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    Aston Villa’s marketing playbook for women’s football, now it has ‘significant’ budget

    The football club’s head of marketing is looking to maintain momentum around the women’s game following a stand-out summer.

    Aston Villa made history last month when it attracted nearly 50,000 fans to its derby against Tottenham at the Emirates Stadium. The Women’s Super League game was the first since the epic Euros tournament in the summer and a reassuring sign that interest in the women’s game would endure long after the Lionesses has finished celebrating.

    It was also a testament to the strategy put in place by Adam Lowe, who had just launched the next chapter of his marketing drive with a campaign called ‘Be The Inspiration’.

    He says that, since the Euros, the team has had a “significant” uptick in the marketing budgets available for promoting the women’s side, but stresses that the work it is doing for the sport began years before.

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    “There’s a fair bit we’ve been doing over the last few years,” he says. “We see it as a responsibility to help grow the game and be an example of what teams should do to improve football across the board.” 

    To date, that has included the spearheading of a new Education Pathway that seeks to reassure young girls who are getting into football that they could carry on to professional level without sacrificing higher education and a more formal career path.

    “That was a barrier to continuing into professional football. So we worked with Aston University to create a program where they can continue training at an elite level while doing a degree, making it so they didn’t have to choose.”

    The Football Association dubbed it a “trailblazing” model and it’s one that Lowe is now helping rival teams employ in their own cities with other partner education facilities.

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    It has also conducted a massive research project into how people feel about the women’s game and what drives the negativity that still exists, even post-Euros. The work found that young girls were being bullied and had experienced derogatory comments when they’d tried to participate or had simply just shared their love of the game.

    “The [girls and women] we spoke to wanted more representation from football clubs and to create a safe space where they know people can share than fandom,” he says.  

    On the back of that research, the club has launched a campaign called ‘Be The Inspiration’, which aims to highlight the unconscious bias that still exists around women’s football and tells the story of a young girl who goes viral after getting a letter saying she has been accepted into its training academy.

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    Working with user-generated content specialist Miappi, it has also created an app that allows anyone – from supporters to amateurs to elites – to post videos, pictures or comments on the women’s game. Lowe says the hope is to build a digital community where young girls have a safe space to participate in any capacity.

    In time, it plans on opening the app up to commercial partners – such as Gym+Coffee, which inked a deal with the club in June – to run branded content, while partners such as the Football Association, Aston University and Her Game Too can engage with young girls and women through its direct messaging function. 

    Much like Lowe has been quick to share the lessons that have been learned from running its university program, he is keen to involve as many partners and other clubs in the app as he can in order to expand its reach. “The more support it gets, the more it works to encourage young girls into football,” he says.

    “It is our responsibility to embrace the opportunity the England team gave us during the Euros and take it into the season and beyond. We don’t want it to peter out. We want to carry on the growth – it has been a trigger point to carry on in earnest.”

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    The club’s owners have given him a big marketing budget to do that. “Campaigns don’t necessarily have to have an immediate ROI – they can just be for the good of the game,” he says. “We have more budget to increase attendance, more budget to improve the experience. We think we can really focus on family entertainment. All of the budgets have been increased over the summer.

    “We’re still going after our existing fan base, but we’re going after a whole new family audience, teenage girls and the 18- to 64-year-old age bracket too.

    “We’re also seeing 24- to 40-year-old females feeling really impassioned. We’re working on different media channels and activations that align with those audiences. We’re bringing characters like Peppa Pig and Zog the Dragon to Villa Park to enhance the experience. It’s shifting drastically.”

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