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ManagementOpinion pieces and reflections

Unleashing the power of football to attract the hard to reach

By 15/07/2019September 5th, 2019No Comments

Some key lessons learnt from my experience in the last 3 months

In the last few months I have been working and thinking a lot on how we can create different story telling to attract people on being active and being “InnovActiv”… What I mean by this is being both physically active and also active in their community.

I am a sport and PA ambassador in the sense that I believe in the benefits it can brings to both people and society if delivered properly.

Yet what “properly” means can differ based on the context and aspiration of all stakeholders. So I guess it deserve a whole lot of reflection. And this will be the topic of a series of article I will produce. This one – as mentioned- will focus on “story telling”.

I do not have a magic formula yet but rather want to keep being critical about by beliefs and my work, because this is who I am, and because I suspect this is what people expect from me.

Because I have always been attracted to football and as I define myself as a goalkeeper in all its beautiful meaning on and off the pitch, I will focus most of my example and thought on this sport. And guess what, this year France is hosting the FIFA Women World Cup so don’t bother if I use many women sport example 😉

The challenge

We definitely face an historic inactivity crisis and more need to be done by us, sport change makers, traditional and new one, to develop a new approach.

The third special edition of the Eurobarometer focusing on Sport and Physical activity published by the European Commission in March 2018 is just one example among others. The survey confirmed the negative trend of the past years concerning the participation of young women in sport and physical activity. In the 15-24 age group, 47 % of girls/women, but only 29 % of boys/men never or seldom exercises or play sport. In addition, the survey provides other data bearing witness of the increasing trend of a sedentary lifestyle and lack of time to do sport.

The reasons for such a trend are diverse. People mentioned they do not have fun and they don’t recognise themselves in the representation of sport men and women depicted on TV and in the clubs. This is what I would call the body shaming bias.

To sum up, here are few of the reasons why people tend to be less and less active

  • Increasing competition with other free-time activities. The time is over when sport and PA were the only activities offered to people in many villages and cities.
  • When it comes to the angle of the “story telling” dimension, new role models are needed. We need to get out of the stardom model and back to normal hero and sheroes.
  • More diversity of sport air time is needed: to avoid over representation of few male sports.
  • New gender mainstreaming approach in terms of both sport offer and sport marketing are needed. In being more intentional in developing new approaches, stakeholders might tap into a huge potential market, and this is true even for small local actors. Being intentional in communicating about the fact that the organisation is opened to all is a key first step (starting with appropriate announcement and communication, including visual illustration).

Why we need to address it?

We need to rethink our approach to storytelling and offer branding because in this world full of offers competing each other in terms of people using their free-time then it would be useless developing the perfect offer if no one knows about it!

This is true a local, national, European and International level even if we may expect that the local one would have a more budget constraint approach.

To exist and be attractive to people the reality is the quality of the offer is not enough. It needs to be “branded” and by branded I mean that people –your target- hear about it.

So effort is to be made in your communication. Yet you also want to make sure that you are conveying the right message. Indeed, it is not enough to tell people about a tournament or a special activity for example…. Remember we are focusing here on addressing the inactivity crisis. This means that your offer is targeting those who are generally not active. They may be inactive for various reason but one thing we can be pretty sure is most of them are not attracted by traditional offer…

So let’s say you have developed a new concept… let’s make sure that your message is conveyed properly!

What can be done to adress it?

With the raise of social media WE have the power to be our own media and to tell stories => We should not give it away.

  1. One of the solution that emerges is the rise of approach merging sport activities and activism

In the field of football, we can mention Equal Playing Field and Global Goals World Cup who are using their network and platform to promote football for good and in particular to ensure equal access to sport for women.

Equal Playing Field is doing so in offering challenges to participants by bringing in Guinness World Records which then drag media attention and help get the highlights on some key issues and challenges.

The Global Goals World Cup is all about a new approach of a soccer tournament allowing women participants to play and enjoy the beautiful game but also join a worldwide movement for the SDGs AND being proactive in their community. This last point is one of the key one to attract hard to reach participants as they feel AND see that their time participating in the activity is valuable not only to them but also to those in need around them.

These are just two examples. But in bridging the gap between sport activities and activism these two approaches have one thing in common: ensuring participants know and feels they are taking part to something bigger, with a purpose.

  1. Another approach is to go, meet and tell the stories of those making it on the field

Once again, I will focus on a football related example. Building up on the frenzy of the FIFA Women World Cup in France, the Little Miss Soccer initiative has developed and widely tested a new story telling approach in the field of women football. Through their blog, book and movies, we could follow the steps of the founders during their journey around the world meeting with women football activista. What a refreshing and empowering experience it was to benefit from their back to back analysis and to be exposed to initiatives and stories of women practising football all around the planet.

This can also be done through clever advertising! One of the latest example is the latest add and move by the German Football team ahead of the Women’s World Cup. The original video is an ad campaign from Commerzbank but it has gained international recognition and praised when Deutsche Welle added subtitles to make it accessible for an international audience. The add has been praised online for its strong message of female empowerment and its push for equality.  “No one knows our name” – “We don’t have balls but we know how to play with them!” were some of the strong key messages passed along.

