22 Jun Women’s Football – Applying Behavioural Economics to the Challenge of Participation

Girls and women’s participation in sport is receiving a great deal of media attention even benefiting from the inaugural BBC women’s sport week in June this year. However, despite the well documented benefits of regular participation in sport, including mental health and social skills as well as the obvious physical benefits, there are still 2 million fewer 14-40 year old women than men engaged in sport in the UK.

As the England Women’s football team navigate their way safely through to the knockout stages of the world cup, with unprecedented media coverage, the FA just revealed a study showing that British Dads are reluctant to encourage their daughters to take up football and are more likely to push them towards swimming, athletics or even martial arts!

The FA have stated their intent to make women’s football the second biggest participation sport in the UK (behind men’s football) and this set us thinking – how could the FA practically use the principles of Behavioural Economics to drive up participation?

Don’t be afraid to stand apart

Our ingrained confirmatory bias means that we will always gravitate to information that confirms our existing preconceptions and bias. This means that, if we think ‘football fans are badly behaved’ then we will only notice fans who behave badly and will simply screen out examples of community spirit and camaraderie. Equally, if we think that ‘football is for boys not girls’ we will notice that most players are boys, not the quarter of a million girls and women who do play football. With 22% of Dads considering football to be unsuitable for their daughters because it is ‘a man’s game’ and 16% saying it is ‘unladylike’ these appear to be key challenges. Given the wider climate of scandal surrounding football as a whole, with FIFA in the throes of an FBI investigation, it could be easier & better to show women’s football as a game in itself with its own set of values, standing a little apart from the ‘man’s game’ which itself seems a little tarnished.

Make it theirs

Studies show that we place much greater value on something once we take ownership of it and consider it to be ours. The unintended inference of the #wecanplay campaign is that this is a boys sport but girls can play too. Celebration of the Women’s Football World Cup and the England team’s success with ‘our team’ doing well is a great opportunity to change many girls relationship with the game. After all, the men’s team didn’t make it to this stage in their world cup!

Make the stars accessible

Much of our behaviour is influenced by what we consider to be typical or normal – a factor often seen as contributing to girls dropping out of sport in their teenage years. Whilst the stars of the men’s games are seen as becoming more and more detached from the British people in the age of £100k a week salaries, the leading players in the England women’s football team live much more familiar lifestyles. Demonstrating that the stars of women’s football are ‘people like me’, enjoying similar activities and having similar lives outside football is a key opportunity to normalise behaviour.

Borrow credibility from experts

David Beckham’s daughter Harper plays football with her Dad a keen supporter but, why does this matter? We are heavily influenced by and look for guidance from those we hold in high regard or consider to be experts. Demonstrating that Dads such as Beckham with a history in the game encourage their daughters to play is a key way to persuade others to follow suit.

Warm up gently

The emotion we feel at the time we make a decision is the key one in the final outcome. Hence, encouraging kids who are unsure of football to go out and try it in the traditional season when it is cold and unappealing will as many parents know, put them off and stick in their minds. On the other hand, focussing football recruitment around the summertime and piggybacking other activities such as local fairs when we are in a great mood and the sun is shining can be a key tool in creating a lasting positive perception of the sport.

So – encouraging participation in a sport where ingrained beliefs mean we naturally avoid it is a massive challenge and, one which won’t be achieved by either taking a traditional approach or, by winning the rational argument. Our decision making processes are too instinctive and just not that simple. Similar to the Behaviour Change problems we at Triniti help our clients with, a different approach is required, drawing on the way we as people really make our choices in order to nudge us in a different direction


Triniti Marketing is a consultancy specialising in Behaviour Change Marketing (BCM). We use the latest findings in Marketing Science and Behavioural Economics to understand how we make decisions and, to help our clients win more customers! If you have a Behaviour Change Challenge you’d like to talk about please get in touch with us – the email is info@triniti-m.com