Five marketing and PR lessons from the Women’s World Cup

Like the rest of the nation, the PR Agency One team has been swept up in football fever this summer, with England’s Lionesses putting in some stunning performances during the Women’s World Cup (WWC), and almost managing to bring it home.

As well as the fantastic on-field action there has been plenty of off-field antics, and many of those have entered our world of public relations.

Here are our top five thoughts and takeaways from the tournament as PR, reputation management and corporate communications collide with the beautiful game.

Make a Mary Earps football shirt, Nike

Nike came under fire for not making a replica goalkeeper football shirt available during the tournament. While replica jerseys hit the shelves for England’s outfield players, the country’s goalkeepers weren’t part of the campaign.

As well as this being a huge oversight, Mary is one of the highest profile players in the squad and was crowned 2022 FIFA FIFPRO Women’s World 11, as well as being part of the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 winning team. Not to mention her winning the Golden Glove in both the Euros 2022 and WWC 2023 tournaments.

To put the icing on the cake, she stopped a penalty while the world watched on in Sunday’s final. This refuelled the fire, and the sportswear brand is still facing heat for not having the England hero’s shirt on sale even after the tournament has ended.

Ms Mary Earps herself called out the world’s biggest sports clothing brand directly, offering to pay for production herself, and started her own clothing line in response. To think Air, a film about Nike’s pursuit of emerging basketball star, Michael Jordan was released this year to critical acclaim you’d think the brand would be wise to superstars in their respective fields. I’m sure we can expect a biopic on how Mary goes on to revolutionise the world of sports and clothing herself in 30 years’ time.

Traditional football boots given the boot

Still on the topic of attire, football boots are not made equally either. In fact, due to the historic development of boots being done around the male foot, current boots can result in some serious injuries for female players. We have seen current England players Beth Mead, Lead Williamson and Fran Kirby all suffer serious knee injuries as a result, which makes the Lionesses’ summer performance even more impressive without three first team starting players.

Why is this a PR issue? Nike and Under Armour have both launched football boots specifically designed for women before the tournament. The launches required some careful comms around why they were necessary and didn’t already exist.

Snubs from the Royal Family and Prime Minister

The Royal Family failed to send a representative to the WWC final in Australia, with many people saying “It wouldn’t happen in the men’s game”. What’s more, Prince William is also president of the Football Association (FA) further adding insult to the national team. But the FA has form after all. In 1921 the FA announced a ban on the women’s game preventing it from being played on professional grounds and pitches around the country. It wasn’t until 1969 it was reintroduced – 48 years later!

And the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak didn’t get off lightly either, he too failed to travel to the final leaving the nation without official representation. Both men shared statements, but sometimes actions speak louder than words. To make things worse the Queen of Spain, Letizia, was in attendance to present the England team with their medals and see her national team take home the trophy.

A Photoshop fail

We’re never too far from a politician fail, and the WWC final was no exception. Ed Davey, the current leader of the Lib Dems shared a poorly doctored image of him in an England shirt on X ahead of the final, which was met with suspicion rather than support. While it’s somewhat understandable as the shirt costs a snip less than £125, he might have saved himself a few quid but not quips from the less-than-forgiving public. In a world of generative AI, some creative use of Midjourney might have been a better option. We’ll let you make your own mind up.

Winning over the workforce by watching the game

Typically, when the Men’s Euros and World Cup tournaments are played generous businesses give their workforce time off, or air the games in the workplace. Positively, many organisations did extend the offer of workplace flexibility for their staff for the WWC tournament too.

However, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) went a step further and called on the government to give the nation an extra day off if the Lionesses were victorious, putting Rishi and his cabinet in a difficult position. Luckily the PM averted the difficult decision to instate a new Bank Holiday as the Lionesses failed to lift the trophy.

It’s been a thrilling four weeks of competition with many examples of good and bad marketing. What did you make of this year’s tournament? Who were your stand-out performers on and off the field? Did we miss any PR wins or fails?

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