Op-Ed: How sports media can aid the rise of women's football

03 Sep 2021

By: Sport Industry Group

Ahead of the start of the new Barclays FA Women's Super League season, James Lamon, SVP Content & Creative, FootballCo, looks at how sports media can aid the rise of women's football.

This weekend marks the start of the 2021-22 Barclays FA Women’s Super League (WSL). Following two seasons of challenges brought on by the global pandemic, this year marks the biggest opportunity yet for the WSL to continue growing women’s football in the UK.

The WSL’s growth is bolstered by multiple sources: commercial partners supporting the game, clubs seriously pushing their women's teams and players, and the media delivering to players the recognition they deserve.

Pernille Harder and Leah Williamson modelling the new Chelsea and Arsenal kits, respectively, in their clubs’ launch videos is a welcome replacement to the models who only recently stood next to the male players.

Broadcasters especially have played and will continue to play a huge role in the success of the WSL and women’s football in general.

Sky and the BBC’s landmark deal will see Sky Sports show ‘at least’ 35 matches - possibly as many as 44 - while the BBC will show 22 on free-to-air TV. 

Football isn’t confined to domestic competition. DAZN’s (which is a minority stakeholder in Footballco) four-year worldwide deal for the rights to the UEFA Women’s Champions League, which will feature Chelsea and — presuming they get through their qualifiers — both Manchester City and Arsenal. This is significant due to the length of DAZN’s deal but also that those matches will be free to view on YouTube.

To borrow a line from DAZN’s marketing for its Women’s Champions League deal, “with more eyes we all rise.” Without question, teams competing in the WSL and Champions League will reach a “biggest yet” audience this season.

Credit should also be given to ITV who during Euro 2020 made Chelsea manager, Emma Hayes, a regular fixture pitchside — giving one of football’s most knowledgeable personalities exposure on the public stage.

Publishers, like Goal, have and will continue to play a part in this too. Our news, culture, and entertainment coverage spans the 90 mins and beyond, bringing fans closer to the players. We are lucky that the WSL is becoming home to some of the most popular players in the game, such as Vivianne Mediema of Arsenal, Sam Kerr of Chelsea and Lucy Bronze of Manchester City. The list could go on. Our responsibility as a publisher is to make known their accomplishments on-pitch accomplishments and explore their character off-pitch — bringing more fans into the know. 

Speaking of lists, the top talent in the WSL can be found in our own Goal 50 ranking which determines the 25 best male and 25 best female players in the world. When compiled at the end of last year, seven of the 25 female stars played in the WSL.

However, there is a way to go. Clubs invest comparatively tiny sums in their women's teams, while the WSL plays out at Borehamwood and Leigh not The Emirates and Old Trafford.

Compared with the Olympics, or the US Open tennis where men and women compete on the same court for the same prize money, football remains far from parity.

The same is true of publishers - Footballco included. The men's game still dominates simply because that's where the audience is. But all stakeholders must take a long-term view and back the growing women's game.

When the WSL reaches its crescendo in May it will be followed by the UEFA Women's Euro 2022 in June and July, giving WSL clubs the chance to carry domestic season momentum forward into a European tournament on home soil with —judging by early ticket sales — packed out stadiums.

Shortly after the European contest,  the WSL season will start back up again and flow into the 2023 World Cup the following summer. That’s two full WSL seasons and two major international tournaments in 24 months.

Get ready. The next two years bring new peaks of attention and audience for Women’s football.

At Footballco we will continue to support women’s football. As well as the aforementioned Goal 50 awards, Goal will continue to include women in the annual NXGN awards (for best young players) and Footballco outlets including Goal, Spox, Voetbalzone and CalcioMercato.com will continue to cover the game globally across all their channels, including the recently released podcast All of US: The U.S. Women's Soccer Show.