The overarching principles of branding and marketing were laid bare at the 2022 Ladies in Sports (LIS) Conference, which focused on “taking the next steps” in the development of women’s sports. The event began with a private dinner with guests on May 4 and concluded with a power-packed conference on May 5 at Eko Hotel and Suites, Lagos.
While sharing the motivation behind the theme of this year’s conference, Tega Onojaife, the founder of LIS International, emphasised it is time women’s sports moved beyond being seen as corporate social responsibility projects. “But we also have a role to play,” she added.
“Everytime we say we want to get money from brands, what values are you giving back to these brands?”
Aisha Falode, the Chairperson of the Nigeria Women Football League, the oldest women’s league in Africa, spoke about the reform that the league has been undergoing since she took over in 2017 as well as the challenges the league board has faced and are still facing in their bid to continue raising the bar on quality and professionalism. “We are a role model to other African countries,” she boasted. “The football associations of other countries write to us to give them our template.”
The Aisha Falode-led board has created a structure that offers more competitions and prioritises the welfare of players and referees. “You cannot sell yourself short,” Falode stated.
It may have taken five years for the first sponsorship deal to eventually arrive, but Falode is proud of the work they have put in to transform the women’s league in Nigeria, in spite of having “next to zero support”. The Nigeria Women Football League recently signed a multi-million naira partnership deal ahead of the NWFL Premiership Super Six scheduled to take place in Benin from 16-22 May 2022.
Falode, who also pointed out that “we must begin to blow our own trumpet” used some of her time on stage to call on more companies to invest in women’s football in Nigeria with the emphasis that “football today is big business”.
Nearly 8,000 miles away in Los Angeles but connected via Zoom was Jennifer Pransky, Head of Content at National Women’s Soccer League newcomers, Angel City FC, who graciously explained how the team attracted a sold-out crowd of 22,000 to their first game, which they won 2-1 against the North Carolina Courage. The club sold over 15,400 season tickets before the game.
She said one of the first things they started to do after the club was founded was building a community. “And we are still doing that,” she explained. “It’s all about letting the people know who you are, what you stand for and that we are a show that you can’t miss.” This involved “just going to every bar and to every community event” to tell people who they are. Also, “ten percent of every sponsorship dollar that we get we put back into the community,” she added.
Although Angel City FC are the only women’s football club in Los Angeles, they are one of 11 different professional sports teams competing for the attention of people in the City of Angels, including two men’s football teams. “The market is crowded,” Pransky pointed out. Hence the question is: “How do you break through and show that you are different?”
Bunmi Oke, a brand consultant who has been in the business for over 30 years, spoke about the value of brand building. She began by saying that “a brand is a bundle of benefits” and it is important to “keep your brand fresh” and “insist on your brand value”.
Oke further stated that being an athlete is one thing and being a branded athlete is another. She emphasised that while “brands go after success”, showmanship is also important because brands want to sell.
She advised athletes to also show what they are good at beyond sports. “You have to market yourself. You have to be known for something beyond the fact that you are a good jumper,” Oke said, adding that “packaging does not have to be expensive, it just has to be creatively done”.
Making reference to the successes of the Nigeria Women’s National Team, Oke said the Super Falcons, who are nine-time African champions and have always qualified for the World Cup, need aggressive marketing to project who they are and what they have achieved.
Speaking about player branding, Pransky said: “Research shows that for the most part fans follow players first and then teams and then leagues so the player’s personal branding is very important.” She added it is vital to promote the players, raise their profiles and get people to “know who they are, care about them, want to support them and want to come watch them play”.
During the conference, three women athletes and, for the first time, a team received LIS grants of two hundred thousand naira each. They are: Imo Strikers star Harmony Achiefula, whose goalscoring prowess was the talk of the town in the NWFL Nationwide, Stella Ayankele, the best home-based 100m hurdler and reigning Nigeria University Games (NUGA) champion, Temitope Adesina, the reigning National Sports Festival champion in high jump, and Alimosho Football Club, who will be Nigeria’s sole representative at the Neymar Cup that will be taking place in Qatar.
In line with the theme of this year’s event, LIS founder Onojaife has said the LIS Conference will also be taking the next steps in subsequent editions as more days and programmes will be added to the event to cover different areas of sports.
The LIS 2022 Conference was powered by MTN, IHS, Stanbic IBTC, Smooth 98.1FM and Integral