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Out of the shadows: How the women of the World Cup are finally stepping into the media spotlight

Out of the shadows: How the women of the World Cup are finally stepping into the media spotlight

Recently there has been tremendous improvements in media coverage of women's football, which has increased exponentially in the run-up to the FIFA Women's World Cup. This is the first of a two-part article series around women's football and the media written by Nasha Smith.

When Liverpool staged a miraculous comeback on 7 May to oust powerhouse Barcelona and earn a place in the UEFA Champions League final, the historic feat seemed destined to dominate football chatter the next day and into the foreseeable future.

All of that changed the following morning when the Duke of Cambridge, Prince William announced the first member of the England women's World Cup squad in a 27-second video posted to the team’s Twitter account. This was the first in an elaborate series of 23 tweets over four hours by a slew of celebrities and notable figures including actress Emma Watson, comedian James Corden, popstar Ellie Goulding, and football legends David Beckham and Alan Shearer to reveal the full squad. Within a day and a half of the of the announcement, the Lionesses Twitter account saw a 5.7% increase in followers and had an engagement of 2.5 million. It was unorthodox and innovative, but more than that, it signaled a shift in the promotion of women’s sport.

Traditionally such pomp and circumstance has been reserved for their male counterparts. For comparison, in 2018 England’s men’s team was announced by youngsters from each player’s hometown in a move designed to highlight their youth, diversity, and energy. Rather than disseminating a perfunctory list the Football Association decided to also give the women the trendy treatment. 

While the pay gap is often cited as the biggest issue facing women’s football, the lack of marketing and promotion which generates revenue through ticket and merchandise sales is just as egregious. But things appear to be headed in a new direction, based on Women’s World Cup squad rollouts.

The United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) went the comedic route in unveiling their squad with a parody of the hit television show “The Office.” The German team added a bit of social commentary to their reveal with a video detailing the difficulties faced by female players. New Zealand used popular ambassadors of their own to share the Football Ferns’ roster.

This is a special time for the sport. It is the fastest growing participation sport among girls in the United Kingdom and being played in record numbers across the globe. Sponsorships are also at an all-time high. Nike delivered their first ever shoppable activation on Snapchat with a lens featuring the USWNT jerseys and erected larger than life billboards and murals of the women across major American cities. Barclays agreed to a multi-million sponsorship deal with the Women’s Super League worth upwards of 10 million pounds — the largest investment in UK women’s sport.

Some football purists voiced their displeasure for what was seen as a gimmick pandering to the now ubiquitous social media cycle while ignoring the invaluable exposure provided to reach the casual and non-fans of the sport. It was the type of marketing strategy which has helped turn male athletes into household names and could go a long way to doing the same for women. 

England manager Phil Neville put it best when he said, “We have to make these players visible, we want everybody around the world to buy in to what will be the biggest Women’s World Cup of all time.”

  • Nasha Smith is currently studying Sports Ethics and Integrity as part of the MaiSI Erasmus Mundus programme. Nasha earned a B.A. in Public Relations at Grambling State and MS in Strategic Communication at Texas Christian University. The St. Lucian native has worked with the United States Tennis Association, Detroit Tigers, and Major League Soccer. Her interests are media ethics, athlete welfare, and diversity. 

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News

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Nasha Smith

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Wednesday, June 19, 2019 - 14:33