Women’s football: What has sparked the game’s recent rise in popularity?

England fans wave flags at Trafalgar Square.
England fans celebrate during the Lionesses' team celebration at Trafalgar Square on August 01, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

The growth of women’s football becomes more evident during major tournaments. But what exactly has prompted the increasing popularity of the women’s game? Dr. Julia West examines this topic, looking at the role of media within women’s sports.

Big tournaments are exciting to watch

Firstly, international tournaments are intense and exciting. Rather than lasting most of the year as the leagues do, the matches are bunched together and run over a 3–4-week period. It is easy to dip in and out of the games regularly. These big stages showcase great talent, arguably the best players in the world. This attracts additional audiences to watch and get involved.

Many of us have our favourite players—possibly because we saw them in previous Euro or World Cup tournaments. Finding out which league and team these footballers are in is easier than ever. Player information is available through social media sites and news outlets, including Her Football Hub. HFH writers report on leagues, teams and players around the world. Following the progress of your favourite footballers through their domestic and international performances is much more straightforward.

Effects of televised and live-streamed games

Free match-streaming and online channels have also helped raise the profile of the women’s game. Watching accessible matches brings players and teams into your home regularly and creates a fan bond. Players become household names. Even those who don’t watch or support football will know the names of a few more players than they think.

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Seeing your favourite players on TV is one thing. Being able to watch them live, in domestic leagues or international tournaments, is quite another. The WSL is one of the world’s top leagues and attracts some of the most talented players in football. In the UK, we are fortunate to watch some of these players regularly throughout the season.

Normalising the conversation on football

Through all the media channels, football is more readily available to everyone. We discuss players, teams, leagues, tournaments and upcoming fixtures more often. This exposure means dialogue surrounding women’s football is ever present and becomes normal to hear.

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The fantastic performances from our England team, plus the quality and depth of the squad in its entirety, promote the cause and become newsworthy. The success of women’s national teams across different sports also helps springboard the achievements of the Lionesses into our news reports more regularly. Possibly the worst regular coverage occurs in the printed media, with the exception of our Euros 2022 championship title reporting. The constant stream of posts, opinions and results keeps the game and its developments in current memory. This is vital for the future and success of competitive teams and leagues as it provides a platform for further investment.

Viable future investment in the game

Girls can dream of playing as a career. It can now become a reality for some because of the financial backing, from Barclays in particular.

At the lower tiers, ‘serious’ grassroots clubs are also attracting investors into the game. Tiers 3 and 4 can start to become more selective about players, enhancing promotion opportunities. As it progresses to the higher tiers, this development of playing standards and performances can only be beneficial for our future Lionesses.

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Commercialising football comes with a lot of baggage, though. Many fans are worried about being priced out of the game they love. Whilst top club managers are seeking to maximise income in order to professionalise their outfit. There is a tension here. However, you have to pay for what you get in today’s world. Top-quality players and performances are not going to come cheap. There might be a financially driven pressure on players’ performances which can creep into the game.

When our team comes over to us at the end of games and thanks us for our support, that is meaningful. The Lionesses show that after every game. It further develops the bond between the fan and the player.

Through this bond, the dream of playing for your country is born. Through this bond, the dream can become a reality.

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