The curtain has closed on the biggest Danske Bank Women’s Premiership season on and off the pitch last month which culminated in Glentoran Women winning their second consecutive title.
On the pitch, the six competing clubs successfully navigated an increased season calendar with 59 league games and 266 goals scored (an average of 4.5 goals per game!).
This report looks back on the 2021 season in relation to all promotional activity undertaken by the NIFL Marketing & Communications department to present tangible metrics of success and benchmark figures for future seasons or comparable leagues & promotional campaigns.
One of the biggest successes of the Women’s Premiership marketing during the 2021 season was the introduction of the striking new League trophy.
Club committee representatives had long requested that the Women’s Premiership trophy be reviewed by office bearers and in the 2021 season, a decision was taken to introduce a bold, statement trophy that would embody NIFL’s commitment to the Women’s Premiership and visually be an aspirational trophy that competing players would want to win each season.
The one metre tall gold and silver plated torch trophy was an instant success, debuted in advance of the penultimate league game and title decider shown live on BBC Sport NI. The new trophy has arguably been the most well received modern style trophy in the Northern Ireland football landscape.
Supported by long term partners Danske Bank, celebrating their sixth season at title sponsors, a digitally focused campaign for the season was agreed by the Marketing & Communications department alongside the league sponsors.
This activation included provision of bespoke rebranded league digital assets, supported by a dedicated digital content producer and a paid advertising budget to amplify key content and messages.
The objectives for the NIFL Marketing & Communications team were to bring parity between the Men’s Premiership and Women’s Premiership on our digital channels, raise the profile and awareness of the Women’s Premiership and to tell the stories of the participant players and coaches in the league through bespoke written and video based digital content.
The key headline successes were:
We explore the detail behind each of these digital metrics below.
Brand awareness for both the league and sponsors remains key, as despite the growth of women’s football in general terms – it ultimately still suffers from a lack of awareness from even the existing Irish League stakeholder base.
Through regular and consistent messaging, the NI Football League delivered 344 pieces of bespoke digital content on @OfficialNIFL channels which reached a total audience of 4,261,243 accounts.
This content was delivered in four main styles – graphics, photos, videos and website articles.
Whilst overall reach is key the awareness of the Women’s Premiership, there was still a requirement for content to be engaging and encourage a growth in affiliation to the players, clubs and the league itself.
Through ensuring a consistent brand style, procuring high quality professional photography and a focus on mobile friendly consumable video content – the aforementioned 344 content pieces prompted 320,626 engaged actions from social media users on NIFL channels.
An increase to bespoke video content was a key focus of the season long campaign. Key objectives of increased video material were aimed at profiling the stories of the players in the league (specifically not high profile internationals) - and also rewarding and recognising high performance through new goal and player of the week features. 117 pieces produced.
Video views totalled 835,532 views over the season, the most popular profile video was Linfield’s Mia Fitzsimmons (18,245 views) and the most viewed match video was Cliftonville v Glentoran (20 May) 23,295.
This was an increase on the 2020 season of 1903% (41,715 video views in 2020 season).
While social media has been a hugely important communication tool in communicating directly with supporters, it remains vitally important that the NIFL retains control of a direct line of communication, and this is maintained through our professionally well managed web platform (www.nifootballleague.com).
The NIFL website objective is to be the trusted source of information, and having up to date statistics, tables, fixtures and results – supplemented by reports, interviews and news allowed the NIFL to be the central source of league wide information.
The NIFL website had 85,601 unique page views during the 2021 season (up 69% from 50,535 in the 2020 season). This accounted for 9% of all NIFL website page views in the period (total 941,968).
The Women’s Premiership plays a vital part in the NI Football League’s overall strategy for digital growth, and this has been positively influenced by the increase in digital content which in turn has attracted fans of Women’s Premiership football into becoming followers of all NIFL activity.
NIFL’s total social media following has recently exceeded 50,000 accounts across three primary platforms (Facebook, Twitter & Instagram) – and 3,208 new followers connected with @OfficialNIFL accounts during the period of the 2021 Women’s Premiership season, a 7% growth of the social media estate.
The NIFL worked with BBC Sport NI to ensure that the penultimate game of the season and title decider – Glentoran Women v Cliftonville Ladies was shown free-to-air on the broadcaster’s popular live-stream format – and available on the BBC Sport NI website and BBC iPlayer.
The broadcast attracted viewership was 29% higher than the Women’s Premiership’s first ever live stream in the 2020 season (Crusaders Strikers v Glentoran Women, 9 December 2020).
BBC Sport NI supported the entirety of the 2021 Women’s Premiership season with highlights of all matches and player interviews shared on the BBC Sport Website and social media channels throughout the season.
Supported by a communication strategy to encourage increased external media coverage, the NIFL Marketing & Communications team provided matchday summaries, information and photos directly to a specifically curated media list to ensure that all key media outlets would have the information available to cover Women’s Premiership matches within minutes of the final whistle.
As a result, total print media value (MAVE) was calculated as €352,424 (approx. £298,000); with all major publications and broadcasters in Northern Ireland covering news and updates from the Women’s Premiership at least once during the season. Note, the MAVE value is the equivalent spend it would cost advertisers to purchase the column inches as advertising space in the various publications.
In total there were 288 external media articles primarily referencing the Danske Bank Women’s Premiership during the season. This was an 88% increase from 153 media articles during the 2020 season, and a 120% increase in MAVE value (€160,542, in the 2020 season).
One of the main objectives of Women’s Premiership marketing is not only to increase general awareness but to activate this into increased match attendances.
Having played the 2020 season almost exclusively behind closed doors because of the Covid-19 pandemic, The start of the current campaign was also heavily restricted as Covid-19 relaxations were phased in throughout the season.
From the 59 league games played in the 2021 season, 36 matches had fans in attendance with a healthy total 4,173 fans attending Women’s Premiership matches. This was an average 116 fans per match – a 21% increase since the unrestricted 2019 season.
The 2021 Women’s Premiership also enjoyed highest recorded league attendance of 425 fans at Cliftonville Ladies v Glentoran Women on Wednesday 4 August; This was also a marked 44% improvement on the previous record of 295 (Linfield Ladies v Sion Swifts Ladies, 25 August 2019).