COVID-19’s effect on football: Spotlight on the Women’s Game

By 6th April 2020 One Comment

Rebecca Smith, global director of the women’s game, Copa90 gives her opinion on how the coronavirus crisis could impact the growth of women’s football.

The effects of the coronavirus pandemic is being felt across the globe and the consequences for football and in particular women’s football are multifaceted and complex.

The recent announcements that the Men’s UEFA Euro 2020 will now be next summer and the Women’s Euros 2021 likely moved to 2022 are only the headlines.

Behind the scenes, calendars are being painstakingly rescheduled between the different stakeholders in football like UEFA, The ECA, The European Leagues and FIFPro.

While the Men’s Euros new dates have been announced, the Women’s Euros was waiting on news regarding one of its tentpole events: The Olympics.

For men, it’s categorised as an U23 tournament (with three overage players), is not included in the international match calendar, and clubs don’t have to release players.

But the Olympics is in the women’s international match calendar, requiring all clubs to release players. And, to many, it’s the more prestigious tournament given there are only 12 teams playing – and players find themselves amongst the best athletes on the planet, from all sporting disciplines.

The Women’s Euros talk is inextricably linked to the IOC’s decision to postpone Tokyo 2020 to 23 July – 8 August 2021, which would have overlapped with the Women’s Euros 2021 dates of 7 July – 1 August. Not to mention the UEFA youth tournaments that also have to be taken into consideration since some of them are qualifiers for the FIFA tournaments.

Effects of the move

Besides the blow to Japan – Goldman Sachs estimates the country will lose $4.5bn in revenue this year because of the Olympics delay – global sponsors and broadcasters are set to lose financially as well.

While moving both the Olympic and the Women’s Euros to the following year seems an easy solution, it means the women’s tournament no longer stands alone in 2021 with all focus and investment funneled into it.

For sponsors, broadcasters and others in the football ecosystem, budgets and resources are currently being reallocated to share with the FIFA Men’s World Cup in Qatar 2022. Those involved in both events will probably now be allocating less to the women’s game than previously planned.

However, there’s a potential flipside. Given the continuing growth of the women’s game, with one more year of development and visibility, there could and should be even more interest from sponsors, broadcasters and media platforms by 2022. The players will be better known, have more fans following them and the demand for more women’s football to be included in brands’ portfolios and media platforms coverages will have likely increased.

How this affects broadcasting and the reach of the tournament  

Just as players worry about the crammed few months once football resumes, broadcasting schedules will fill quickly with the backlog of sport meaning potential clashes of coverage.

But it’s vital the women’s game builds on the momentum created by last year’s World Cup. Now’s the time for brands, broadcasters, media platforms and others to step up and protect the more vulnerable women’s game, which has already shown some very large cracks.

They must use all means necessary to increase its visibility whether that’s on mainstream terrestrial TV or priority content on media platforms.

The role of brands, broadcasters and content makers in this time of unprecedented uncertainty is more important than ever.

Humans are social creatures who need a sense of community and connectedness to keep us sane and happy in lockdown, and sport can provide that.

During this pause, we’ve realised what we actually miss about football. Yes, the goals and silky skills. But what we miss most is the community.

And broadcasters and media platforms can maintain that community. They can also provide distractions from the current uncontrollable situation, by focusing on creating a myriad of inventive celebrations of the beautiful women’s game in the absence of live matches.