Media: Women and the football pitch

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WOMEN ENJOY their football. They love watching it (women make up 40 per cent of Sky's Premier League audiences), wearing it (20 per cent of Manchester United replica shirts are sported by girls) and dating its stars (see everyone from Sporty Spice to Dani Behr).

England's defeat by Romania last Monday was watched by a massive 31 per cent of all women in the UK, compared to 44 per cent of all British men, yet marketing and advertising activity aimed at women during France '98 has been sidelined by macho ads and laddish sponsorship idents.

A new survey by London ad agency J Walter Thompson also reveals real female enthusiasm for television coverage of the event. Of the 250 people surveyed, 40 per cent of women said that they intended to watch all the matches while 62 per cent said that they wanted to catch at least some of them.

Stephen Carter, chief executive of JWT, is adamant that advertisers and marketers may have missed a trick. "I think advertisers have missed the fact that football has become increasingly interesting to both sexes. It's a cultural change that just hasn't filtered through, which may be why I haven't seen one ad aimed at women."

Carter argues that there are several reasons for the lack of enlightened ads, including the dearth of female creative teams in ad agencies and women decision-makers in client companies. He also blames the industry's general conservatism when it comes to reflecting relatively new social trends. "There's a big time lag with advertising, it follows social changes at a distance, partly because large client companies are inherently conservative, but it doesn't help that advertising is also a heavily regulated industry."

Others put the burden of blame on plain economics. Despite the increase in mixed audiences, football is watched predominantly by young men, a group that traditionally watches very little television. The fact that the World Cup can deliver such a precious group pushes the price of an ad break way above the market average. A 30 second spot during the England v Romania game cost a staggering pounds 180,000.

Women, on the other hand, are relatively heavy television watchers and it is easy to find programmes that deliver them in similar numbers to the World Cup, for less money. Instead of paying pounds 180,000 to reach female football fans, a brand aimed at women could have found an equivalent 30 second break in an ordinary programme for just pounds 85,000. So advertising during France '98 can cost advertisers targeting women twice as much as it would usually.

Ian Lewis, the broadcast director of media buyer Zenith Media - which books advertising space for clients such as BT, Superdrug and Rover - believes that such prices have prohibited many advertisers targeting women. "There are always going to be times when it is worth paying more to have your product really stand out in an ad break, but it has to be the right ad in the right circumstances. The World Cup was never going to deliver that for products such as detergents."

He adds that sport, by its very nature, can also offer the wrong environment for many traditionally female products: "Advertising a tea-bag in a break full of beer, sports brands and cars would always look odd. And then there are products that women would not want to see advertised while sitting in a room full of men, like sanitary products."

Meanwhile, France '98 keeps women pretty much on the touch-line. It may be some time before we see Tampax as an official sponsor of the England team, but perhaps the marketing line-up for the 2002 World Cup will be a little less macho if women continue to watch the game.