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Women’s world cup 2019: How media coverage helped raise the profile of women’s football



Women’s football’s coming home - the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup is taking place until the 7th July and England have a real chance of winning the whole thing. Women’s football has never been more popular and there’s been plenty of build-up in the UK media with record viewing figures for the women’s game expected during the tournament.

It’s come a long way from being banned by the FA for 10 years in 1921, but the real rise of women’s football has only happened very recently. As part of my dissertation at university, I looked into the disparity in media coverage of men’s and women’s football to see whether there was a lack of interest or quality or if, with an increase in coverage, the sport would become more popular. This was back when there was very little coverage of the women’s game at all and I was sure that increased exposure would spark more interest in the sport.

In the build up to the 2015 Women’s World Cup, there was limited coverage of the England women’s team and the sports pages in newspapers and online were dominated by Premier League transfers, even though the men’s football season had finished. Women’s football needed to raise awareness of the sport through media coverage in order to get more people interested in it - this is essentially what we do for many of our clients at Refresh PR. Rather than the innovative PR strategies and campaigns that we use to generate media coverage for clients, it was the success of the England Women’s team at the 2015 World Cup that prompted a surge in newspaper, online and TV news coverage in the UK during the competition and got people talking about the game.

As the media coverage of the England women’s team increased throughout the tournament with lead stories on both the BBC and the Guardian websites, the popularity and viewing figures also increased; this prompted the BBC to promote England’s quarter final against Canada from BBC Three to BBC One where it was watched by 2.4 million people. Two years later at the European Championships in the Netherlands, media coverage was ramped up again and the viewing figures for England women’s semi-final against the host nation were in excess of four million.

As we head into the 2019 Women’s World Cup, women’s football is now entering the mainstream and in contrast to the last World Cup, there’s been extensive coverage in the build up to the competition. FIFA says more than 720,000 tickets have been sold and every game will be broadcast live on the BBC. There’s still a long way to go but the fact that six of FIFA’s global sponsors have pledged to spend the same on marketing at the Women’s World Cup as they did at the men’s in Russia, is a sign that popularity of the sport is now higher than ever.

Whilst there are many factors behind the rise of women’s football, there’s no doubt that the increase in press coverage has resulted in more people becoming interested in the sport, helping to demonstrate the power of the media. This is something we’ve witnessed first-hand when working with our clients; whether it’s through an article in a national newspaper or a sustained campaign targeting coverage in key trade magazines, we’ve been able to raise the profile of many of our clients, proving that the media still has an important role to play for both businesses and sports.


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