  1. The media coverage

On a larger scale, big and traditional media, definitely have a role to play in leveraging the playing field. The means and budget they are using for each sport event is a clear indicator of their will to cover them. And whether this is done for monetary purpose only (vetting on the return of investment) or a mix of the later and an understanding of their role as trend maker, they are still key players in ensuring all are exposed to a variety of sport and PA.

The BBC and Channel 4 works on the Paralympics in London and Rio was also a tremendous move to show different stories and abilities.  Studies have since demonstrated the impact it had on the society.

This is yet to soon to be able to measure any impact, but I cannot help but see it as a great sign that for the first time ever, the n°1 broadcasting channel for the FIFA WWC 2019 in France (ie TF1) will use the same broadcasting plan than last year for the men World Cup to ensure quality coverage and analysis of the event.

Having a communication plan that firstly answer the question “in our society what does it take to “exist” in the media” is definitely the wrong angle if we want to address the issue of attracting inactive people.

What we need to keep in mind?

  1. About VIPs

From my experience and from my own perspective, I’d say that having a communication plan that firstly answer the question “in our society what does it take to “exist” in the media” is definitely the wrong angle if we want to address the issue of attracting inactive people.

The VIP in such events or initiatives are and will always be the participants.

We –individuals and society- need to hear from them.

It is their stories – the barriers they faced or are facing, their success- that are the most powerful. Real men and women having taking one step in being active and/or “innovactiv”, speaking their true self have much more chance to leave a global footprint and legacy than whoever in high decision making when it comes to inspire other to be active…

Super hero may make us dream to be as powerful as them… but we know these superpowers are nothing but fantasy… it is real-life heroes and sheroes that actually leave the highest marks on us all.

And do not take me wrong. I‘m not saying that those currently recognised as VIP in our society are useless or should not be invited. I am just saying they should be ready and willing to act as catalyst and redirect the media attention to the human on the pitch taking actions.

And I have a lot of respect for the “stars” than come to event or training to use their platform to let others shine. Lucky I was to capture this small talk between Pilou Asbæk (mainly known for his role in Game of Thrones) and two of the EU teams from the last GlobalGoals World Cup Europe tournament:

  1. About the activity itself

In the end when taking part to an event, and especially a tournament, women are still competitive! This is from my perspective a wrong assumption to assume the contrary?

They will for sure join for various reasons: the fun part, the purpose, the opportunity to join a collective movement or get out of daily routine. BUT they will in the end all be competitive in their own way, being competitive –in the best meaning of the word- is not a male trait but a human characteristic.

This can be understood in two ways. Again, let’s remember that we are here focusing on the hard to reach, those who are generally inactive. Well if they have join your event, this already demonstrate their will and appetite to compete against themselves, to fight their internal fight, to overcome obstacles and strive for the level of excellence appropriate to them! In addition, my belief and observation is that all women are competitive as soon as you provide them with a platform to shine and a purpose to fight for. Sport is providing them a voice, do not assume they will not be competitive in making it heard! In taking part, they will undoubtedly try to showcase their best, whatever forms it may take: technical skills, resilience, fighting spirit…

So the lesson here is probably than when developing a new approach, we need more than ever transparent rules and criteria to let them express their very best in terms of creativity, activism and sport skills to ensure an equal playing field for all. This would also ensure it produces healthy agonies as people face defeat.

  1. About the communication

I believe what can work for women can in fact work for the new generation willing to take a stand.

There is no one size fits all. Let’s not assume people understand what our thought are, in contrary let’s really tell the stories of our journey!

Your offer is based on a crazy idea! That’s good we definitely need to be more crazy –in the sense of thinking out of the box, offering new perspectives and approach- but let’s make it clear to all, let’s not just think it will be understood just by it happening.

From my view point, it is a shame that our world is saturated with PR and communication oriented event (again not that PR and communication are needed –this is rather the contrary- but they should adapt to the event rather than dictating its red line). We need to stand for real change makers.

And in this perspective story telling is also about taking an educational perspective and ensuring that the experience you are offering is understood. It is about truly WALKING THE TALK. In fact, we should not expect everyone to understand the journey we are offering if we don’t offer them the map and the directions. Then only they will have a chance to free-ride and know what to expect, hopefully making the most of it.

Last but not least, coming back full circle to the first thought highlighted. Let’s not lose our focus and let’s keep in mind the basics: The participants and the crowd: they are the one who make it happens! Therefore, they are the one to tell their stories – sometimes with some help and training by supportive organisations- and any event should be made and thought to let them shine to the fullest.

Are you going to have talks: have them on board, make it happen right at the center of the arena.

Final words

If we are going to define new way for sport to happen and to attract, encourage and support those who are far away from practising, then we need to serve their needs and provide them the space they deserve…In few words, an offer for the people by the people!


Please share your thought and inspiration!

=> Leave a comment and let me know what has been for you the most inspiring story telling approach in the last 12 months that has moved you to be more active (in all the meanings of this expression).

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