PUMA and the Melbourne Vixens are putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to supporting women in sport with the #WitnessFearless campaign.
A rally cry. A challenge. A statement.
Puma and the Melbourne Vixens’ latest collaboration is all the above. A continuation of the ‘No Glamour Here’ video that so electrified the netball community at the beginning of the 2020 season, #WitnessFearless challenges the narratives around the sport, but also around women’s sport more broadly.
“It’s tough, it’s rough,” says Kristen Penny, General Manager of Communications, Marketing and Partnerships at Netball Victoria.
“When you’re courtside you can hear the skin smashing together and you can hear the passion in the team as well.”
Penny explains that #WitnessFearless acts as a challenging statement, one that asks those outside the netball community to reconsider their assumptions about the game. But it’s also a campaign that seeks to unite the netball community and drive the game forward.
“We want to use that #WitnessFearless, that rally cry to really get behind netball and women’s sport and you know, to keep playing and to get active and be out there.
“So, there’s so many different messages to #WitnessFearless.
“We want people to actually just see what the sport is about and also what women’s sport is about,” Penny said.
What sparked these campaigns was a ‘review’ of the 2020 Super Netball season from The Age in July that described netball as a ‘glamour sport’. It caused an immediate reaction and within days Puma, a sponsor of the Vixens, had turned around the ‘No Glamour Here’ video.
#WitnessFearless is more than a branding exercise for Puma. It’s a social movement campaign and for Neysa Goh, Senior Head of Marketing, Oceania at Puma, it was the natural evolution of ‘No Glamour Here’.
“We were planning our next step or campaign, but we felt like it was unraveling before our eyes or sort of revealing itself before our eyes,” Goh said. “And we said, we want to continue this message that we put out there about it’s not about the glamour, netball’s not about the glamour. But we wanted to change the tone. We didn’t want it to be a response to something negative. We wanted it to be a positive campaign and sort of a rallying cry.”
“This sport is a fearless sport. And you need to witness it for yourself to truly understand what netball is.”
Leaping to action
For Melbourne Vixens co-captain, Kate Moloney who is also sponsored by Puma, the ‘No Glamour Here’ video and its evolution into #WitnessFearless are powerful messages.
“I think when people get to a game, when they switch it on, they do realise that these are professional athletes,” she said.
“They’re strong, they’re tough, they’re committed,” Moloney said of the women playing in the SSN. “I think the more people we can get watching netball, the better it’s going to be.”
Puma’s willingness to engage with the broader misconceptions and narratives that fed into that now infamous review in The Age, and to strongly support the athletes, is encouraging to Moloney.
“I think it was amazing to see both Puma and [the] Vixens get behind it so quickly,” she said.
“When you have a sponsor jump on board, you want to be able to not just have them jump on with the team, but be able to really support what they’re doing. And I think straight from the word go, [Puma] wanted to support women’s sport… and it’s amazing to be able to see an international brand jump on board with the Vixens and then not only support us as a team, but to be pushing women’s sport and try to make it bigger and better”.
The ‘No Glamour Here’ video and #WitnessFearless are campaigns that Goh says demonstrate a shift in the way that sponsors have traditionally considered their role.
“If we’re going to partner with a team or an athlete or a club, we want to be a partner on and off the court. We don’t just want to go and provide them with some kit and say, best of luck, hope you make finals. It’s actually about being with them every step of the way.”
“It’s a full partnership, which means we’re in the trenches with you as much as we can be. So, if there’s a cultural moment, or there’s a moment around the sport, and it needs a response [then] we do need to be prepared to be part of that conversation now, and I think… it has probably been a little bit of a shift where brands perhaps in the past have played it fairly safe. I think consumers and audiences now expect brands to take a position.”
Part time athletes, full time hub
Most of the athletes playing in the SSN are currently part-time athletes in a full-time hub. Many have made significant personal sacrifices to ensure the season could go ahead and the netball headlines have been about what’s happening on court, not what’s happening off it.
Goh says it was these kinds of sacrifices that pushed them to made the ‘No Glamour Here’ video and to develop the #WitnessFearless campaign with the Vixens.
“It was almost on behalf of the athletes… because the athletes are very humble and they love what they do so much that I’m not sure that they see the choices that they’re making as sacrifices,” Goh said.
“But I think as an outsider looking into their world, I look at it and I think you juggle a job, study, training, sometimes family, travel—it’s a huge commitment.
“And I think the important part about it is that it’s getting the right type of exposure for the sport as well… It’s not about taking it backwards and focusing on the wrong things, focusing on the wrong attributes with the athletes. It’s focusing on the right things, which is the athleticism, the competitiveness. That it’s a tough game and it requires the same amount of training and preparation as AFL or NRL or soccer or whatever other sport you’re looking at. It’s up there.”
For Moloney, wearing the #WitnessFearless campaign, including wearing the slogan on the Vixens dress, was easy for the players to get behind.
“I think for us, it was really important to be involved and to really be able to help, I suppose not only wear it but really drive the campaign as well. And you know, what we love about it is it’s all part of what we want to be about at Vixens. And that is being fearless. Off the court, but also on the court.
“So I think it’s great that Vixens and Puma were able to work together and really drive that because, as I said, we love the sport and we want more people to be able to watch it and love it as well.”
#WitnessFearless is not just about the athleticism and the fierceness of the players at the elite level, it’s also about the challenges women’s sports faces, including sponsorship and broadcasting.
‘We have to work so much harder to get sponsors on board,” Penny explains. This, despite netball having one of the highest participation rates in the country.
“It’s so much harder for women’s sport to get that support. So, working with Puma in this space of #WitnessFearless, it definitely is changing the narrative around sponsorship and what sponsors are looking for and what we can kind of do and get messages out there.”
Penny says that while the Vixens have moved on from the pre-season review, they don’t want the conversation about netball and the perceptions of the game to end.
“We didn’t want it to be forgotten about.. we want it to be talked about all season. We are going to continue to campaign,” Penny said.
“We don’t want this to stop just at the end of season. We want this to be something that we continue on.”
Goh agrees and says she sees the campaign as being bigger than a Puma and Vixens collaboration.
“We do want it to be a push for the sport. We happen to be the ones that are sort of driving it at the moment but I think we’re hoping that it gathers enough momentum that it takes on a life of its own essentially and lives without us at some point and just encourages people to get behind the sport [and] support it.
“When [executives] are talking about TV programming and things like that, that netball’s not an afterthought. It’s right up in there because they know that it’s got the following. When clubs are out there, any club is out there looking for sponsors that they can see what can be done. They can see the support of the netball community and how big that community is and how strong their voices are.”
“We want to elevate the whole netball piece, essentially. So it takes its place rightfully where it should.”