Women’s Football & The Pre-Competitive Space

While reading this headline you’re probably thinking how can it be? If anything, the last FIFA Women’s World Cup and the UWCL are proof that women’s football is certainly competitive.

The Pre-Competitive Space refers to a completely different space. Set by Unilever’s former CEO, Paul Polman, he explains it in an interview for Forbes. It is a space where companies that often compete with one another come together and collaborate, mostly, about parts that are not very important in the consumer’s purchasing decision journey. Together, they improve a sector’s value chain and benefit society.

Within professional sports, competitive advantage and marginal gains are crucial elements in the pursuit for sporting success. How often have you seen a great team or an athlete and thought to yourself what are they doing behind the scenes to be better and the best? Why some can stand out from the rest? And lastly, do these competitors ever collaborate and share their secret recipe?

Football Collaborates

A key element that the Covid19 pandemic showed us is that sports organizations will come together when pushed against the wall. They find solutions for the greater good of the sport moving forward.

Football’s stakeholders are now spending more time than ever talking to each other. An organization that is very much responsible for that is FIFPro. It was the first to call out for the protection of the future of women’s football. At the end of May 2020, FIFPro proudly announced a collaboration with FIFA to support and further develop women’s football shortly after the publication of their “Raising our Game” report.

In many ways, FIFPro’s report addresses areas where “The Pre-Competitive Space” can be actioned upon. How will that might look in practice? We put on our thinking caps and came up with the following ideas.

  • Financial responsibility through VISA & Mastercard workshops– Both of these financial services companies are long time supporters of women’s football. Many teams operate in a similar fashion to small businesses. For example, providing them with financial management tools and helping them understand payment methods and financial reporting to run more effectively. VISA already runs a programme called The Second Half aimed at helping players plan for the post-career stage.
  • Fan profile, ticketing and attendance models– We’ve seen new attendance records being set last season. From the WSL to Italy and Spain. A common factor was that men’s football was on international break hence better stadiums were available. Data collection is important here. If the organizations involved in these record-breaking matches will share what works well and what to improve, eventually, the industry will have better knowledge on how to repeat such as events. Comparing data of fans from different markets will create diverse fan profiling. This will allow to tailor experiences.
  • Fans accessibility to players– The accessibility to players by fans on a matchday that women’s football provides is unique. Fans are within touching distance and can have a conversation with the players. As women’s football evaluates how to move gradually to better stadiums, maintaining this element will be challenging.  One way to preserve it is to allocate one section of a stand as a meet and greet zone post-match. Such an option ties in with ticketing models clubs and tournament organizers can implement.
Arsenal Women Players Interact with Fans
  • Tech hubs– The amount of sports tech companies in the market is immense. Varying from fan engagement and online sponsorship marketplaces to performance analytics and broadcast solutions. Clubs that will open their doors to these companies as a testing ground will benefit from access to innovation at low to no cost. These startups need case studies in order to scale and develop their product further. Access to innovation has the potential to attract investors and sponsors. Note to startups, make sure you get involved in the long run.
  • The performance of the female athlete– much was said recently about the importance of understanding the female athlete’s body. Topics such as a menstrual cycle’s effect on player performance and injury risk were unheard of before. Chelsea Women are thoroughly examining the subject as well as England’s national team. ACL injuries are a continuous pain, could that be related to the design of football boots, historically tailored for men’s feet? Clubs sharing their injury data to a unified platform overseen by a performance committee could start looking at the wider picture rather than case by case.   

All of these pre-competitive areas are interlinked. The women’s football landscape has a chance to set its own measures of moving forward by collaborating. The participants in the decision making conversations that impact the wider game are usually FIFA, FIFPro, UEFA, and the ECA. Is it time for a European Leagues type of body for the women’s game and other collaborative initiatives?

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