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How the FA and Pitch Marketing Group made stars of England’s World Cup Lionesses

Kwame Adu

Nov. 05, 2019

Pitch Marketing Group was highly commended in the Most Innovative or Creative Use of Content category at The Drum Content Awards 2019 for its Lionesses World Cup squad announcement campaign. In this case study, the agency reveals the challenges it faced and the strategies it used to produce this successful campaign.
The challenge
Women’s football was undoubtedly on the rise in the UK ahead of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup. A fully-professional top flight, more sponsors than ever before and record numbers of girls and women playing the game across the country. Everything was heading in the right direction.
But still, unlike the England men’s team, the nation wasn’t on tenterhooks waiting for the Lionesses World Cup squad announcement to drop. At the FA our mission was to make these players household names.
The overarching objectives for the Lionesses Squad Announcement campaign were twofold:
Build credibility – For women’s football and for our Lionesses across new and existing audiences.
Inspire the nation – To support our Lionesses and also to play the game.
Additional objectives of the campaign were:
To generate national news coverage of the Lionesses World Cup squad in the build-up to the tournament.
To increase awareness of the individual players.
To increase social media following on Lionesses channels.
To achieve the above at minimal cost given that The FA is a not-for-profit governing body.
The strategy
The purpose of this activation was to build credibility and recognition – for the individual players, for the Lionesses and for women’s football as a whole. In order to do that, our strategy was to partner with influential and credible celebrities who could reach the masses beyond the traditional football fan, and who had a genuine passion for football and the success of the women’s team. In order for the campaign to have maximum impact, this had to be done in a creative, engaging way.
We recruited 23 celebrities from a broad spectrum of sport, entertainment, music, film, TV and radio to help us reveal the 23 players going to France this summer. Each of our hero supporters self-recorded a video message announcing one of the selected squad members and wishing the team success in the tournament.
Each of the celebrities were paired with their Lioness for a particular reason, whether they both wore the number seven shirt for England such as David Beckham and Nikita Parris, are a supporter of their player’s club side such as Ellie Goulding and Olly Murs with Fran Kirby and Alex Greenwood or have an existing relationship with the player, such as Lucy Staniforth who recreates Alan Shearer’s goal celebration when she scores, or Leah Williamson whose childhood idol was Ian Wright.
The campaign was months in the making. From an initial long-list of more than one 100 potential ambassadors to the final 23 credible and willing personalities, co-ordinating agents, creatives, social media teams, managers and everyone in between was no mean feat.
With a combined online following of more than 170m, our final list of hero supporters contained some of the most recognisable and influential celebrities in the country.
The campaign
On the eve of the squad announcement we posted a glitch video on social media to tease that something was about to land. This video was posted from @Lionesses on Twitter and Instagram.
Kensington Palace responded to the teaser with some emoji eyes which was caused a bit of a stir!
Each player was provided with her own official player card which they could then proudly post on social once their name was confirmed by their hero supporter. The cards were designed specifically to educate new fans on the players, what they looked like and what position they play.
All 23 announcements were released via our hero supporter’s social channels during a four-hour time window, ensuring that the squad reveal dominated not only the sports agenda but the mainstream media agenda on the morning of the 8th May.
In line with the squad announcement, the new website pages went live for the first time, incorporating the new Lionesses look and feel.
To culminate the day’s activity, we produced a 90-second piece of wrap-up content to amalgamate all 23 celebrity reveals into one shareable video for those who had seen some player announcements but not others.
The results
The orchestration of this influencer montage from personalities helped to generate millions of engagements, introducing new audiences to the Lionesses, making them household names before they even set foot in France. More importantly the backing from these high-profile figures gave the individual players credibility as role models for kids across the country, creating a lasting legacy for England Women’s football beyond the culmination of the tournament.
Video views – 10,749,000. The best performing original posts were by Emma Watson (3m+ views), David Beckham (1.98m views) and HRH Duke of Cambridge (1.66m views).
Social engagements – 708,950
Lionesses social followers uplift - +13,119
Instagram +7,951 new followers (7% increase)
Twitter +5,168 new followers (7.4% increase)
Lionesses website - In the first 48 hours, there were 42,008 views of the new site with an average stay per page of 54 seconds, dwarfing all previous statistics for visits relating to women’s football on FA.com.
Lionesses Supporters club +600 new members on the day of the squad announcement
Email click to open rate average 24%
The combined following of the 23 ambassadors meant that the video posts were viewed more than 6.7m times in the first 72 hours. Working with the likes of Emma Watson, David Beckham, Ellie Goulding, James Corden and Prince William ensured our Lionesses were debuted to a vast new audience of potential fans, some of whom may not have even known the World Cup was taking place this summer and almost certainly wouldn’t recognise the names of the players.
The influencer videos were viewed over 10 million times, garnered three quarters of a million social engagements and resulted in an impressive uplift of over 13,000 new followers to Lionesses’ social media channels as a direct result of this campaign. The innovative nature of the squad announcement also resulted in over 100 items of earned media coverage across print, online and broadcast media.
As Matt Butler of The i Paper said: “The key for the visibility and promotion of the women’s team is that followers outside traditional football fans will have been informed that the national side are indeed playing in a World Cup next month…. if the FA keeps up this level of well-thought-out engagement throughout the World Cup, then expect interest in the side to grow swiftly.”
Freddie Sassoon, Senior Brand Manager at The FA, said: “The success of the Lionesses squad announcement owed a lot to the logistical planning and collaborative mentality of the team at Pitch. Having brought Pitch on board to help us deliver the launch idea, we were able to seamlessly manage multiple moving parts and stakeholders in order to make sure that all 23 announcements landed at exactly the right moment. The result was a huge wave of positive sentiment from media, fans and players at the start of a hugely exciting summer for football.”
And all for a minimal budget. These ambassadors gave up their time at no cost to support the growth of women’s football; something they are all genuinely passionate about as individuals. Resulting in a huge return on investment for The FA and the Lionesses.
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