Women’s World Cup 2011 Part 1: Tournament success was BBC failure.

It was 2003. The evening was buzzing, the air electric. Crowds upon crowds squeezed together in the park in Stockholm’s city centre. Banners were flying high. 

On the street corners men were selling team jerseys and all the familiar names were there. ‘Svensson’, ‘Ljungberg’…except this time they referred to Victoria Svensson and Hanna Ljungberg.

Little girls and boys squealed with delight in anticipation, TV producers nodded happily after the Women’s World Cup final between USA v Sweden brought in 3.79 million viewers to Sweden’s TV4, marking one of their highest TV audiences ever.

We were waiting for the successful Swedish women’s team to arrive for a parade with their silver medals on proud display. As the team emerged there were cheers and emotions ran high, a united country backed up with the national newspaper’s donning our ladies’ smiling faces on their front pages. Girls all over the country signed up to join women’s football teams, it was a remarkable moment to signify how far Women’s football in Sweden had come. 

That was eight years ago. This summer’s Women’s World Cup (WWC) had unprecedented coverage for a tournament in only its sixth cycle; it was the first WWC to be shown in ‘High Definition’ (HD), German TV networks ARD & ZDF showed all 32 games live, ESPN showed the tournament in the States which was also available through Xbox live, Eurosport broadcast the games throughout Europe in 34 different countries and the BBC was the UK outlet. 

Germany’s opening match against Canada managed to pull in 18 million German viewers throughout the game, these viewing figures were 10% higher than the ratings between Germany v Serbia in the 2010 men’s World Cup. 16.39 million German viewers tuned in to watch Germany beat Nigeria. 

In the states ESPN brought in 3.89 million people (Nielsen Company) for the USA v Brazil quarter-final, making it the third most viewed WWC match ever over there. Those figures in comparison are higher than the weekly average viewers of shows such as Supernatural, Gossip Girl, Nikita, Friday Night Lights… 3.35 million watched the USA v France.  All in all for ESPN that’s up about 150% from 2007 (World Cup in China). 

Still, back in 1999 viewers on ABC averaged 17.9 million for the USA final against China (the US won), with a peak of 40 million tuning in at some point. Back home in Sweden 922,000 viewers sat down for Sweden v Australia, which meant about seven of ten people watching TV at the time tuned in. So things have progressed in an impressive way. 

Amongst all of the tournaments success came personal disappointment with the coverage by the BBC in the UK. I found myself reduced to watching most games via online streaming, if England weren’t involved it felt that neither was I. When you compare this to the coverage elsewhere around the world the tournament in totality was poorly covered by the BBC. 

It left me feeling far away from the crowds in the Stockholm Park, where they were rumored to have put in live screens so anyone can sit down and enjoy the matches creating atmosphere, interest and patriotism between those in attendance. Why can the UK not adopt such an approach to a tournament that was of global interest, especially when the UK has such a multi-cultural and multi-national population? 

The BBC had originally only decided to broadcast games via the ‘Red Button’ or online with a highlights show in the evening. The BBC had to bow to pressure from both viewers and ministers to show England’s quarter-final v France live instead of just online and it was eventually broadcast on BBC2. 

England is the home of football and in this country we advocate this…but it seems only if this is in relation to men’s football. 

The BBC should have made more of a big deal about their coverage of the tournament and followed the lead of the rest of Europe. Participation in Women’s football in the UK is lagging behind many other nations, maybe if the BBC had given more coverage to this in both live matches and also in build up, during a summer where little else is occurring, then they could have started something special. Both myself and many other felt detached from the tournament instead of part of it. 

It is not like the demand was not there either but when it comes to football in England there is sometimes a chip on the shoulder. The Premier League is the best football league in the world for me; I watch it every week and attend various games. The coverage of the Premier League no doubt encourages a high amount of male participation in the sport and some female participation. If only the BBC had ramped things up then this could have taken a share of the girls that go and play Netball or take up Cheerleading and taken them to football. 

The nation could have been tuning in to the tournament with the numbers that they experienced in Germany if the tournament was promoted with a similar intensity.

 You can argue that mass interest may not be there but there was no attempt to even try and create it. Ask the majority of people to name players from the women’s England team and you may get one or two-but if the BBC had taken things to another level you would expect a better response, there is no doubt this tournament did not have the coverage it deserved in England. 

The viewers called for more coverage, twitter levels (albeit worldwide) during the WWC final between USA and Japan hit 7,196 tweets per second in relation to the game. To put that in perspective Osama Bin Laden’s death made for 5,106 tweets per second. 

This summer’s WWC marked a landmark achievement for the tournament, matches were sold out, standards were raised and atmosphere was rife at the games. The tournament was a success but unfortunately the coverage in this country wasn’t…what does the future hold for women’s football? Well come back for my next article and I will tell you.

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