Sponsorship, Soccer, Global

‘We want to address the lack of role models’: Inside Visa’s game-changing Women’s World Cup plans

Suzy Brown, Visa’s marketing director for the UK and Ireland, opens up about the company’s Fifa Women’s World Cup campaign, and explains why the payment technology giant is upping its investment in women's soccer.

by Sam Carp
‘We want to address the lack of role models’: Inside Visa’s game-changing Women’s World Cup plans

Visa’s campaign video for the upcoming Fifa Women’s World Cup in France sets a familiar scene. A group of teenagers run about a dried out field playing soccer, shooting towards what can only be described as goals in the loosest sense of the word.

As the players chase the ball, the camera soon cuts to a frustrated young girl – the only female player on the pitch – whose persistent pleas to receive a pass are falling on deaf ears. A few seconds later, though, one of the boys floats the ball in her direction. She controls it, drops her shoulder and skips past a bamboozled defender. Then, she fires a shot beyond the hapless goalkeeper and between the makeshift goalposts, much to the delight of her teammates.

It is those game-changing moments – ones which showcase the acceptance of female soccer players - that Visa is aiming to hone in on during this summer’s international tournament, when more eyeballs are expected to be on the women’s game than ever before.

In what has been a recent period of commercial prosperity for female soccer, the global payment technology giant has been stealing most of the headlines with its commitments to the women’s game.

Already a partner of Fifa, the sport’s global governing body, Visa unveiled in December a landmark seven-year partnership with Uefa to become the first ever sponsor of women’s soccer in Europe. That announcement was soon followed by news that the company’s marketing spend for this summer’s tournament in France would match that of the men’s World Cup in Russia in 2018. Then, last week, Visa confirmed further plans to increase its global investment in women’s soccer both on and off the pitch.

Ahead of the opening game of the Women’s World Cup on Friday, SportsPro caught up with Suzy Brown (above, right), Visa’s marketing director for the UK and Ireland, to hear more about the financial services firm’s ‘One moment can change the game’ campaign, to discuss why the company has chosen now to make its biggest commitment to women’s soccer, and to learn how the organisation aims to grow the profile of the players at the tournament.

What was some of the thinking behind Visa’s campaign for this summer’s Fifa Women’s World Cup? What’s the key message you’re trying to convey?

As a start point, I think we see the sponsorship of the Fifa Women’s World Cup as more than a sponsorship, if you like - I think we really see it as a partnership. The campaign is about making a stand for female empowerment and acceptance, and our desire to be a catalyst for the game.

In terms of the core idea, it is around how one moment can change the game. All of the vignettes are inspired by true stories. We’ve heard from players - whether they’re current players or previous players - so I think that really gives it an authentic feel. Each of these moments show either physical or psychological acceptance, and I think what we very much believe is that cumulatively, these moments of acceptance really do change the game.

Changing the game is a bit of a double entendre in terms of changing the game of women’s football, but our ambition is for it to stand for much more than that. So I think we’re using women’s football – and the Fifa Women’s World Cup, in this instance – to demonstrate our belief and desire for equality, diversity and inclusion.

One of the things we really liked about the creative idea is that it feels as though it has got a degree of flexibility and longevity, so if in the future we wanted to be talking about female empowerment in the context of entrepreneurs or women in business, then the campaign has some longevity for that.

The message we want to come across is really the acceptance – being a brand for everybody has always been in our DNA. I think that this gives us an opportunity to showcase those values a little bit more broadly, and really demonstrate our support for female empowerment and equality. I think over the last few years those have become increasingly important societal themes.

England's Nikita Parris is one of a number of Team Visa athletes at this summer's Women's World Cup

Visa also announced that it will be matching its activation budget from last year’s men’s World Cup for the women’s tournament. Why was it important for the company to make this commitment now? 

On the back of the seven-year deal that we signed with Uefa before Christmas, we’re now the biggest sponsor of women’s football on a global level.

So why now? Women’s football has been caught up in a bit of vicious circle until quite recently, and one of the things that has caused that is that not many of the games are televised. This means there’s less interest from big sponsors, which means arguably there are less role models in the game, there is less of a pipeline of players, it seems a less obvious choice for young girls in terms of a career choice, and then perhaps the game is seen as less competitive, and therefore we go round again in terms of the games not being on TV etcetera.

But now, women’s football really feels as though it is at a tipping point. I think the ambition, or the hope of a lot of people, is that this summer’s tournament in France will really be that tipping point. Even over the last few months, we’ve seen a marked increase in attendances for the women’s game across Europe - I think those are things that maybe even a year ago we wouldn’t be talking about.

