Sports Marketing | Female Fandom

North London is pink and blue

Author: Sophie Marsh
Date: 04/12/23

North London is pink and blue


Arsenal, adidas and Stella McCartney lead the way to offer Arsenal Women and their fans the kit they truly deserve (and want)!

Welcome to the first edition of our regular new insight series on all things women’s sport. Our research into the female fan opportunity, has formed the basis of our belief that the real growth potential for women's sport is to grow and engage its female fanbase.

Controlling up to 85% of household purchasing decisions, female fans are key to growth, yet too often brands and rights holders are using the same tools, channels and creative as they do with male fans - and it's not working. Two thirds of UK women do not follow a women’s sports team, league, or tournament, citing reasons including that the communications just don’t connect with them emotionally.

But there are positive moves and in each instalment of the series, we will be spotlighting the brands, rights holders, and individual athletes acting as trailblazers in the space and leading the way in supporting the women’s game.

So, to kick us off (pardon the pun)

Arsenal Women’s football team have been a leading force in the game since they were founded in 1987. Over the last 36 years, they have become statistically one of the most successful teams in the Women’s Super League, with 60 trophies to their name.

This season, Arsenal Women have already hit the headlines due to their record-breaking ticket sales, when they drew 54,115 fans through the turnstiles at the Emirates Stadium for their season opener against Liverpool.

And the records keep on getting broken. For the first time ever, in collaboration with adidas and Stella McCartney, Arsenal have created a bespoke away kit for the women’s team.

An example of brands and rights holders listening to their fans

At Sport UNLIMITED, we use our unique in-house neuroscientists and behavioural experts sat within our Human Understanding Lab to go beyond what fans say and do, and really deep dive into what they think, and how they feel.

As mentioned above our ‘Lab’ identified that two thirds of UK female sports fans weren’t engaging with women’s team sports, and when we looked into the reasons, we saw responses such as "Women’s sport doesn't connect with me emotionally” and "Women’s sports teams and tournaments don’t engage me as I’d like”.

More worryingly, when we looked at the critical Gen Z female fan, they were statistically more likely to say that women’s sport entities “aren’t communicating well to their female fans”, “don’t fit with their lifestyle”, and their “merchandise is too focused around the men’s game”.

Enter: Arsenal Women, Stella McCartney and adidas with the perfect timing of a Leah Williamson through ball.

A season or two ago a bespoke kit may not have been right move, as the challenge for women’s sport then was to level the playing field. Wearing what the men’s side wore was therefore instrumental. But with the Lioness's success last year, we’ve moved on from ‘supporting’ or ‘championing’ women’s sport, to holding onto its coattails.

“It’s incredible that it's our own women's kit. I think that it’s so important and inspirational for young girls and everyone out there to know that the women in this club are super valued”, said Alessia Russo on the launch of the kit. When we asked adidas how it had gone down with fans they enthused, “We’ve seen a fantastic reaction to the range since it launched”. It currently being sold out on both the Arsenal and adidas channels would attest to that!

New, but needed.

How many shirt launches have we seen over previous seasons that looked exactly like they always have done, just with female players in the creative along with male players? Too many. But this felt different.

When asked about the significance of Arsenal women sporting a different kit to Arsenal men, an adidas spokesperson responded with:

“At adidas we are continually looking to push the women’s game forward, and through our partnership with Arsenal we are able to do this in a variety of ways – which is helped by the club’s drive to accelerate the women’s game. The creation of the bespoke kit, as well as the collection made specifically for the Arsenal Women’s team to travel to games in, is a celebration of the sisterhood and togetherness of the team. It’s a significant and first-of-its-kind launch that continues to put a spotlight on the team, players and the women’s game as a whole. It’s also something that only adidas could bring to life, merging sports and fashion with two of our partners coming together (Stella McCartney and Arsenal) to create something special.”

So, what can other brands learn from adidas & Arsenal?

Adidas went on to say that “within football, brands have a responsibility to get to grips with the DNA of any club and supporter base they partner with. Putting our consumers and athletes first is at the heart of everything we do at adidas. Ensuring we regularly: connect, gain feedback from, and listen to our consumers, recognising their individual preferences, needs and passions, enables us to provide them with exciting products for on and off the pitch, plus initiatives that bring them closer to the club they love.”

Arsenal, as a club, are spearheading the movement in the women’s game, and with adidas are going above-and-beyond to really understand the female fan and tailor their marketing strategy to truly engage with them.

Brands and rights holders looking to follow suit need to start by truly understanding their fans, the subconscious emotions and motivations that really drive fandom (or not), and then harness that insight to drive their strategic and creative output.

It’s that insight-driven approach to creativity that sets us apart at Sport UNLIMITED.

Is it any wonder that a club that invests so much in its female players has such a history of glittering success? And is it any wonder that a club that engages with their female fans has consistently broken attendance records across the WSL? The stats speak for themselves, and I for one, am excited to follow the Gunners’ continued growth, and success for years to come.

If you’d like to find out more about our Human Understanding Lab research into the phenomenon of the female fan, you can do so here. To sign up to our mailing list and receive more insights like this, directly in your inbox, click here.