Women’s soccer marketing: The kids are not alright

Soccer game? Uh, yeah — it’s over there.

Joanna Lohman, the women’s soccer player most likely to win The Apprentice if she could stomach being in the same room with Donald Trump, has posted a strong, well-supported argument to pitch the new women’s soccer league to people other than soccer moms.

Some of the ideas aren’t new. Plenty of teams, including the Washington Freedom, have had beer gardens. WPS made a big push on social media, not the typical soccer mom hangout. And a lot of the talk around the WPS launch was that the WUSA had erred by aiming for soccer moms instead of soccer dads, who were more than happy to see Abby Wambach for $15 instead of shelling out $50 to see the Washington Wizards.

And some of the ideas are out of anyone’s control. A team floating on a $1 million annual budget isn’t going to come up with the megamillions for a downtown stadium accessible by mass transit. High schools and some colleges with transit-friendly facilities aren’t going to let teams set up beer gardens at their schools. Also, “downtown” and “tailgating” are often mutually exclusive things.

But the theory is sound, based on the marketing theories Lohman cites and the experience of past women’s leagues, where the youth soccer teams have tended to show up for a game or two, scream, get autographs, and disappear.

That leaves two questions:

1. How big of an audience is out there? Former Sky Blue exec Gerry Marrone asks in the comments on Lohman’s piece, and it’s difficult to quantify. Women’s soccer certainly has a passionate group that chats nonstop on Twitter and comments on every blog post about the sport (my blog numbers jump when I write about women’s soccer, though that’s also a statement on how little-read my other posts are), but some people have noticed it’s a group with the same handful of people.

2. Can teams effectively straddle the line between youth/family marketing and young adult marketing? Anecdotally, I think it’s working at D.C. United. They have a play area for kids, the tailgate is fun for all ages, and the “quiet side” where the families sit is sometimes stronger than the “loud side” where the supporters groups bounce.

This is where my personal experiences diverge. Yes, I’ve seen the youth soccer teams spend the whole D.C. United Women’s game rolling down the hill behind one of the goals. (I was proud that the Vienna team actually sat and watched the game.) I’ve seen families treat women’s soccer as a one-time experience, waiting 45 minutes for Abby’s autograph and taking off, never to return.

And yet I’m seeing D.C. United (men’s) getting more and more interest within my club. I’m now getting texts from parents during games, asking me for insight on something that just happened. (Not that I always have any insight, but it’s sweet that they think I do.) I’ve seen kids’ focus slowly change from the concessions to the field. People are asking me about going in on season-ticket plans.

So D.C. United is converting my suburban soccer parents (moms AND dads) into soccer fans. Can’t the women do the same thing?

I have to admit, that’s anecdotal evidence. But it makes me wonder what’s possible.

The real trick, though, might be converting Alex Morgan’s million-plus Twitter followers into ticket- and merchandise-buying fans. Where do they fit on Lohman’s chart?

It’s a good conversation to have. And personally, I’m excited. The view from the beer garden is much better than the obstructed view from the pressbox at the Soccerplex.

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3 thoughts on “Women’s soccer marketing: The kids are not alright

  1. Random thoughts:
    1.)“Soccer moms” should be a worthless phrase when it comes to describing a marketing demographic for women’s soccer. It was some throw-away phrase used in politics in the early 90’s to describe a targeted voting block that took on a life of its own. You might as well discuss “Reagan Democrats” or “urban ethnic whites” as a target demographic.
    2.)Lohman is absolutely right that the new league needs to focus on marketing to young adults. However, she is completely wrong to blow off support from parents and their children. Like it or not, they are a key audience, and the money spent by parents who have no clue of what’s going on isn’t any different than that spent by a passionate fan. Furthermore, she seems to discount the passion of the little kids while arguing that the league should focus their marketing on passionate soccer fans. Finally, she discounts that those kids do grow up and can become the loyal, passionate adult fans the sport needs.
    3.)Is there a false dilemma between marketing towards kids and marketing to young adults? I know resources are limited, but it is possible to market the league towards divergent audiences (see the NFL having cheerleaders and recognizing Breast Cancer Awareness Month).
    4.) Lohman makes the assumption that the same or a similar audience MLS would attend the new women’s leagues if the atmosphere can be replicated. I would agree with her that you could have a similar audience (i.e. demographically), but I doubt that the women’s league will be able to get the same fans. Ultimately, limits on time (especially with the two league’s seasons coinciding with one another) and discretionary income results in fans choosing one league over the other, and most will stick with the one they already follow.
    5.)Regarding race: Has there been an attempt or attempts to increase the minority audience/fan base for women’s soccer? Or would such an effort be prohibitively costly?

  2. I think a big problem that women’s sports in general seem to struggle with in terms of marketing is developing a concerted financial scheme to make money. This sounds diabolical, but it isn’t…it is simply an economic principle. Leagues and teams that do well in marketing understand this and know how to make “it” work. There are plenty of fans of US Women’s Soccer (see World Cup, Olympic followings)…a lingering question I have is: IF the Federations are putting their money where their mouth is, AND IF the Federation players are one of the keys to the league succeeding, AND IF Federation sanctioned events draw the large crowds compared to other alternatives; THEN…..well, doesn’t this begin to sound a bit like a schematic a certain someone who shall not be named, but without the psychotic management that went along with it, sort of drew up in the past?

  3. I would go for the slow but the sure route of grafting to get every individual fan. The quick fix to fill stadium for one match and the following match the stadiums are empty does not do it for me.

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