Sports

Womens World Cup 2019: Was it a success? And how does football build on it? Sport industry insiders give their views

After 31 days, 52 games and 146 goals, the most high-profile Womens World Cup yet is over.

But what impact has it made on the game and the wider landscape? We asked a selection of industry experts.

Contributors

Lisa Parfitt, managing director, Engine Sport and Brand Experience; Steve Martin, global CEO, M&C Saatchi Sport and Entertainment; Rebecca Smith, global director of the womens game, Copa90; and Simon Dent, founder and managing director, Dark Horses.

Was the tournament a success?

LP: If 11m+ people, the highest TV rating for any BBC programme this year, is a benchmark for success then 100 per cent yes! I dont think well know the real impact for a few years until we can measure the increase in girls and women playing, women in coaching and official roles, and global commercial viability of the club and national game.

This has been a breakthrough moment because its the first time girls and boys have watched women play football on a global stage. The next generation will remember staying up past their bedtime to watch England battle it out against USA, falling in love with the sport for being sport without any other gender, race or other social or political narrative around it.

Read more: USA prove too strong for England

SM: We have to measure it as a success in this market, I think. Its hard to know what it has been like internationally, but I think if were talking domestically it has certainly been a success. It feels like womens football is a lot more established now, but I think here it has been hugely helped by terrestrial TV, which has made it a real national moment. We wouldnt have seen the viewing figures we have otherwise, like more than 11m watching the US match on the BBC the other night, so the sports profile is clearly taking a step in the right direction in England at least.

Englands semi-final defeat to eventual winners the USA drew 11m viewers. Credit: Getty

RS: Yes, it was a success in terms of this Womens World Cup being the best quality football weve seen, more conversations supporting the game and realising the need for more visibility and investment. The broadcast numbers have broken records in multiple countries and world regions. Definitely the right direction.

SD: Its been a huge success. The standard of football has been good, crowds in stadiums impressive and TV audiences record-breaking. Apart from England going out in the semi-final, I dont think we could have asked for much more. There were also so many interesting, exciting and captivating moments both on and off the field which added to the depth and colour of the whole tournament, which is exactly what was needed.

What went well?

LP: A big shift has been the increasing attention of brands either in an official or ambush marketing capacity. Is this enlightenment or brands jumping on the bandwagon? Who cares? Brand interest and investment is critical to the long-term viability of the game, particularly at a domestic level.

This year feels really different to before because it feels like a World Cup. Lionesses on Lucozade bottles, front cover of FourFourTwo magazine, front page of every major newspaper, a documentary on BBC tracking their preparations and reams and reams of column inches. Womens football is finally being recognised as simply football.

During the competition one of my favourite moments was hearing two friends have a heated debate over whether a tackle was in fact a red card. I stood with delight listening to two football aficionados lose themselves in the passion for the game, and gender wasnt mentioned once.

SM: On the pitch it went really well, especially with the success that England had reaching the semi-finals. The standard of football has been really high and I think that was a bit of a surprise. There are a few snipers out there, but the positives far outweigh the negatives; there have been great games to watch. The sponsors behind it have had a great time too, and commercially it will be interesting to see what happens over the next two years. Weve got to maintain this level in the professional game to keep growing the sport, there cant just be a two-year gap until the Euros.

RS: The rhetoric is positive but also demanding more. Some of the stories around the tournament – Alex Morgans tea-drinking celebration, the USA beating Thailand 13-0 – have had the whole world talking and sparking debate.

United States' forward Alex Morgan (L) celebrates after scoring a goal during the France 2019 Women's World Cup semi-final football match between England and USA, on July 2, 2019, at the Lyon Satdium in Decines-Charpieu, central-eastern France. (Photo by Philippe DESMAZES / AFP)        (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP/Getty Images)
Alex Morgans tea-drinking celebration against England caused debate. Credit: Getty

SD: Viewing figures around the world have been impressive and given the sport a fantastic platform from which to build. The football has been good which has helped convert a lot of the naysayers. This is a small but vocal minority. One of the most impressive things is that brands have invested in the tournament which has helped raise the profile and pull out some of the wider stories from the womens game.

What could have gone better?

LP: As a fan, England winning! Womens football is still a relatively young product and with every step forward we must review honestly to develop. With investment the performance, quality, skill and technique has come on leaps and bounds. USA, England and Holland proved forces to be reckoned with and yet the quality is not consistent globally – England v Cameroon a case in point. Deep inequality in investment clearly exists. Until this is tackled by Fifa and Uefa the game wont progress. The tournament was significantly worse off for not having Ballon DOr winner Ada Hegerberg play for Norway in protest at the womens team not being treated equally to the mens.

Reports from the ground indicate in some cities it was hard to know that there was a World Cup taking place. I experienced the same thing in Holland two years ago for the Womens Euros. Compounded by Fifa not allowing local people to buy on the gate, it was disappointing to not see filled stadiums particularly for the top seeded teams. Fifa has yet to decide on the host for the 2023 Womens World Cup and they should consider how the host will market the competition to maximise ticket sales and build buzz in the local market. In my opinion Australias sports-mad nation would be far more appealing than the North/South Korea joint bid! Fifa itself needs to think about how they can change some of the strict ticket sale protocols to support this.

While clear improvements have been made, officiating was poor in some matches, with referees unable to maintain control. It is an ongoing challenge for governing bodies to engage women in coaching and refereeing positions, with a severe lack of female players to transition into these roles. With the increase in women and girls playing this will change but for now more support and training needs to be provided. I dont think we need to exclusively field female officials – the coaches arent. As long as women are the priority for recruitment, governing bodies should work with the games male allies to fill some of these roles. The mens game should also focus on encouraging more female officials into the game.

SM: I think domestically in France, the event maybe wasnt promoted as well as it could have been. In parts of central Paris you wouldnt even know there was a Womens World Cup going on. The 11m viewers for the semi-final was extraordinary for any national event, but there were gaps in the stands which suggests ticket promotion could have been better. They will learn a lot from that, but even in the England-USA game there were gaps in the stands.

Chinese referee Qin Liang (C) validates a goal  during the France 2019 Women's World Cup round of sixteen football match between England and Cameroon, on June 23, 2019, at the Hainaut stadium in Valenciennes, northern France. (Photo by Philippe HUGUEN / AFP)        (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)
Referees sometimes struggled to maintain control on games. Credit: Getty

RS: More branding and marketing in the cities, since you didnt feel as a fan it was the World Cup when you arrived in Paris or Lyon. It would be nice to have felt the vibe like during the mens Euros. There could always be more investment for more marketing and promotion around ticketing. The choice of stadia was great because it shows the importance of the sport, but then more emphasis needs to be put on filling them.

SD: During the tournament we researched what would make people watch more womens football, and 68 per cent said they would engage more if they knew more about the players and the narratives behind the sport. Consumers also told us they want brands to tell these stories. I think there was an opportunity for brands to jump on the wealth of highlights and stories that sprang up around the tournament and turn them into cultural moments. But unfortunately I think that opportunity was missed.

How does womens football build on this?

LP: I, along with many lifetime supporters of womens sport, am desperate for the bubble not to burst. But its important we dont sugar-coat the shortcomings in the hopes of not jeopardising our hard-won progress. To this point whether male or female, the reporting must be with equality of scrutiny, honesty and, hopefully, of respect. We must now hold ourselves accountable and not rest on our laurels.

In the UK, the grassroots game is thriving. Last year mRead More – Source

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