How the Womens World Cup was Boosted by Broadcast


John Griffiths TV-Bay Magazine
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As we write this article, England’s Lionesses have just beaten Norway 3-0 and are smashing viewing figure records, with 6.9 million viewers tuning in to watch them play Cameroon on BBC One. Rewind to the previous World Cup in 2015, and England’s group and early stage knockout games tempted up to 2.5 million viewers for each match. It’s safe to say that women’s football is finally having its moment; what was perhaps once considered a niche sport is finally gaining momentum in the mainstream space with broadcasters giving it the attention it deserves.

With the Lionesses through to the semi-finals - fingers crossed that it came home this summer - John Griffiths, VP Marketing at Spicy Mango explores whether broadcasters have a responsibility to showcase niche and non-mainstream sports to put them in front of new audiences.

Tackling diversity in sports

With gender diversity in sport sparking debate, there remains a hunger from audiences to see the women’s game held in a similar regard to the men’s competition. A recent survey that polled viewers about sports broadcast found that 52% thought that the BBC should be doing more to encourage women to participate in sport. And71% of UK adults agreed that showing more women’s sport would be good “because it will have a positive effect on girls and women taking part in sport.”

The BBC ‘responded’ to this by launching #ChangeTheGame, a campaign dedicated to promoting the women’s World Cup featuring all 24 qualifying countries along with several nods to significant moments in women’s sport. Channel 4 is also running a women’s football chat show throughout the duration of the World Cup. It may not rival Match of the Day, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Niche means niche

Niche sports are labelled niche for a reason. With smaller audiences than the mainstream sports - many of whom are active participants themselves - it’s unsurprising that broadcasters and brands aren’t investing in it from a commercial perspective. The figures remain starkly different: 43% of people who said they were interested in sport had watched women’s sport in the last month, compared to 81% for men’s. The story remains the same not just between genders but across sports such as hockey, handball, rugby sevens and surfing, to name just a few. They may have loyal followings across the world but aren’t necessarily mainstream, with many audiences watching live in person or through online streaming services.

Many sportsmen and women who compete in niche sports do so for passion, not to pay the bills. It’s also worth noting that some of the sports perceived to be niche in the UK are mainstream in other countries. So if UK broadcasters invest now, could they elevate the sport allowing for professional competition opportunities and a new audience, as demonstrated by the women’s World Cup?

Shining a spotlight on sports

Sport needs exposure to gain an audience, but if the followers don’t exist, live streams could fall flat. Investment in OTT services is significant for a small sport with a limited budget. However, the women’s World Cup has demonstrated that to some extent, showing sports that aren’t necessarily mainstream can help boost numbers year on year. Of course, the success of national teams also draws in huge audiences but if it’s not easily accessible to view, the audiences will drop off.

There is more to getting in front of an audience than a streaming platform: the magic is in the marketing and sports governing bodies and broadcasters arguably don’t do enough between them to promote niche sports. When it comes to gaining new audiences, more time needs to be invested in promoting the sports to appeal to new audiences. This doesn’t have to be complicated: running social media campaigns or bolting on an advert to the end of a TV programme can be highly effective.

Growing responsibility

When it comes to niche and lesser watched sports, broadcasters certainly have a part to play in ensuring that the sport is watched and draws in viewers, both new and existing. Many sports will remain niche, but for sports like women’s football which are worthy of the spotlight, broadcasters can definitely do more to promote and draw attention to the sport. Not only will this benefit the viewer, but the investment will attract more viewers and ultimately more revenue to be funnelled into the sport and those who broadcast it. The figures speak for themselves and perhaps in four years' time, the Lionesses could be breaking more broadcast records thanks to broadcast investment and strong marketing campaigns deployed today.


Tags: iss138 | wwc | world cup | spicymango | diversity | John Griffiths
Contributing Author John Griffiths

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