The media must do more to help the game

The crucial connection between the media and sport is one that many men’s games can take for granted. The latest Premier League news is often splashed across the newspapers, our television screens and over the internet all the time but with women’s football still well behind their male rivals, where is the support of the media for the one of the fastest growing sports in this country?

The success of this summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup was as much down to the increased exposure as it was the better quality of football. But the women’s game will need to stay in the public eye and in the media well beyond this summer if the game is going to continue developing around the globe.

This summer’s tournament in Germany heralded what seemed almost like a new era for the international women’s game. The final between Japan and the USA became the most tweeted event in history whilst some of Germany’s matches were being watched by a 17 million strong home TV audience, figures that most sporting events either men’s or women’s would do well to attract. But in the UK alone, the media seem to play a very distant role from the most popular team sport for women and the third most popular team sport in terms of participation in this country (behind men’s football and men’s cricket).

Whilst nearly a third of the German population watched their women’s team crash out to Japan in the quarter-finals, interested UK audiences looking to support their team were restricted to the red button, online services or evening highlights packages shown at later times that severely limited the possible audiences for England’s games. Only heavy pressure made the BBC rethink and show England’s quarter-final defeat to France live on BBC2. 939,000 people watched England’s opening group match on the red button whilst 700,000 people tuned into watch the highlights of England’s last group game with Japan. Compare this to the 1.2 million fans that watched England in the final of the 2009 European Championships and the growth of interest from TV audiences in clear.

You would have hoped after the success of the World Cup that the media would have caught onto the idea of better promoting the women’s game, yet England Women’s Euro 2013 qualifier against Slovenia was not only rarely mentioned ahead of kick-off but also only shown live on FATV online. With the England team still just about in the public eye after this summer, it would have been the perfect opportunity to promote the game and England’s qualifying campaign yet coverage was still so limited that few would have known the game was even being played.

ESPN’s deal to show a handful of live FA Women’s Super League games and a weekly highlights package was a step in the right direction but with television being the main platform for which sporting fans can interact with their favourite sports, more needs to be done to get the women’s game on our TV screens.

But television is not the only platform at fault for shutting out women’s football. Beyond the specialised publications dedicated to the sport and a small number of women’s football reporters, both newspapers and magazines rarely have any articles on the women’s game. Outside the major tournaments it takes some serious trawling of the internet to find a good selection of news focused solely on women’s football. There needs to be a more consistent coverage of the women’s game through the Women’s Super League, Women’s Premier League, Euro 2013 qualifying and the UEFA Women’s Champions League to keep the potential momentum building around the sport going.

But with the internet, the most increasingly popular form of the media, comes an opportunity for the women’s game to really impose itself. The Women’s World Cup demonstrated the power of social networking in getting people talking about a sporting event whilst specalised websites and blogs are cropping up as the online interest in women’s football grows.

The FA has also recognised the importance of the media when they launched the Women’s Super League earlier this summer. The launch of the new format came with a marketing and communications plan where all the clubs and the league worked closely together to make sure all the top clubs across the country had some sort of media strategy in place. Despite this, coverage of the summer league was limited. Few would have known that Arsenal Ladies won the league and Continental Cup double other than those who specifically went looking for the news. That’s where in particular I believe the women’s game suffers. With the saturation of sports news available to fans, few would go in specific search of women’s football news when information of other sporting events is so readily available.

The importance of a consistent relationship between women’s football and the media is key for the future of the sport both on and off the pitch. This fact is made even clearer by ESPN’s decision to withdraw coverage of the women’s Premier League Cup final between Nottingham Forest and Barnet earlier this year, a decision that only lost the game exposure but also the clubs revenue through lost sponsorship deals.

But women’s football itself will have to keep improving to really build the relationship with the media that the sport requires. The increased media attention on the World Cup was down to the better quality of the football whilst England women will need to continue to qualify and perform at major tournaments to keep interest in the sport going. Whilst the media have a responsibility to cover the women’s game more openly, with less demand for news on the women’s game, the players and teams will need to do their part to build their profile in the media.

Those in charge of women’s football around the world (including the FA, FIFA and UEFA) also need to do their part to better promote and push the sport into the public eye on a more regular basis. The media through all it’s platforms is the perfect place for women’s football to flourish and when exposure is key, the public needs to be seeing and reading a lot more about the game for it really to be a long-term success.

Do you think the media does enough for the women’s game? If you want to read more of my bite size, 140 character views and thoughts follow me on Twitter @jennyk5

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