Ahead of International Women’s Day, Brentford held a conference to celebrate women’s increasing involvement in football and attendance at the club.
A panel — consisting of interim chair of the EFL, Debbie Jevans CBE, member of the FA’s Inclusion Board, Chris Paouros, Arsenal and England forward Danielle Carter and CEO of Women in Football Jane Purdon — shared their stories of how they got involved with football and provided their views on how football can be improved for females.
The evening — hosted by TalkSport presenter and Brentford fan Natalie Sawyer — began with some striking and significantly lacking statistical analyses.
At 26% overall, Natalie explained, the Premier League has seen an increase in women’s attendance. However, the data was from the 2014-15 season. It needs updating.
Out of the twenty-four Championship clubs, when approached by Brentford, only five could provide any data on female attendance.
This significant lack of data is alarming. In the media we are taught to ‘know our audience’ and data is key to unlocking and understanding audiences. It seems most football clubs do not know their audiences as well as they think.
Statistics aside for now, diversity in football has definitely seen steady improvements. Yet still, unfortunately, it is easy to find examples of sexism and bigotry. Type in a female sports presenter’s name into the web and it isn’t difficult to find articles about sexist abuse.
“We still have questions about diversity because there are still issues. I do think we have come a long way and we can celebrate progress. We can see that there are a lot more women involved in football,” said Monique Choudhuri, a Brentford director and Diversity Champion.
Although the event did celebrate this progression, conversations about the ‘World Cup babes’ and the sexualization of female fans left their mark. The lack of women and LGBT+ fans from BAME communities was also criticised.
Back to the statistics and another interesting percentage — that 81% of female involvement in football stems from attending with a family — was discussed in detail.
Football clubs are, and always will be, pillars in our communities. Families attending games is nothing new. The way in which clubs now attract and engage with families has, however, changed.
Clubs now actively seek to engage with communities — families account for a large proportion of a community — therefore family-oriented atmospheres on both matchdays and non-matchdays are incredibly important.
These communities, and indeed families, are all from diverse backgrounds. Brentford realise this and want to harness it. The new stadium, just under a kilometer away, is the perfect opportunity to grow Brentford’s fan base and, specifically, attract more female fans.
Marketing strategy is key to achieving this growth. The consensus during the conference was good marketing and an inclusive mentality are the best ways Brentford can attract more people.
“We are currently looking at our farewell to Griffin Park campaign and we are also looking at marketing the new stadium. The fact it will be in Hounslow — one of the most diverse areas in London — is fantastic. We want to attract people of all backgrounds to the club,” Monique explained.
“We want to show people that Brentford Football Club is a welcoming place and we can use our marketing to channel that.”
One of the suggested ideas, specifically targeting women, from the event seemed to have left a good impression on her.
“I liked the idea of the day in the life of women at our football club. Telling the stories of our women’s players, prominent women at the club and female fans will really help spread the message that we are a welcoming and inclusive club,” she said.
In principle the idea is good, but Brentford must be careful how they market this concept. Often marketing campaigns present polished versions of the truth. They must avoid offending people with an overly politicised and unrealistic campaign.
Monique acknowledged these issues and knows the club must do more to be inclusive and not stereotypically white, male and middle class.
“We need to make sure that we have a good strategic plan. One of the things that many people are not aware of is that women are one of the key points of our strategic focus and operational objectives. We are not only trying to get more women playing football, but also watching,” Monique said.
“Because we are gathering enough data and showing our evidence during evenings such as this, it shows Brentford are serious about this topic.”
Perhaps football and Brentford can take note from other sports. In rugby women’s involvement has skyrocketed.
A record crowd is expected for the women’s six nations game between England and Italy. The RFU has a specific women and girls strategy. The plan is to double the number of female participants by 2021 by increasing the number of women’s teams by more than 75%. Similar strategies have also been developed in hockey and netball.
“Women’s attendance at the World Cup was astonishing. I do think we are better at big ticket fixtures such as finals and internationals. What we need to do is sustain that interest and enthusiasm after these events,” Monique said.
The attendance at major women’s football fixtures has steadily increased. The Women’s FA Cup is exemplary in this regard, with record attendances year on year since 2015.
Since becoming fully professional, however, the Women’ Super League has seen attendances drop by 11% with the average attendance at a game under 1,000, at 953 last season.
Perhaps this is down to the switch from a summer league to playing in the winter. Still, it is a stark contrast to the FA Cup final.
Smaller clubs like Brentford need to do things slightly differently. And they are. You only need look at their strategy on the pitch to know that. The conference itself, as was pointed out, is the first of its kind by a Championship club.
Brentford are approaching things in the right way and must continue to do so as they grow moving forward. If they continue to plan effectively, with clear strategic goals for diversity, they could achieve something special.
Featured photograph/Brentford FC