The Fifa Women’s World Cup represented a turning point for women's football and sport with the unparalleled backing from sponsors and fans. Broadcasters and publishers also saw benefits from the booming interest in the sport - but will the media continue to shine once the World Cup buzz dies down?
As the USA swaggered through a flamboyant WWC win (its fourth) and England's Lionesses landed fourth-place behind Sweden and the Netherlands, YouGov tracked the sentiment around the national sides social media. In the US, the WWC was the second most positively talked-about sports property in the country, and in the UK it was the first.
Fifa claims an estimated a record 1bn viewers for the tournament (still less than a third of its 2018 World Cup figures). As a result, the scale of women's football is a compelling attraction for many brands moving forward.
These well-intentioned plans are reliant upon a media industry willing to give women’s sports increased airtime and coverage. The Drum caught up with The BBC, Goal, TalkSport, The Sun and 90Mins to learn how their World Cup coverage performed and how they plan to keep up the momentum.
A record-breaking 28.1 million people tuned into The Women’s World Cup on the BBC in the UK this summer across 52 games, some of which were broadcast linear, and most of which were on-demand.
Barbara Slater, director of BBC Sport, says: “This World Cup was the most memorable to date and it has engaged sport fans across the UK. The BBC is committed to growing the women's game and our free-to-air coverage has ensured the tournament reached the widest possible audience. This was the first major event to kick off our Change The Game season and it's record-breaking viewing figures didn’t disappoint.”
The tournament overall saw 13.1m match requests (live and on-demand) on BBC iPlayer and BBC Sport. Highlights include Scotland's first-ever World Cup and England's clash with the US.
The England v USA quarterfinal delivered the highest live TV audience of 2019 with 11.7m viewers. The USA v Netherlands final clenched a peak BBC One audience of 4.7m and peak share of 38.5%.
The gender split saw 62% of viewers male, dispelling the notion the sport may only attract female audiences.
The BBC will pick up on the momentum with continued women’s football TV coverage, a match from each round of the Women’s Super League, the Women’s Football Show and live women’s FA Cup football, and Lionesses fixtures.
On the back of the Women's World Cup, Sky Sports researched women’s sports and has made a commitment to upping its on-air time.
Its research found that that 78% of people would like to see more coverage of female sport on TV and in the media, and 63% think having women in sport will inspire the younger generation to be more athletic. 38% will watch more female sport now than ever before, and a further 34% say they are avid followers of female team and individual sports.
With top female athletes Ama Agbeze, Aimee Fuller, Rachel Dunn, Annabel Dimmock, Amy Jones, Johnny Nelson and Harriet Pavlou it is celebrating women’s sport in a film outlining its 250 hours of live coverage of women’s sport this summer.
Sky Sports presenter Natalie Pinkham said: “We have so much women’s sport to look forward to, with the Vitality Netball World Cup, The Ashes, Solheim Cup and so much more on Sky Sports this summer. The momentum behind women’s sport is at an all-time high, and it’s fantastic to see the positive impact it’s having on our younger generation.”
Goal, part of Dazn Group, claimed that more than 4 million fans came to the website for its Women’s World Cup content this summer. With bespoke coverage and longform features (including Alex Morgan and Vivianne Miedema), it generated more than 10m page views. Dazn Group reports 100 million engaged fans so there remains room to convert more football readers to the sport.
Of Goal's ten most popular articles, six were focused on the US women’s team – which drew a global audience. Two pieces focused on “the war of words” between Megan Rapinoe and Donald Trump. A further two put a spotlight on the earnings disparity between male and female players.
It appears that the sport transcends into politics with regularity.
James Dickens, Goal’s global editor-in-chief, said: “Looking at the most-read list it’s clear that the themes of player earnings and controversy result in traffic, whether that’s related to VAR or tea-drinking celebrations. While this shouldn’t be a surprise, there was a time when stories like these from the women’s game would struggle for attention.”
There are few surprises as to which players drove the most traffic, in this order: Megan Rapinoe (USA), Alex Morgan (USA), Ada Hegerberg (Ballon d'Or winning who stopped representing Norway following an equal pay dispute), Wendie Renard (France) and Sam Kerr (Australia).
The UK's best-selling tabloid saw a record-breaking number of women's football readers, up 500% on its previous peak.
The Dream Team (fantasy product) also created a Women's World Cup predictor, a quarter of players were women, opening up a new market for the tabloid.
