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With the quality of elite women's sports now often on par with elite men's, it’s only a matter of time until bigger audiences follow. Will this happen for the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup?

“Anyone who sneers at women’s sport hasn’t watched it recently.”
Andrew Parkinson, Global Editor, SNTV

With the quality of elite women's sports now often on par with elite men's, it’s only a matter of time until bigger audiences follow. Will this happen for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup? SNTV's Global Editor, Andrew Parkinson and Senior Video Journalist, Davidde Corran want to find out.

“The quality is there. The talent is there. People now realise that the women’s game is for real,” says video journalist Davidde Corran. “Just 7 years ago, women’s sport was barely on the periphery. In the past any journalists who wanted to cover a women's sports story had to work pretty hard to get them commissioned and pull the resources away from the men's game. But today, it’s more accepted, more legitimate, fairer. In our newsroom we always look out for good women’s stories so we can cover them.” 

What’s the gap?

Andrew Parkinson, SNTV’s global editor agrees: “Over the past 10 years women’s football has improved immeasurably and it’s exciting to watch! The women’s rugby is good too and last year’s Women’s Cricket World Cup – well, it was a fantastic final!” 

Parkinson wasn’t the only one to get excited. An estimated 180 million people worldwide tuned in – that’s a 300% increase from the last women’s cricket final in 2013*.

“Anyone who sneers at women’s sport hasn’t watched it recently. There are lots of extremely talented athletes involved now,” states Parkinson.

Why are we still talking about 'women in sport' instead of just great sport?  

So why doesn’t mainstream sports coverage include all of the major competitions women compete in? Why hasn’t success happened for women athletes the same way as it has for men? Why are we still talking about “women in sport” instead of just great sport?

“When we talk about women in sport, we forget that women are at the top level of many sports. We watch tennis and the Olympics and that’s both male and female. People take as much pleasure at Jessica Ennis winning a gold as they do Mo Farah. Where women have struggled are in the traditionally male’s sports like football, rugby and cricket. But in all of these, the standards are now very high,” states Parkinson. 

Why does the gap exist?

According to Corran “Before now, people didn’t understand women’s football. Many people had prejudices about it – it was too slow, not aggressive-enough, not powerful-enough. Look, in the 80s we were still debating whether women could even play with a standard-sized football!”

“Sitting here today, it’s hard to comprehend the stereotypes and conditions that permeated all across the world and all female sports. I’ve interviewed women who had to disguise themselves as boys to play at higher levels and parents using their car’s headlights to light up the pitches that their girls played on because the facilities weren’t there.” Corran insists, “When you know what these women have gone through to get where they are, you can’t help but be impressed.” 

“Let’s face it, sport for years has been run by men. It’s a very male-oriented environment,” states Parkinson. “That’s what people are used to. And if you are a big broadcaster who has just paid millions for a Champion’s League final, then you want to pour all of your resources into that game, those players, that talent. It takes a different kind of company to look up and say ‘I want to support another event’, or ‘I want to transform that competition into something big’. That takes resources and vision.”

Some broadcasters, however, are making that leap and both Corran and Parkinson agree they are making a difference. SVT, the Swedish national broadcaster, or the BBC in the UK, for example, are making a big statement by showing women’s games like the Women’s World Cup as a serious sporting event. This is definitely the right way forward, as Parkinson says: “The Women’s World Cup is a top quality sporting event which, quite simply, you should be watching if you love sport.” 

“The audience for the FIFA Women’s World Cup more than tripled in the four years [..] to almost 7,800 hours of coverage.”  “You can’t yet compare viewing figures directly with the men’s game,” as Parkinson points out “But just look at how it’s growing.” The figures show that the audience for the FIFA Women’s World Cup more than tripled in the four years from 2011 to 2015, it went from 16 teams competing to 24 and from just over 5,900 hours of footage to almost 7,800 hours of coverage.**

Corran agrees: “The last Women’s World Cup was a watershed moment for many people. The contest is real and people get that the minute they see it. I can quite honestly say that watching elite women is now just as engaging as watching elite men.” 

