CONTROVERSIAL: Will Women’s Football Ever Reach the Same Level as Men’s?
March 12, 2018
While you could be forgiven for thinking that women’s football is a relatively new phenomenon, this is actually far from the case.
In fact, the origins of women’s football in the UK can be traced back to 1966, as the popularity of the game soared on the back of England’s iconic World Cup triumph. The Women’s Football Association was then established three years later, with the newly formed England national team playing its first international match against Scotland in Greenock in November 1972.
This game was played almost 100 years after the first men’s international, and the popularity of female football has increased incrementally since this time.
In this post, we’ll look at the future of women’s football, and ask whether it can ever reach the same level as the male game?
Women’s Football in 2018 – Where Does it Stand?
As a result of this, women’s football has arguably never been in a healthier state than it is now, with a competitive national team, a robust league structure and renewed public interest helping the game to thrive. Much of this growth has to do with the recent successes of the women’s national team in England, as the side finished third at the World Cup in 2015 and reached the final of the UEFA European Championship in 2009.
Success breeds popularity and interest, while this has also boosted the profile of England’s female players and established as role models for the next generation. The renewed popularity of the women’s game was borne out spectacularly in November, 2014, when the national side played their first ever match at Wembley Stadium and entertained then-European champions Germany in front of 55,000 fans.
The increased appeal and professionalism of the women’s game has also helped to build the commercial performance of the sport, with Channel 4 having broadcast the Women’s Euro 17 tournament last summer in tandem with official sponsor McDonald’s.
The following autumn, UEFA announced that it intended to break down its traditional sports sponsorship model in a bid to accelerate the growth of women’s football and its unique competitions across the globe. At the heart of this proposal was the “unbundling” of sponsorship rights and the co-creation of assets with brands, in a bid to optimise the appeal of women’s football and deliver a superior return on investment.
Over time, this could help to elevate the women’s game to an entirely new level, particularly in terms of global exposure, attendances and player remuneration.
The Future – Can the Women’s Game Grow to Compete with the Men’s?
The appointment of former Manchester United and England star Phil Neville as the coach of the England national team has also added an interesting dimension to women’s football. While his appointment, and the acrimonious departure of former coach Mark Sampson may have courted controversy, there’s no doubting that Neville boasts incredible experience of elite level football and can bring a fresh, winning mentality to the sport.
With England set to compete in the prestigious SheBelieves Cup, there is hope that the side can continue their evolution while elevating the quality and the intensity of their play. Drawn to play Germany, France and hosts United States in the tournament, their opponents are all ranked in the top eight of the world and will provide the ideal platform for Neville to showcase his ability.
Given these developments, it’s fair to surmise that women’s football is growing at a considerable rate and continuing to appeal to a more mainstream audience. People will continue to ask whether it can rival the men’s game, however, particularly if the current rate of growth can be maintained.
This is a tough question to answer, particularly given the amount of money and commercial interest that currently exists in the men’s game. There is certainly a huge wealth and infrastructure gap that exists at present, and it’s unlikely that the women’s game can bridge this chasm at any point in the near future.
It’s important to note that the men’s game also continues to evolve in terms of profitability and global appeal, so this gap could even grow further in the near-term.
Ultimately, it’s important that those within the women’s game do not become preoccupied with their male counterparts, and instead focus on optimising commercial revenues, developing infrastructure and popularising the game on a global scale.
If these goals can be achieved, women’s football will continue to evolve in its own right and maintain its reputation for delivering a high-quality spectacle.