Channel 4’s determination to outbid its rival to air the Women’s EURO 2017 says much about the demand for elite female sport and its positive impact on sport participation among girls
With more television eyeballs than ever focused on sport and with Channel 4’s successful bid to broadcast the Women’s Euro 2017 finals in the Netherlands during July and August, elite female footballers are gaining increased media exposure and interest in the women’s game is escalating.
Access speaks to the BBC and women’s sport expert, Marzena Bogdanowicz, head of commercial and marketing for Women’s Football at The FA for the insider view on the growth in popularity of women’s sport.
“Women’s football in the UK is the most popular team sport with almost three million players, around 40,000 affiliated female coaches and 900 qualified female referees. The FA announced only last week its intention to double the level of participation in girl’s football over the next few years,” says a spokesperson for the BBC.
Whether it was Team GB’s Hockey Gold medal victory in Rio or the England Lionesses winning bronze at the World Cup in Canada during 2015 and achieving the best finish by any England team at a World Cup since the men were victorious in 1966, women’s sport has been attracting bigger audiences, increased media coverage and greater interest from sponsors for a number of years now.
“The success of our Olympic women in 2012 and then again in Rio last year, has unquestionably led to more support for elite female athletes from all quarters. Even in the media there is more movement for increased coverage,” explains Bogdanowicz as she recalls the growth in women’s sport over the past couple of years.
The signs for a significantly more equal future are everywhere and we now live in a society where asking what football match to watch, isn’t restricted to team or country but whether or not it is a men’s game or a women’s game.
“Over 12 million watched our TV coverage of the 2015 Women’s World Cup… That’s more than who watched our live coverage of the Men’s Open Golf Championship that year”
– BBC spokesperson
“UK TV audiences for women’s football have increased by more than 500 percent in the last five years or so,” says a BBC spokesperson. “The sport is going from strength to strength.
“Team GB’s Women Hockey Gold medal victory was one of the most watched and biggest impact moments of the sporting year in 2016, displacing the News at Ten from its normal broadcast slot. Due to the sport’s quick spike in numbers, it has taken the nation by storm. This was a sport that had next to nothing in terms of views, in comparison with the men’s matches. It proves there’s room for growth.
“We’ve definitely seen an increase in demand for our coverage of women’s sport from both audiences and governing bodies. That, in part, is being driven by the success we’ve already had with our enhanced coverage of sports such as the women’s FA Cup and the Boat Race,” the BBC spokesperson concludes.
Bogdanowicz says: “Since the FA launched its strategy to raise the profile of the women’s game, both rugby and cricket have followed suit. Most of the major sports have now improved their equality processes and those that had been lagging behind are now putting solid commitments in place to back the women’s game.”
More than one in five of the UK population (over 12 million) watched the TV coverage of the 2015 Women’s World Cup – that’s double the figure from the last two international tournaments.
The tournament in Canada delivered a peak audience of 2.4 million approaching midnight UK time for England’s semi-final against Japan.
“That’s more than the amount who watched our live coverage of the Men’s Open Golf championship that year,” says the BBC spokesperson. “Traffic to the BBC Sport website was three times the level generated during the 2013 Women’s EUROs.”
BBC One – 2016 Women’s FA Cup Final: Arsenal v Chelsea – peak audience 1.5m
BBC One – 2015 Women’s FA Cup Final: Chelsea v Notts County – peak audience 2.0m
BBC Two – 2014 Women’s FA Cup Final: Arsenal v Everton – peak audience 1.3m
BBC Two – 2013 Women’s FA Cup Final: Arsenal v Bristol Academy – peak audience 1.0m
Bogdanowicz applauds this. “The more people who enjoy watching women play football at the highest level, the more it will encourage others to take an interest and ultimately, it will encourage more young girls to participate as they will see that it’s a sport that is accessible to them.”
“Who would have believed just how popular the Paralympics would become and much of that is thanks to Channel 4,” adds Bogdanowicz.
“It is no secret that Channel 4 outbid the BBC on the right to air the Women’s EUROs. It is not a case of who won the rights or which TV channel is better. The industry needs to focus on the fact that two of the nations leading channels fought to air women’s elite sport because it is in such a high demand. Women in sport are on the rise, and they are not stopping for anyone.
“The future of women’s sport from here can only go upwards,” adds Bogdanowicz.