Sponsorship Activation & Moral Imagination: Examples from Women’s Football

Prior to the Covid19 pandemic, our awareness of the World Health Organization (WHO), was probably somewhere in our subconscious mind. Google Trends data shows that during the last five years the only time online search for the term World Health Organization peaked was in mid-March 2020.

Back in October 2019, WHO and FIFA agreed on a four-year collaboration to promote healthy lifestyles through football globally. In march 2020, five months later, the two organizations found themselves in the heart of a campaign to keep people, safe, active and at home as Covid19 is in full force.

When looking at physical activity figures globally the picture isn’t encouraging. WHO found out that more than 80% of school going adolescents (11-17) and 23% of adults do not meet the current recommendation of being active for at least an hour per day. This statistic is true as of 2016 although WHO published the results of this study in November 2019.

The fact that the world was brought to a halt by the pandemic, including the sports industry; forced brands, rightsholders, agencies, and athletes to get creative. These stakeholders must be looking at recommendations such as WHO’s and its FIFA partnership to come up with ideas to engage with a captive audience indoors. The prime example is Nike’s “Play Inside, Play For The World” campaign.

Nike’s Play Inside, play for the world campaign launch

A recent study by the European Sponsorship Association measured the health and confidence of Europe’s sponsorship community in light of Covid19’s impact. Thirty-five percent of sponsorship leaders believe that an increase in grassroots participation will be one of the behavioural shifts post Covid19. Nonetheless, community and sustainability are listed among the trends that will define how sponsorship recovers in the future.

The insights above lead us to examine two recent partnership activation examples in women’s football.

UEFA & Disney, Kia & Kosovare Asllani

Back in February of this year, UEFA announced a collaboration with Disney and during the first week of May, we saw the activation adapted to home workouts. The collaboration led to the creation of, PlayMakers, a storytelling-based football programme inspired by Disney’s Incredibles 2 movie. Aimed at 5-8 years old girls, the programme encourages them to exercise regularly and develop a love for football.

It must be noted that UEFA drew inspiration from The FA’s partnership with Disney. This partnership, as well as other programmes, contributed to the FA’s larger Gameplan For Growth strategy which achieved a 54% increase in grassroots participation in women’s football as reported by The Telegraph.

Remember WHO’s physical activity recommendations? Only 16% of girls meet this requirement. The at-home activation features 2 sets of exercises featuring two Incredibles characters. Followers of UEFA’s programme can expect six sets of exercises overall available in seven languages.

The next example involves the car manufacturer Kia and Kosovare Asllani, the Swedish National Team and CD Tacon (soon to be Real Madrid Women) star. The partnership between the two dates back to February 2019. During the same week of UEFA and Disney’s at home exercises release, Kia and Asllani presented the Asllani Contract activation in the Swedish market.

Launch of the Asllani Contract

Kia commits in its messaging to create a more sustainable future where football is equally accessible to all children together with getting people to switch to rechargeable cars. The contract is based on the UN Convention on The Rights of the Child. Designed for clubs to sign and to commit to five promises in order to increase playing opportunity for all children, boys and girls. So far, seven clubs have pledged their allegiance.

Moral Imagination

If we compare the two activations,UEFA x Disney’s shifted to at-home training since running this programme outdoors is not possible at the moment. The Kia and Kosovare Asllani activation lay the foundations for increased grassroots participation once outdoors training is resumed. At the core of both are physical activity, grassroots, and community.

There are a couple of underlying messages from these activations. UEFA x Disney shows us that we can be strong, active and improve under extreme conditions. Kia and Asllani deliver a message of hope and how we’re all humans dealing with the same issues and want to be given the same access to opportunities.

The sports sponsorship landscape is adapting on the go. Rightsholders and brands are finding ways to remain top of mind amongst different audiences mostly via content. The speed of delivery on activation is also changing since there are no live events to work towards. The latter links back to the ESA’s study where 70% expect greater consumption of digital content post Covid19.

Brands, rightsholders and athletes will look for activations that cut through the noise. The digital landscape is already immensely overloaded. Women’s football provides the platform to do so. Those who will find ways to deliver a message of hope, a vision to what life outside might look like as lockdowns are lifted across the globe, and activate in a way that encourages active participation have the potential to emerge stronger in the long term. 

As many industry professionals who work in women’s football said on recent podcasts and webinars, women’s football needs long term thinking and the foundations must be placed now.

Or in the word’s of Author and Entrepreneur Seth Godin, about Moral Imagination: “Visualizing what’s possible. Deciding to do Something about it. Wondering to ourselves and then to the world, how can I make this better? Not because it’s our job or because we’ll win a prize. Simply because we can.”

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