A record number of viewers tuned in to watch the BBC coverage of the Women’s World Cup, amounting to 28.1m viewers. This amounts to just under half of the UK population (47%), with 11.7m people tuning in for England’s semi-final loss achieving the highest live TV audience of 2019 so far.
Although there was relatively poor attendance to the matches, multiple TV records have been smashed around the world, including the US, China, Germany, France and Brazil, where almost 59 million people tuned into the last-16 game, resulting in the most-watched women’s football match of all time.
There has also been somewhat of a shift in dynamic, both in the attitudes towards Women’s football and women in sport, in general.
A timely conversation
Global and local brands have the capability to boost the appeal, support and awareness of women playing football and other sports. With many sports dominated by men, brands can help to increase boost the fandom by ensuring representation in their advertising and creating products which are designed for women without being patronising or cliched i.e. making everything pink.
The wider conversation here is aligned with the diversification of a multitude of industries. There is a multitude of pressure groups trying to increase the appeal of traditionally female jobs, hobbies, sports and interests to men and vice versa.
This approach is trying to breach traditional gender norms and create a more gender-neutral approach to activities such as sports.
Changing the stigma of football
There is a stigma associated with football and the surrounding culture, and it’s hard to not let that you put you off.
There is an overarching negative presumption of football fans, particularly in the UK, which includes a culture embroiled in rivalry, fighting, prejudice, destruction and aggression. This has likely played a role in women, in particular, being less engaged with football in the past.
But women’s football has the opportunity to change this and evolve the culture beyond the outdated traditions. We’ve seen considerably less negative coverage of fans acting irrationally and fighting with one another, both in France and at home in the pubs. This is particularly contrasting to the shocking fan behaviour which we saw last summer, during the Men’s World Cup.
Furthermore, brands have the opportunity to support the fight for pay equality for players. The disparity between the salary of the women’s teams compared to men is still huge.
Although often argued that there is a big difference between the revenue generated between the two events, Fifa has said that commercial revenues from the Women’s World Cup cannot be separated from other Fifa competition, due to the rights being sold as a package.
Additionally, smaller amounts of prize money for the women’s teams means that players rely more heavily on other income such as sponsorships.
This is an area where brands can truly make a difference put their stamp on positioning the women’s teams on equal footing with the men, through offering them the same standard of sponsorship packages.
The women’s football teams have come up against adversity and criticism for seemingly normal, behaviours, such as football celebrations. The US team, in particular, have been subject to intense criticism for their so-called ‘antics’.
Following their winning goal against the England team, star forward, Alex Morgan, pretended to sip a cup of tea – pinkie and all.
Born and bread British brand, Yorkshire Tea, was straight on the case with a retort which earned them over 300 retweets and over 3.2k likes on Twitter.
Despite Morgan’s gesture being innocent enough, and considering the feat, the celebration was surely justified, the media was ready to swoop in and put a dampener on things. Well, according to the good old tabloids, this was disrespectful, childish and wreaked of cockiness.
Rightfully so, fans and the players retorted with examples of male global sports stars celebrating their wins in more graphic, inappropriate and ‘cocky’ ways, which are often met with praise and adoration.
“I feel there is some sort of double standard for females in sports to feel like we have to be humble in our successes and have to celebrate but not too much,” Morgan said. “We have to do something, but it always has to be in a limited fashion.”
The clear disparity in the level of respect shown to male and female athletes, yet again rearing its ugly head.
However, the US team defiantly went on to win the entire tournament, which nullified any criticism with their ‘showboating’ justified – at least in our eyes anyway.
Megan Rapinoe, Captain of the US team, notably refused to sing the national anthem or place her hand on her heart, an act she has not taken part in since 2016.
She was also the first white athlete to kneel in protest, an act began by Colin Kaepernick, to bring attention to police brutality and racial inequality. The player has also said that she considers herself a ‘walking protest’ to the President’s policies, which are considered to wreak of inequality.
Players like Rapinoe are inspirational to members of the public. She represents defiance against outdated cultural ideas and as a result, appeals as a role model to a great number of young women (and men). Her capability to use her voice to make positive changes and educate the masses within the sports industry, and wider, is highly valuable.
Brands who can support her, and others like her, will be able to utilise this opportunity to both make a difference and grow brand affinity. Aligning their internal processes to reflect the belief structures of influencers, such as Rapinoe, will put them in better stead to appeal to the socially-conscious youth of today. They can then ensure they are incorporating this into their corporate social responsibility plans to make a real difference.
The women’s football league is considered far more inclusive compared to the men. With not one openly gay footballer in the men’s Premier League, women’s football is recognised as having better levels of tolerance and acceptance.
In this year’s World Cup alone, there were at least 41 openly gay or bisexual women playing. Off the pitch, some of these women use their considerable platform to fly the Pride flag and stand up for the rights of their community.
Rapinoe, who scored the two winning goals which knocked France out of the World Cup and secured the US their spot in the semi-final, has said that should her team win the tournament she would decline the invitation from President Trump to visit the White House. Of Donald Trump she said; “[he is] clearly against so many of the things that I am [for] and so many of the things that I actually am”.
One of the key ways brands can enhance the appeal of the sport is through humanising the people who play it professionally as well as the focusing in on fans.
By profiling individuals, their stories and their beliefs, brands can better position the players as role models with relatable and inspiring backstories.
Supporting and elevating awareness around women in sports shouldn’t be undertaken simply to tick a box. Companies need to understand how encouraging women and girls to play sport through better representation can dramatically enhance confidence.
Brands have the capability to inspire, and those who are able to better elevate the voices, names and faces of the players are more likely to see better engagement.
There should be an emphasis on education and raising the profile of techniques and skills in the game. Resulting in a greater understanding of the sport is likely to inspire more interest in playing football, particularly at the grassroots level.
Companies have the capability to create better environments for young people, especially women, to play the sport locally. Through funding proper training, women’s football is only going to grow in popularity.
For companies who are determined to support grassroots development, they should ensure representation across their advertising including women and ethnic minorities as well as contributing to education and development of better facilities.
They have the potential and capabilities to inspire and equip the next generation, and, as such, they should use their power to better leverage this.
Also published on Medium.