After reading a recent article about the lack of women’s sport coverage I started to think how the profile of women’s sport could be improved. There have been several admirable suggestions from noble sporting bodies about how this might be achieved, but I can’t help but think that tighter shorts can only do so much to promote gender equality. In this post I will use football as an example as it is the most popular sport in the world, so realistically should be the easiest to grow. But there’s no reason my suggestions cannot be applied to other sports.
The popularity of women’s football has fluctuated over the last century. In the early 1900s crowds of as much as 50,000 people turned up to watch women’s domestic football in England before the FA decided to ban women from using their grounds in 1921, a ban that lasted 50 years. The recent World Cup in Germany saw crowds of 70,000 turn up to watch the host nation, and women’s football at the Olympics saw healthy crowds. Yet attempts to establish professional leagues consistently fail around the world. Arsenal Ladies, who dominate the English game only train twice a week.
The problem facing most sports is that the product produced by men will be superior to the product produced by women due to physiology. Men are able to go faster, higher, and stronger. But marketing plays a huge role in the popularity of sports. The English Premier League is arguably the most watched league in the world due to it’s ability to market itself, as opposed to it having more entertaining matches than, for example, the Bundesliga. If FIFA genuinely want to increase the profile and popularity of the women’s game then I think they need to consider taking a leaf out of tennis’ book. The four major tennis tournaments (Wimbledon, the Australian, French, and US Opens) are held each year with men and women competing simultaneously. Men are better tennis players than women, but the disparity in viewing figures is far smaller than the disparity in viewing figures in other sports. Integrated or simultaneous tournaments give exposure to women’s sports that no amount of marketing can. Rather than the viewing public being required to seek something out that they wouldn’t usually watch, it is presented to them as part of something that they would be watching anyway. In the case of the World Cup this means the most watched sporting event in the world outside of the Olympics (where women’s sport, as well us other low profile sports, get a boost from an integrated event). Continue reading