What needs to be done?

“The Commonwealth Games in Australia this past year was a brilliant example of what can be done when you treat the genders – and the abilities – equally. They had the men’s 100m event alongside the women’s 100m and then you had the para-athletes competing on the same day. It seemed so natural and the audience loved it. So it is baffling to me why [SNTV] was the only global agency covering it,” says Corran.

According to Parkinson, “The reality is that many newsrooms and publishers still cover the men’s game 9 times out of 10, so the features or stories on female athletes don’t always get the exposure they deserve.”

“In 5 years’ time I’d love to be in a situation where we do a news piece on a female athlete and everyone picks it up. But not only that,” Parkinson continues “I would hope the story by then would be about the athlete and not just that she’s a woman.” 

So what can we do to help increase coverage of the women’s game and bring it to a wider audience? 

According to Parkinson, everyone needs to work together to make this change. “We need more top people in the industry to create a plan to bring on women’s sport and the girls of the future. Brands need to take notice of the huge opportunities that are available here. Schools need to help. Broadcasters and rightsholders need a change of mindset. We all need to invest in this product to grow women in sport, and it will be worth it for a whole host of reasons.” 

“We need more top people in the industry to create a plan to bring on women’s sport and the girls of the future.” 

Male athletes are already supporting women at the highest levels. As Parkinson points out, at the last Olympic Games the US men’s basketball team came out to support the US women’s basketball team. “LeBron James and all of the players watched every game. They wanted the women to do well. They treated them as equals.” 

“The men know the pressure is the same, whether you’re taking a penalty in the Champion’s League Cup Final or in the Women’s Super League. Sports men and women look at each other and they know this is an athlete that has worked hard,” explains Parkinson.

Parkinson argues that bringing on the women’s game is needed, but for more than just fairness. It makes good business sense. “Broadcasters’ traditional audience is aging and they need to diversify. The new audiences won’t buy a yearly subscription. They want to pay per view or pay on demand, and they are going online. Broadcasters need to think differently to reach them. They need a wider range of content.” 

“Rightsholders also need to think differently,” says Parkinson. “They can’t charge the same as what they do for a male event, because the audience isn’t there yet, the broadcasters aren’t there yet. We all need to contribute building the brand, increase the exposure, and the audience will come. Because we are a global agency we will go out and cover all of the major women’s events, so there will always be footage of it, but we can’t force people to air it or publish it. They have to make that decision for themselves.” 

What’s the opportunity?

According to both Parkinson and Corran, the under-commercialisation of women’s sport won’t last forever. This means there’s a huge opportunity for early adopters – brands especially need to notice that there is a vast audience out there. 

“Women's sport accounts for only 7% of total sports coverage.”  

“If you ask me,” says Corran “brands should be snapping up this opportunity.” Women want to see themselves represented in sport and competing at the highest levels, yet less than 1% of commercial sponsorships in the UK are going towards women’s sports. According to Women in Sport, media coverage of women’s sport is showing a similar level of disparity – women’s sport accounts for only 7% of total sports coverage.*** The world is 50% women and if we engage a significantly bigger portion than we do today, there’s a lot of money to be made.”

Nike, for example, is a brand that has been heavily investing in women for over 15 years and their women’s business of workout and leisurewear exceeded $6.6bn in revenue in 2017.

Corran argues: “Governing bodies, federations and the organisations who are in charge of the leagues need to make commercial agreements to get more money into women’s sports.” And he warns: “If they don’t do it, then others will take the lead and the athletes will do it themselves – like the US Women’s football team has done. They are taking charge of their own destiny.”

According to Corran, the internet is making it all possible. “You no longer need to wait for a newsroom to agree to air a woman in sport story. The athletes are reaching out themselves, using social media to create their own fan base to an increasingly growing audience. And when fans hear a good story, the uptake is immediate.”