It had journalists Claire Bloomfield and Martin Lipton reported from on the ground in France. Pundit and former player Alex Scott joined as a football columnist and created a video series for The Dream Team. The project also partnered with The Female Lead to create a series of videos shining a light on inspiring women in football.
Will Martin, head of sport marketing at The Sun said: "A key part of our success and how we'll ensure longevity in our support for Women in Football was the signing of Alex Scott. She was our key columnist during the tournament, working across editorial, social channels and our brand extensions.
"We've been committed to supporting Women in Football for some time, and it's exciting looking at the next step in that journey. We have Alex Scott as a key ambassador, which is really important for us, and we'll look at ways we can innovate to make a compelling content proposition."
The social network was one of the main platforms the tournament played out on. It tracked all the trends and most tweeted about moments. US fans were the most vocal and produced the most tweets.
Sponsor Nike was the most mentioned brand ahead of Budweiser and Visa.
The US team's win in Lyon sparked a broader discussion about equal pay. Twitter said tweets about 'pay' increased 500% in the aftermath.
The most mentioned players were: Megan Rapinoe (USA), Alex Morgan (USA), Marta (BRA), Cristiane (BRA), Ali Krieger (USA).
Digital sports company Minute Media, owner of 90Min, said the waves were caused by the US team, specifically Megan Rapinoe.
‘Megan Rapinoe's Total Shitshow Circus Rides Again in World Cup Epic Against England’ accumulated 50,000 views, fueled by Apple News. Meanwhile, ‘Megan Rapinoe Explains Shock Absence From USWNT's Women's World Cup Semi-Final Win Over England’ pulled in 35,000. This proves there is an audience for personality-driven coverage.
Andres Cardenas, global head of football, Minute Media, said: “The personalities off the pitch are as relevant as performances on the pitch for the new generation of fans.”
Explaining the tournament and the 52 games, there were more than 300 written articles, 300 Instagram Stories, 500 tweets and 250 social posts produced by a team on the ground in France and in newsrooms in London, São Paulo, New York, Tel Aviv, and Manilla.
Cardenas added: “The key of our success was that we began our coverage of women's football two years prior to the tournament, with the coverage of the WSL and the likes of the She Believes Cup."
Its creative video team spent half its time on the women's game in the past 18 months.
Cardenas revealed it will continue to do so to "make sure we are in the best possible place to provide even bigger and better coverage of Tokyo 2020 (Olympics), and Euro 2021 on home turf in England."
"It’s not only about investing more but rather covering women’s football with the same passion and dedication we do all football," he said.
The TalkSport radio network, owned by Wireless Group, covers English football for a global audience.
"The network invested more than ever before in coverage of this year's Women's World Cup, with our increase in audience establishing without any further doubt that fans of sport are fans of women's football," said Lee Clayton, head of TalkSport
With the seasonal break in the men's game, it said it engaged its 3 million-strong audience with the tournament as the Lionesses progressed to an admirable fourth place.
"We've developed a great place to build from for women's sport in future and that's why we are investing in TalkSport's first ever dedicated women's football show for the new season and increasing our women's sport output across the station, as we continue to drive new audiences to the network and continue building a compelling proposition for both listeners and advertisers."
Research from ad sales intelligence biz, MediaRadar, compared the ad spend of the men's and Women's World Cup. Simon Dent, founder of sports marketing agency Dark Horses believes there were a lot of missed opportunities from brands.
But the research found much of a sameness, between the tournaments' top 30 advertisers - they were 87% similar. However, Nike (the most mentioned brand according to Twitter), Bank of America, State Farm and Visa only ran US TV ads exclusively during the women's game, according to the research.
The men's game saw a larger share of spend from tech, non-alcoholic beverages and beer, wine and spirits. The WWC saw more spend from finance and real estate, apparel, home furnishings and toiletries and cosmetics.
In the US, the top five Women's World Cup advertisers were Wells Fargo, Nike, Geico, Volkswagen and Verizon.
Separate research in the Brand Finance Football Annual 2019 found that the total value of women's football sponsorship is undervalued by at least $1bn. Bryn Anderson, sports valuation director at Brand Finance, claims the rise of superstars will help unlock this additional value. "Endorsement deals for Megan Rapinoe and her peers, including the highly marketable Alex Morgan, will inevitably come in off the back of the team’s World Cup success. The game needs superstars to help raise the profile and realise the potential.”
As for the future of the sport, according to Brand Finance's figures, nine of the top 10 most valuable football brands, now have an official women’s team - with Real Madrid the only outlier.