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How perceptions are changing around the women’s game

Watch her Go

The first time I watched women’s football was during the 2015 World Cup. I had never seen any on TV before, and I really enjoyed watching England progress through to take 3rd place. 

Fast forward to the 2019 World Cup, and the improvement in their game was obvious, and I, along with millions of others, was gutted for them when they lost to the USA in the semi-finals. To then lose out on bronze was also disappointing – and yet overall, I felt that this was a really positive tournament for England, and it felt as if things were (finally) changing.

Maybe we are now at the tipping point where women’s football passes into the mainstream and gets the support and funding it needs to thrive?

The tournament led to some record-breaking numbers including; 146 goals and over 1 billion viewers. According to a report on the BBC, almost 59m people watched Brazil’s last 16 games vs the hosts, France – making it the most-watched women’s football game of all time.

Likewise in the UK, the England vs USA semi-final was watched by a peak of 11.7m people – the biggest audience of the year so far, and the highest ever for a women’s football game. Over half of the people in the UK watching TV at the time were tuned in to the football on BBC1 – a huge share of voice in a prime evening slot. The best viewing figures previously for a women’s football game was seen in 2015 when 7.6m watched England beat Norway in the quarter-finals.

So, people are watching the women’s game more than ever – but who are they? Did all the women in the UK tune in to support the ladies? Or was it a broader mix?

As media experts, we live and breathe media stats and like to get behind the data - so we took a closer look: 

  • 4m people tuned in to see England v Scotland (in their first match of the tournament on 9th June) of which, out of the 3.7m adults watching, 61% of them were men (BARB)
  • The England group stage games averaged at 4.1m viewers, of whom 61% were men (BARB)
  • 8.9m of us on average (11.7m peak) watched England get beaten by the USA in the semi-finals – pulling in slightly more female viewers than previously. Again, 58% of the total audience was male (BARB)
  • Over 3m people tuned in for the England third-place playoff game against Sweden, of which 62% were male. Even on a warm and sunny afternoon! Interesting to note here that, whilst more men watched the match overall, the percentage of younger women watching was higher than younger men, with 7% of women aged 16-34, compared to only 5% of men aged 16-34 (BARB)

The consistency of higher male viewing figures reflects a typical broadcast sports audience with a male skew. Yet, one of the key demographics watching were young women, showing that there is a growing interest in the sport from those who could be inspired to become future players - the next Houghton, Bronze or Carney.

As a keen netballer, I am looking forward to the World Cup being on the BBC and I wonder if this fast-paced game will appeal to a broad range of viewers?  

As strong advocates for women’s sport in Wales, we can see the hard work being done at a grassroots level in women’s sport with increasing growth in popularity in cricket, rugby, football and netball. We have been proud sponsors of the Welsh Premier Women’s Football League for the last 3 years and produced TV programmes like ‘Mike Phillips and the Senghenedd Sirens’ which showcased league women’s rugby in the valleys. We want to continue to play our part in this success and see further growth in women’s sport.

The more we watch, the more they grow, and the more we can ‘watch her go’.

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