“Just look at Sam Kerr in Australia. She’s transformed from an athlete leading the women’s football team to a super celebrity in just one year, but she’s also open to a kick-about with local kids in her neighbourhood – those stories hit the headlines. People love her and what she represents,” says Corran.

Who will win?

In fact Corran isn’t worried, “Female athletes actually have more engaging stories than the men, because they have had to overcome so much to get where they are. Female athletes weren’t managed from a young age and sent to all the right academies. They had to fight to play. And they still have to fight for equal pay and representation. So they are inspiring role models.” And after all for the fans of the future, it will be content that is king. 

“A female sports star generates huge amounts of content for a publisher or broadcaster.” 

As Corran says “Sportswomen have great stories. There is humility and an openness that some would argue has been lost in the men’s game.” Just look at the coverage of Serena Williams and her journey through motherhood to see how a female sports star generates huge amounts of content for a publisher or broadcaster. Plus there are the new non-traditional content creators who are stepping in to get these fantastically inspirational stories and share them with their audience. 

Others would point to the dedicated following (and coverage) of Egypt’s Mohamed Salah. He’s a talented athlete with a very inspirational story. Women’s sports are made up of many athletes like Salah who beat the odds to get where they are. As Corran insists “Great stories are what resonates with the audience of today.” 

Like we saw in 2017 with the World Para Athletics in London, a niche sporting event suddenly became mainstream. Stars were born. The home nation was captivated. Viewing figures went through the roof and attitudes changed overnight. Will this happen for the next FIFA Women’s World Cup?  

As Corran explains: “There is something intangible about a World Cup or an Olympics that everyone understands. Even someone who hasn’t been exposed to the women’s game understands this is the highest level of competition in that sport. It’s a game changer to drive profile and exposure of the women’s game. Women and everyone involved in the women’s game, need to come together to capitalise on these moments.” 

Corran and Parkinson certainly believe that June 2019 will be a defining moment in women’s sport. It has the potential to do for women’s sport what London did for the Para Games, and a ccording to them both, it will be the early adopters who will reap the rewards.

“It will be the early adopters who will reap the rewards.” 

Lynsey Douglas, global leader for Women’s Sport at Nielsen Sports would agree. Recent statistics show that more than half of the UK population has an “active interest” in women’s sport. “The commercial opportunity in women’s sport is growing at pace. Audiences are up and there is an increasing interest among the general population in the UK, across a number of sports. All the indicators point to it being a very good time to invest in women’s sport.” ****

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As a global sports news video partner, SNTV is committed to covering women’s sports across the globe. We cover everything from the women’s WTA, LPGA, UEFA Women’s Champions League, ICC Women’s World Cup, FIFA Women’s World Cup to the Women’s US Open, and many more. SNTV believes strongly in the future of women in sport: we invest heavily into our own coverage of female athletes and competitions which saw a 72% increase from 2016 to 2017. 

Andrew’s must watch women’s sporting events: 
•    ICC Women's World Twenty20, 2018, West Indies 
•    FIFA Women’s World Cup, 2019, France
•    IHF Women’s World Handball Championship, 2019, Japan

Check out our great coverage 

Davidde’s must watch female athletes: 

  • Sam Kerr from Australia (Soccer)
  • Marta from Brazil (Soccer)
  • Lieke Martens from the Netherlands (Soccer)
  • Naomi Osaka from Japan (Tennis)
  • Amelia Kerr from New Zealand (Cricket)

If you want to hear more about how we’re pushing for change, sign up for our inside sntv newsletters by emailing Natalie King, Marketing Executive, and clients can check our weekly prospects emails for special stories on female athletes.

* Figures from the International Cricket Council 10 August 2017

** Figures from Sportcal: Sports Marketing Intelligence 7 April 2017

*** Stats from Women in Sport

**** Read about the latest statistics here: