A timely and topical work on Scandinavian football with a wider international appeal

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Jean Williams
University of Wolverhampton

Mattias Melkersson
Identities and Images in Football: A case study of brands and the organisational settings in the development of Scandinavian women’s club football
293 sidor, hft.
Malmö: Bokförlaget idrottsforum.org 2017 (Malmö Studies in Sport Sciences)
ISBN 978-91-85645-25-1

This published PhD thesis has a number of strengths and it was my pleasure to examine Mattias Melkersson at the public defense of his thesis recently. Funded by a larger NordCorp grant looking at the wider status of women’s football in Scandinavia, the thesis had very clear aims in developing the existing academic literature. The study sought to ‘illustrate and investigate contextual and organizational conditions’ in Scandinavian women’s club football by using case studies of Stabæk Fotball in Norway, Fortuna Hjørring in Denmark and two Swedish clubs; Linköpings Fotboll Club and LdB FC Malmö. The aims were to examine the ‘formulation and communication’ of each club brand identity, the wider context of the gendered labour markets of football and to compare and contrast the wider brand development incentives for each club strategy.

The thesis therefore built upon earlier work on migration and professional labour markets in women’s football but offered an original and new contribution to knowledge, particularly at club level. To do this, the author used a mixed methodology approach to marketing strategies, and brand management structures. This is a growing area of academic research and therefore the book provides a cogent introduction to the key issues. The style was clear, and the structure helped the reader to understand the development of the argument. The bibliography was adequately constructed. The appendices clearly evidence where the postdoctoral projects can develop the ideas in the monograph and there was clear scope for more international comparison. An ambitious range of data to condense, the book provided several stepping off points as well as conclusions.

For me, the main weakness was a lack of historical context before the early 1970s. There is some more thinking and reflection on the nature of sporting brands to do here, as, after codification in 1863, women’s football developed as a form of ‘penny entrepreneurialism’ in the nineteenth century, with over a hundred and twenty recorded matches so far recognized between 1869 and 1897, including a few against men which drew increasingly large gates. Women’s games for charity during World War One drew consistently large paying spectator audiences, sometimes playing for charitable purposes. So early forms of marketing and brand management could have been acknowledged, although this was a contemporary, not a historical, thesis.

I was also not convinced by the overall book title: I am not sure that it was about Identities and Images, unless we read that as club identity and image. My key criticism in a thesis on gender and branding is a historical point. Men’s football had established brands with, in some cases, over 100 years of history by the time women’s football was acknowledged by FIFA in 1970. This age gives a kind of authenticity to established male soccer brands that clubs now trade on with many forms of nostalgia and a widespread move towards publicizing specific aspects of history through heritage and museum outlets. Compared with this public reminiscence and historical commemoration of football’s male past, women’s interest in football appears to be new and though this is a fiction, the myth affects branding and marketing strategies.

Newness is not in itself that unusual in sporting brands and can be useful. When Nike came into the market in the late 1960s importing Japanese sports shoes before making its own, it was up against Adidas, established in the late 1940s. So it differentiated by being ‘All American’ as opposed to European, tapped more into running than soccer initially, and technological advances.  But with women’s football the lack of clarity in what is being promoted is institutional and confused.

Has women’s football ultimately been branded as more similar, a little sister to the main brand, or different from men’s football, such as happens in the US colleges as an aspirational brand? I didn’t get a clear sense of market differentiation or a sub sector. This is not an overly critical reservation but ideas to develop in subsequent work. Has women’s football brought new brands into football the way the Avon cosmetics brand supported a women’s marathon in London 1 August 1980 even before the London Marathon was founded?

I found this case study to be a very strong chapter and an improvement on the previous sections of the thesis. The detail was particularly original.

What has happened outside football in women’s sport and branding? Historically, women have pioneered certain sporting brands, such as when the first English woman to swim the Channel, Mercedes Gleitze wore a Rolex Oyster watch in 1927 to prove the watches’ technical endurance. As well as bathing caps, Liptons Tea, Be-ze-be honey and Paddy Whiskey she also promoted her own charities. So a few paragraphs on the historical aspects of women branding sport and managing their own public images, would have helped define the specificity of football as a team contact sport and how that has been a hard ‘sell’ to popular appeal in an increasingly crowded sports market with many varied products.

These criticisms aside, I learned some new aspects of the women’s game and enjoyed the book. Stabæk seem to me a particularly interesting brand, formed in 1912 but with a dormant club history until about 1998 to win the Norwegian Cup. This lack of success, historically, affected the brand and the decision to add a women’s team. I found this case study to be a very strong chapter and an improvement on the previous sections of the thesis. The detail was particularly original and the interplay between the national federation and the club licensing system was strong.

Fortuna Hjørring were founded in 1966 and are a female only brand. I thought the sections on the stadium and the Dana Cup were persuasive. I was less convinced by the arguments around branding and felt there could have been more links with the previous chapter. The Fortuna Hjørring is gendered branding just as much as, if not more so than the previous case study and this could have been more robustly argued.

Linköpings Fotboll Club are based in a city so we are talking civic boosterism here – a topic with a wide literature. The case study of a sports city was sound but, as the comments on the Women’s Euro 2013 showed, this kind of civic branding not always successful for a variety of reasons. This chapter might also have been strengthened by comparisons with the chapter on Stabæk Fotball as Ice Hockey can also be perceived as a hyper-masculine game.

The case study of LdB FC Malmö/ now FC Rosengård was also compelling.  The argument effectively showed that the cosmetic company Lait de Beaute, having taken over the club and tried to develop their own marketing as LdB FC Malmö, left the brand vulnerable to changes of owner when the contracts concluded. By 2013, the perils of that approach were evident and the football club became a part of FC Rosengård. Mattias Melkersson cogently argued that the club has a discontinuous brand and a difficult ‘sell’ as a result.

I would recommend the book to students and researchers of the gendered markets in sport, football particularly and especially across the Scandinavian region. However, there are wider international continuities to appeal to a global readership. This is a timely and topical work.

Copyright © Jean Williams 2017

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