-of-the-art stadium, created not solely for football. From hosting NFL London and European Rugby, to Anthony Joshua fights and music concerts, the aim is for the stadium to become one of London’s premier ‘sport and entertainment destinations’, and with that bringing the joy of shared experiences back into the lives of everyday people.

Yet, if the stadium is about more than just football, that didn’t stop Fran highlighting why the game has been, and always will be, one of the world’s most powerful marketing platforms: ‘There’s just nothing bigger or better than football, it transcends every corner of the globe.’