The LEGO®️ Group and Football Australia: shaping the FIFA Women’s World Cup legacy
In anticipation of the ‘Her Sport Her Way’ Trendspotter Forum ‘23, Victoria Mackinlay spoke to Tom Rischbieth, Head of Commercial & Events at Football Australia, about the vibe over at Football HQ less than 30 days from the big kick-off:
“We’re really excited to host the biggest and best Women's World Cup there's ever been,” he says. “We're shooting for 1.5 million attendees and 2 billion people watching it broadcast around the world. It’s going to be the biggest event in Australia since the Sydney 2000 Olympics.”
But beyond the fanfare of the tournament and the nail-biting 90-minute matches, Football Australia’s focus is laser-sharp on the legacy the World Cup will leave behind.
Statistics show when our national teams play major tournaments, huge spikes in sport participation follow (after the Socceroos won the men's Asian Cup in 2015, there was a 20% uplift in people playing football in Australia the following year). Football Australia's ambition is to reach gender parity in football participation by 2027 – a serious BHAG.
To achieve this legacy, the team are being super strategic about partnering with brands that are aligned with their values and vision, and they’re keen to take advantage of the ‘win-win’ when brands want to fund purpose-led investments.
“We typically look for a key purpose angle that the brand might be looking to invest into,” says Tom. “As the biggest community sport in the country, as the most multicultural, diverse and inclusive sport in the country, we see ourselves as an organisation that can serve a much broader purpose for brands outside of the traditional way that people think of sponsorship.”
In November 2022, Football Australia announced a multi-year partnership with LEGO Australia, in its first major sports-related investment in the Asia-Pacific region.
“LEGO is an organisation that isn't getting into sports sponsorship for brand awareness,” says Tom. “They're an incredibly powerful and purpose-led business: what they do for sustainability, what they do for the community and social causes is huge. It was the Legacy ’23 strategy and our ambition to grow our female programme that was really the hook for LEGO to come in and work with Football Australia.”
The LEGO Group’s ‘Play Unstoppable’ campaign aims to shape the future of women’s football through inclusive play. It’s inspired by research which found girls feel less restrained by typical gender biases in play than boys – 82% of girls think it’s OK for girls to play football and boys to practice ballet, compared to only 71% of boys.
The partnership will produce specific programmes and activations to get more young girls playing football, staying active and playing with LEGO sets. Last week The LEGO Group also released a special set which includes a mini figure of CommBank Matildas’ captain, Sam Kerr.
LEGO Australia & New Zealand Vice President & General Manager, Troy Taylor said the collaboration was part of the LEGO Group’s ambition to inspire positive change for future generations: “Unfortunately, led by society, we still experience stereotypes in what activities including sports, children are encouraged to do, based on their gender. At the LEGO Group, we know we have a role to play, to champion inclusive play and help give children the confidence to succeed.”
Investment in women’s sport has come a long way, but there’s still far to go says Tom:“We want to deliver more programmes and initiatives that are going to serve the Australian community, but also allow brands to come into our environment and take ownership of a delivering real, tangible outcomes.”
He cites the fact that less than one in three football facilities in the country are deemed ‘female-friendly,’ and the opportunity for a brand to take ownership of this infrastructure problem. Alternatively, a brand could work on a program to drive more volunteers and administrators into female sport.
“Football Australia has two national teams (the CommBank Pararoos and CommBank ParaMatildas) who are national teams for athletes with cerebral palsy and acquired brain injury or symptoms acquired from stroke,” he says. “These are opportunities for brands to come in and support fantastic, inspiring athletes, but also allow us to grow those programmes and do more for more athletes.”
With record fans in the stands (FIFA had to move the Matildas’ opening World Cup match from Sydney Football Stadium to Stadium Australia due to its larger capacity) it’s a smart time for brands to invest. “Brands that are getting in now are getting in at a pretty good time because things are only going to get better off the back of hosting this amazing tournament,” says Tom.
Matildas’ fans are a particularly attractive demographic as they have one of the highest per-head merchandise-spend-rates of any sporting fan in the country. They’re also made up of that ‘hard-to-reach’ younger demographic and the all-important female household-budget decision makers.
“One of the things we've seen around Matildas’ fans is they over-index on social media engagement metrics. When we announced last week that we were dropping our first ever licencing collaboration with Smiggle, the brand sentiment from those social posts was overwhelmingly positive,” says Tom.
“We’re finally seeing businesses globally recognise the ROI of focusing marketing dollars on female sport. And there's still a huge amount of opportunity for brands to come into Football Australia's commercial programs and receive significant benefits.”