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Together #WePlayStrong – the journey so far

UEFA's Together #WePlayStrong campaign has achieved some considerable successes since this exciting women's football initiative launched a little over 12 months ago.

Leading football freestyler Liv Cooke says it is a 'magical' experience to be involved in the campaign
Leading football freestyler Liv Cooke says it is a 'magical' experience to be involved in the campaign ©UEFA.com

When it comes to the participation of girls and women in football, UEFA has identified a major challenge to the growth of the game: most girls who play football quit when they hit their teens. UEFA’s research shows that this comes about because suddenly other people’s judgements matter to them, and if their friends do not think football is cool, girls simply gravitate towards other activities that hold more social currency.

UEFA is determined to change this, keep teenage girls in the game, and get more to play. The Together #WePlayStrong campaign launched in June 2017 is designed around how girls use social media. Starring over 750 teen footballers from all over Europe, the campaign highlights the skills, confidence and friendships that come with playing the game, making football relevant to teen girls wherever they may be, from Instagram to YouTube, Giphy to Musical.ly, and in the worlds of fashion, music, the arts, health and fitness.

Changing perceptions
The long-term aim of the campaign is to make football the number-one played sport for girls and women in all 55 UEFA member associations.

Year one of the campaign focused on driving awareness and changing perceptions. Even without traditional media spend, Together #WePlayStrong has had over 200 million campaign views, generated over 70,000 fans on social media and had over 25,000 mentions on Twitter and Instagram alone. 73% of teenage girls who have seen the campaign say they would like to play football, and 17,000 have used the Find a Place to Play Football tool on weplaystrong.org.

Many national associations and clubs are also supporting the movement, sharing UEFA’s content on their channels, contributing content of their own and using the Together #WePlayStrong toolkit to localise the campaign.

The campaign recently scooped a bronze Cannes Lions award at this year’s Festival of Creativity in the Multi-platform Social and Influencer category, up against the likes of Nike, Apple, Mars and EA Sports.

Nadine Kessler is 'heartened' by developments
Nadine Kessler is 'heartened' by developments©UEFA

Gathering pace
Former German international and FIFA World Player of the Year Nadine Kessler, who now heads UEFA’s women’s football unit, said: “It’s really exciting, and the continued growth of women’s football is a strategic priority for UEFA. This is a long-term project, but it’s heartening to see our rate of growth is already going in the right direction and gathering pace, and all the while the game is becoming more professional throughout Europe. With that comes increased opportunity, exposure and affinity.”

As part of the campaign, a hugely successful vlog called Press Play launched on the YouTube channel, giving fans unique insight into the daily lives of four different professional players around Europe each week. To date, the weekly vlog has amassed over 5 million views on YouTube and has since been shortlisted for a Leaders Sports Award in content creation.

Press Play draws on the abundance of brilliant talent and personalities in the women’s game and tells their stories as a way to inspire more girls and women to play and keep playing football.

Reach and power of football
And that was just the beginning of a year that has been jam-packed with engaging, original and progressive Together #WePlayStrong initiatives.

In April seven of Europe’s leading women’s footballers took part in one of the most spectacular kickabouts ever captured on camera in a promotional activity called Play Anywhere.

The film showcased Liv Cooke, the world’s top female football freestyler, playing football in some of Europe’s most idyllic locations, from Scotland and Norway, to Switzerland and Croatia, with over 100 grassroots players and 7 professionals, including Norwegian trio Ada and Andrine Hegerberg and Maren Mjelde, and English quartet Lauren James, Jordan Nobbs, Fran Kirby and Alex Greenwood.

A participation challenge was then thrown open to young people, which attracted thousands of entries from girls across Europe, inviting anyone with a football to post their own videos or photographs in an unusual or impressive location on Instagram, for a chance to win a summer trip for four to Disneyland Paris.

“This whole campaign was magical – from filming all over Europe with UEFA to meeting the winner, who was inspired by the film that we were all so proud to be involved in,” said Liv Cooke. “It truly demonstrated the reach and power of football.”

Reach has been a primary focus for the campaign since its creation, with Together #WePlayStrong frequently engaging with pan-European influencers, including social media celebrities Sophia Grace and Barbara Sofie.

Rita Ora gives celebrity backing to the campaign
Rita Ora gives celebrity backing to the campaign©UEFA.com

Female empowerment
And then, there was Rita Ora. The collaboration between the global pop superstar and #WePlayStrong, which launched in May this year, provided UEFA with an additional platform to promote the campaign and attract more girls to play by raising the profile and image of the game, while increasing visibility and engagement.

The artist announced UEFA as the official sponsor of her headline tour and, in turn, her support for the campaign. Stars of the women’s game throughout Europe met the football-loving singer throughout her recent European tour in a truly unique partnership between music and women’s football.

“The values of Together #WePlayStrong centre not only on football but female empowerment and equality too, so I was 100% behind this campaign when I was approached to partner with UEFA,” said Rita Ora.

“It’s a privilege to be part of such an inspiring initiative, driving home messages of acceptance, individuality and finding a place to belong. My message to any young girl that’s thinking of picking up a ball is to just go for it. Being part of a team inspires confidence, builds friendships and can be liberating.”

‘What is strong?’
More recently, #WePlayStrong has been celebrating the physical, emotional and mental strength of women and girls all over Europe.

The campaign’s newest initiative, ‘What is Strong?’, has been backed by Rita Ora, who voiced the first in a series of Instagram GIFs that invite girls across Europe to answer the question: What does strong mean to you?

The campaign’s strategy is essentially to break down all barriers between girls and playing football, and this initiative reappraises what it means to be strong. It encourages girls to recognise the individual strength in themselves and be confident in telling their story. The initiative can show that girls who play football are not only strong, but confident in their strengths, and can help inspire more girls to play the sport.

Rita Ora’s special relationship with the target audience and strong personal connection with the campaign’s message has brought tremendous results, with the number of girls and parents using the campaign to find a place to play football up 337% since the partnership began.

During its second year, the campaign will continue to seek to drive awareness and change perceptions, and it will also work towards encouraging girls who are engaging with the game digitally to start or carry on playing football.

This article originally appeared in UEFA Direct No 180