Just How Did The Media Industry SO Badly Underestimate The Success Of The Women’s World Cup?

Just How Did The Media Industry SO Badly Underestimate The Success Of The Women’s World Cup?

In a world where sponsorship in men’s sports is more saturated than Bondi Beach in summer, just how did many in the industry underestimate the huge commercial opportunity presented by the Matildas? B&T spoke to industry experts Virginia Hyland (CEO Havas Network Australia) and Shannan Quinn (Managing Director at Prism Sport and Entertainment AUNZ) to find out.

For Hyland, the underestimation of the FIFA Women’s World Cup suggests a worrying lack of diversity within the media industry at a senior level.

“We talk about diversity of thought and having diverse decision-makers at all levels in our industry. I think this is a perfect example where, because we still don’t really have strong diversity at a senior leadership level, no one actually picked up how this could potentially be as an opportunity for viewership,” she told B&T.

Seven was one of the few to see the opportunity presented by the World Cup. In advertising material sent ahead of the World Cup, the network described it as the “most anticipated mass cultural experience on our shores in decades”.

CEO of Seven, James Warburton, recently said that the network first became aware of the huge opportunity posed by the Matildas due to their quality of play at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and partially because the tournament is taking place in Australia.

These were two of the factors that led Seven to outbid the other networks when it came to winning the free-to-air rights. It is not known whether the other free-to-air networks such as Nine, Network 10, or SBS bid for the games, or what their bids were if so.

Hylands highlighted that, due to the multicultural nature of Australia, there was an appetite for the tournament outside of just the games that the Matildas played.

“I do believe that so many more viewers and so much larger audiences would have watched the free-to-air Women’s World Cup, had there been the ability to actually broadcast more than just the Matilda games,” Hyland said.

In total, as per their deal with Optus,  Seven broadcast 16 games from across the tournament including non-Matildas games. If we look at the ratings figures we can see a clear appetite for soccer outside of just the Matildas. For example, the US v Sweden game secured 345,000 total TV viewers.

Diversity is particularly poor when it comes to the media owners who ultimately decide what the Australian public sees, Hyland said.

“I look at the people that I’m working with and talking to on the media side and you’ve got one senior female leader in all of the media industry and that hasn’t changed since I started out in media many, many years ago”.

“So I think there’s a real comfort level of ‘we know the way to do things, we know what’s right for our audiences’. And what they [we] haven’t done is actually promoted and listened to diversity of thought, and great diverse leaders within those media organisations to help identify these types of opportunities”.

The importance of diversity among media owners becomes even more apparent when we consider reports in The Australian that state Renee Quirk, head of sports business affairs and general counsel at Seven, was instrumental in convincing the network to stream the games.

Quirk reportedly “nudged” executives to buy the games, even reportedly telling fellow Seven executives “This is really going to off. You can’t miss out on this. You’ll regret it”.

Renee Quirk

A Tragedy For Women’s Sports

Whilst Seven’s $4-5 million deal for the Matildas game was arguably the bargain of the century, Hyland points out that Seven’s win was women’s sport’s loss.

Seven’s return on investment is “actually a tragedy for women in sport when you think of the $600 million that is invested in sports that have nowhere near this audience reach [the audience reach of the World Cup]”, she said.

Media owners could gain far more opportunities in the future, Hyland said, if there was more gender and cultural diversity at the top level.

“I think we need to start bringing from a multicultural perspective, from a gender perspective, more people into leadership positions within these organisations, if they truly want to move forward, and not lose audiences, but actually create new opportunities to engage with much bigger audiences than they have in the past”.

She used women’s basketball as an example of an opportunity that broadcasters are not picking up.

“I went to a couple of games with my daughters and the stadiums were completely sold out. But because it’s not broadcast, because there’s no realisation of how big that audience is, it’s a missed opportunity”.

Despite the ratings success of the Matildas – the semi-final game against England gained 11.5 million viewers – there have been some doubts raised about just how commercially viable the World Cup is for broadcasters.

In Seven’s earnings call, CEO James Warburton said that the structure of soccer means that commercial success is limited. 

After an analyst asked what the financial impact of the games will be Warburton said: “There are no ads during play, during extra time, and during penalty shootouts.”

Source Instagram


An Increase In Sponsorship Interest

On the sponsorship side there was also a lack of awareness of just how big the FIFA Women’s World Cup would be, Prism’s managing director at Prism Sport and Entertainment, Shannan Quinn said.

“We had two major partners for this World Cup, which was great, but surprisingly six months out from the tournament we really had to push the agenda hard and further convince some of our existing clients (that already have a role in sport) of the benefits of not only being potential partners with the Matildas and Football Australia, but also the FIFA World Cup itself. A lot of clients were hesitant and sat on their hands sadly – I don’t think anyone realised how big it would be”.

This all changed, Quinn said, when Matilda-fever hit Australia and many brands realised they had missed a highly valuable opportunity.

“You had this perfect storm of a global tournament in our home country with our team expected to do well, and they did. Even halfway through the tournament, we started getting calls and emails asking, ‘what does a Matildas partnership look like and what can we do post-World Cup?’ – which is really positive”.

Whilst the future now looks bright for women’s sports, Shannan Quinn from Prism warned that it might be a while before we see anything of that scale again.

“It’s one of those situations where it’s probably going to be a long time before we see anything of this scale for quite a while, but at the same time, it’s great that potential sponsors have realised the enormity and growth of Women’s Sport and with football in general”.

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    1. It’s very disappointing that none of the people, brands, agencies or media companies who invested so significantly in the most successful Women’s World Cup ever were contacted to input accuracy and perspective into this unnecessarily negative story.

      * numerous media companies submitted bids to FIFA for all 64 games 3 years ago

      * Optus and Optus Sport valued the event higher than any previous World Cup of any rights investment in any market (outside the US) ever and the most of any previous WWC nation.
      * four of the five FTAs bid for the sub licence rights and in the second round C7 beat all other bidders
      * 40% of ALL WWC games (26 games) were free to view to all Australians – not just the 7 Matilda’s games.
      * Millions of Optus Customers watched some of the 64 games for just $6.99 for the month
      * This historix event reached over 21m Australians across Optus Sport, 7plus and C7 – The biggest EVER TV event in history

      This is as big as it gets and was only under estimated by the media companies that failed to value the event correctly and the brands and agencies who failed to invest in Women’s Football years ago.

      Do better B&T

      Clive Dickens

2023 Women's Football World Cup matildas Seven

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