England didn’t win the Women’s World Cup but for the fans it’s about more than the game itself. Revolt’s Alan Bryant delves into new research about the culture of women’s football fandom.
The Lionesses’ amazing progress through to the final of the Women’s World Cup saw the nation gripped with excitement. And the high level of public interest and media coverage has pointed to a widespread fandom for women’s football.
For the world of marketing, brands have a real opportunity to support and grow fandom in women’s football. Revolt has just conducted quantitative and qualitative research* into the culture of women’s football fandom with snack brand KIND® Snacks. The findings reveal fandom in the women’s game that has unique values of community, inclusiveness and kindness. And importantly, fans are open to like-minded brands helping to build a growing audience that embraces all demographics and social groups in the UK.
When asked the question ‘what are the behaviours of fandom in women’s football?’, ‘respect, family friendly, community, inclusiveness, kindness and openness’ accounted for 73% of responses. Kindness in women’s football is notably active – showing up for the game, standing up for fans and being supportive of players. These highly prized values represent a key opportunity for brands to support and align with a sport that feels both fresh and revolutionary.
Being a fan is about more than just the game
For women’s football, being a fan is about more than the game itself. It’s also about supporting the progress of women in sport and society. Of course the action that takes place on the field remains the main attraction, but being a fan is deeper than this alone: 50% of respondents said that being a fan of women’s football is a key part of their identity, with only 17% disagreeing with this statement.
This unique culture in women’s football led many respondents to say they did not want the women’s game to be compared with other football games or leagues. And while they want fan numbers to increase, they want to make sure this progress happens without changing what’s special about the game. Brands have a key role to play in enhancing all that is unique about women’s football and leaning into the inclusivity that is shown within fandom.
The research revealed that fandom in women’s football is surprisingly different from other sports. The majority of fandom exists outside of stadiums – only 16% of fans go to see live games. In contrast, 31% of fans watch the games online, with younger fans seeking out players and engaging with them directly on TikTok.
Similarly, the way that fans support the game doesn’t always follow the patterns of more well-established sports. Of course you still have die-hard club fans, but many fans focus their support on the international team alone, with 69% of UK fans surveyed supporting the national team versus only 8% for the Women’s Super League (WSL); still others take the approach of supporting certain players over clubs. Here, Revolt identified significant opportunities for brands to grow the depth of fandom beyond the national team.
Fans are looking for more human stories
There is also a clear appetite for more in-depth, human stories of the players, who have become idols and heroes. Brands have an opportunity to use their platforms to tell more of those stories, revealing players’ personalities – on and off the pitch – and connecting fans to them on a deeper level. Critical to this will be involving fans in the football narratives. Fans are the heart of the women’s game, so brands shouldn’t look to progress the game without them.
However, there are still obvious challenges in the game that need to be addressed. When asked what is holding people back from being fans, a ‘lack of access’ was noted by more than half of respondents (54%). Location of WSL stadiums, kick-off times, and a difficult user experience when buying tickets were all highlighted as key challenges that need to be overcome. And while there is commitment to being open and inclusive, fans pointed out that women’s football can appear at times to be predominantly associated with middle-class and white demographics. Brands can use their scale and expertise to help tackle different challenges that fans clearly believe are holding back the women’s game.
Fandom in women’s football is vibrant, inclusive, and actively kind and open. Brands looking to play into this, need to be in it for the long game. Don’t just show up every two to four years for the big tournaments, but support the game to grow when others disappear. Support fans and players from international level down to the grassroots. Do that and people will recognise and you’ll become synonymous with playing a positive role in the game.
*Qualitative research was conducted by Open Revolt with experts on the women’s game and leading fans, together with quantitative research of 500 fans across the UK. Open Revolt is part network, part process. The network is a database of specialists and organisations that bring expertise, experience and empathy.