We’re using women’s football – and the Fifa Women’s World Cup, in this instance – to demonstrate our belief and desire for equality, diversity and inclusion.

One of the things we want to address is the lack of role models – whether it’s for young girls growing up or parents when they are seeing football as a potential career for their daughters. Nine months ago when I started working on this project, I would have been hard pushed to have named many women’s footballers, but actually I could have named half a dozen or ten male football players, just because they are household names. So what we really want to do is help some of the players become much better known.

We have sponsored players across Europe and called them Team Visa athletes. We’ve got a legacy of 20 years of doing something similar with the Olympics, but this is the first time we’re doing it in women’s football. We’ve created two-minute documentaries of all these players, and then cut down short content, pre-rolls, that will really help people get to know the characters and the backstories of the players.

Those types of stories are interesting as you get to know a bit of the person, and learn some of the backstories in a similar way that you probably would just inherently know more about men’s football.

Visa says it wants its Women's World Cup campaign to create more role models for young girls 

How do your aims for this year’s World Cup differ to the men’s tournament last year? Will this summer be more about raising the profile of women’s soccer above all else?

It is a slightly different approach from, for example, the campaign that we did last year. We definitely want to create awareness around the women’s tournament, create interest in the tournament, encourage people to watch, encourage them to encourage their children to watch, to consider playing. Then in relation to the content series, I think encouraging people to get to know the players is really important.

Of course in doing this we want people to know that Visa is a passionate supporter and sponsor of women’s football, and also of the broader beliefs in terms of acceptance, diversity, equality and female empowerment.

Visa last week announced a major commitment to women's soccer in the US

Visa’s investment in this year’s World Cup comes against the backdrop of a wider commitment to women’s soccer – including that landmark seven-year partnership with Uefa. Does Visa consider itself a trailblazer in this space, and is the company laying down a challenge for other brands to get involved?

We’ve been sponsoring Fifa, including women’s football, since 2009, and I think adding a seven-year commitment with Uefa was a big and really important step for us. We were really pleased with the reception that we’ve got, both from our clients – our issuing banks, our merchants etc. – we’ve had a lot of interest from them in terms of using the Women’s World Cup sponsorship, which is obviously really important to us.

I think the ambition, or the hope of a lot of people, is that this summer’s tournament in France will really be that tipping point.

So yes, I think that we definitely see this as a long-term commitment. Are we a trailblazer? I think that’s quite a big statement for other people to make rather than myself. You see other sponsors now coming in; Barclays has signed a deal with the Women’s Super League, Boots with their sponsorship of the England and Scotland teams. So I think we feel as though we’re in really good company with those other big name brands who are also backing women’s football.

Do you think the wider opportunities for digital activation have played an important role in opening up women’s football to new sponsorship opportunities – especially given the way those mediums have created a new platform for brands to tell stories?

Certainly the way that you plan a big campaign now is very different when you’re considering going through social and digital. Maybe ten years ago you’d book your TV, you’d book your out of home, and you’d book your print, and it was job done. Now, with the involvement of social and digital, I think a campaign and the way you approach it in order to get to your target audience efficiently and effectively is significantly different.

I think in terms of storytelling, it has become increasingly important, and as we all know when we flick through Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, you have to have compelling, thumb-stopping content, because if it’s not engaging then ultimately it’s wallpaper.

So I think it’s twofold in that social and digital are incredibly important in terms of creating a platform to tell those stories, but also you have to have really interesting content to be efficient and effective in those channels. You have to change your communications strategy a little bit depending on the channel.

Beyond this summer, how much more needs to be done by Visa and other brands to help amplify women’s soccer?

I think we’ll be in a very good, close working relationship with both Fifa and Uefa. I think as the governing bodies they’re very insightful in helping in terms of what needs to be done, and I think we will continue to evaluate what we do, and see what we feel is the most successful.

Nowadays things are so dynamic that you can’t just do what you’ve done before and hope for a better result – you have to constantly evaluate, constantly think of new things to do. I know that as we continue with our Uefa sponsorship, we’ll continue to find new and innovative ways to support the women’s game.

That’s definitely our challenge: to keep it fresh, keep it new, keep it innovative, and to drive that support, and continue to be a catalyst.

Stephen Day, Visa's vice president, sponsorship, brand  and product marketing, is speaking at the upcoming SportsPro Fan Conference. Register your interest in the event here.