The Football Association (FA) has launched a consumer-facing brand called England Football to consolidate grassroots and participation programmes under one name and provide a timely reminder of how the elite game is enabled by inclusion, volunteers and fan passion. Kathryn Swarbrick, commercial and marketing director at the FA, explains to The Drum why the oldest footballing body in the world needed a D2C brand that could inspire "goosebumps" in us all.
In 1863 the FA was formed by clubs Barnes, War Office, Crusaders, Forest, No Names, Blackheath, Kensington School, Perceval House, Surbiton, Blackheath Proprietory School, Charterhouse, and a Crystal Palace with no affiliation to Roy Hodgson’s plucky Premier League side. It put in place a foundation for one of the world's strongest football pyramids generations later.
On a macro level, the oldest football association in the world has been on the digital transformation curve all sports must follow, but more broadly, with the pandemic, football's been disrupted in a way it hasn't been since the World Wars. After more than a year in lockdown, much of the professional pyramid froze, match day attendance disappeared, and legal participation dried up. Then the European Super League rebellion threatened to further loosen the elite teams from England’s football pyramid and sparked existential questions about fandom, club ownership and the grassroots. While the ‘big six’ clubs return to the drawing board to rebuild fan support - which judging by a pitch invasion at Old Trafford needs work, football went silent to highlight the racist abuse aimed at players and staff. The scales weighing up the financial priorities and the social good of the game are very much in flux.
After the proposal for the European Super League was ridiculed out of town, the FA launched England Football, a scheme that's been in the oven for 18 months, landing at a "fortuitous time" according to Kathryn Swarbrick, a top marketing with PepsiCo, Heineken and Diageo experience is applying the lessons from world of drinks marketing to the broad umbrella of the FA.
What’s England Football
Swarbrick says that the original plan was to launch England Football ahead of the Euros. "But I didn't think we had enough substance. It would have been really a branding exercise. We needed to buy the time to make sure that this is not a vanity project."
The 18-month project that pre-dates Swarbrick's stint at the FA, there was obviously a delay to the Euros and most big sporting events but it's curious she leans so heavily on "substance" after the EFL's collapse could have been attributed to its lack of detail.
In that extra year, England Football joined the dots between the projects the FA was already doing, some of which were "so buried" Swarbrick wasn't aware they existed. Important projects providing people with the opportunity to play, coach and support football will live on EnglandFootball.com, a “one-stop online hub across all levels of the game” providing information about FA programmes, learning resources, and administrative tools.
This will be the brand the FA speaks to the public with, leaving the mother brand to handle the administrative/governance.
Also developed was Find Football, a tool designed to help parents find playing opportunities across all age groups.
And finally, the rewards program My England Football will support England fans, grassroots players and volunteers with “money-can't-buy rewards”.
It's more than a logo, and it's been long in the works. Swarbrick says: "Driving change and through any organisation can be hard. You've got to show enough proof as well. So you've got to do the research and jump through the hoops to prove it works, that takes time."
Coming under the umbrella will be grassroots programmes like McDonald’s SuperKicks, Snickers Just Play, and Weetabix Wildcats, The Bootroom, BT Playmaker as well as administrative tools such as Full-Time. "
Our commercial partners get better visibility and participation in their products. Through the reward scheme, we've got Nike, LG, Lucozade and more rewarding our fans and building a relationship. There's also an affiliate programme with a direct revenue opportunity for partners and also a discount for our members."
The drive lands while fans, who've been locked out of the stadiums for a year, question the future of the sport and their role in it. "The timing was fortuitous," says Swarbrick. The message could hardly find more fertile soil.
Copa 90, the football fan platform, helped develop the launch video, exploring England Football from the grassroots to the elite level featuring Azeem Amir, Demi Stokes, Harry Kane, Lucy Bronze and Marcus Rashford. You'd struggle to find a demographic not catered for in this spot.
"We try to make sure that football is literally available for everyone," says Swarbrick.
With the delay of Euro 2020 to this summer, the campaign will pulse through owned channels and paid media. But with summer coming, and lockdown unlocking, and an estimated 10m casual football fans soon to be swept up in the excitement, England Football looks to strike when the iron is hot.
The FA could not be the face of this drive says Swarbrick, instead, she took a "Ronseal" approach with Football England. "We want to build a direct relationship with the consumer, but it was hard to have a conversation when someone doesn't really know us."
The England Football brand was designed by MATTA [at the top of this article], a fresh take on England’s Three Lions. With inclusivity, the name of the game, featured is a cub, lion and lioness but it was originally much closer to the FA's famous logo.
"We didn't want to go out and create yet another brand, we really wanted to do was just make the best out of what we had." Early iterations were "confusing", they were too close to the FA's logo.
"We made it a bit more accessible, a bit more informal, and took the inclusivity idea and pushed it along a bit."
So the new organisation will have to strike a chord with football fans, part of this is a content series featuring Raheem Sterling, who will go on a journey through his experience as a young player to the top of the game, meeting the volunteers and coaches who made it happen. "It'll give you goosebumps," she promises.
Looking ahead, Swarbrick concludes: "We've got a massive opportunity, especially coming out of Covid-19, where people maybe have lapsed out of the sport, generally. We need to engage communities, push the mental and physical wellbeing of the sport. We need to use this opportunity to get people back up and running."