Why England v USA is the perfect platform for growing women’s football

Tonight, England take on the USA in what is set to be one of the biggest matches in the history of women’s football.

If that sounds like exaggeration, it shouldn’t. This is, after all, a World Cup semi-final, and while history will remember the winners – and certainly not the losers – major tournament knockout games change the course of footballing history.

There’s another reason, too: if viewing figures for the BBC’s coverage of England games at the World Cup so far are anything to go by, this will break even more records. Indeed, a peak of 7.6m people watched England’s quarter final win over Norway – more than the men’s FA Cup final according to The Times – while 6.3m Americans watched the US’s victory over France in their quarter final. (Having said that, you might argue that figure is a little disappointing given the population differences between England and the USA, as well as the current political intrigue following the US Women’s National team, with protests over equal pay and more recently Twitter wars with Donald Trump.)

This is a massive night for the sport in both countries, but also for women’s football. These are arguably the two teams in the tournament who have created the most buzz. The USA’s over-the-top celebrations for the final few goals in a 13-0 demolition of Thailand saw plenty of pearl-clutching responses on social media from those who thought they should have dialled it down. Similarly, there was a similarly po-faced reaction from England manager Phil Neville to Cameroon’s anger at having VAR decisions go their way.

Whatever you think of those incidents, they are an important factor in the growth of the game for one simple reason: they raise the profile of the players and the teams in a way that carefully crafted marketing campaigns usually fail to do. It feeds into the ‘soap opera’ we always hear about when explaining the popularity of the Premier League and beyond. And this is the perfect platform to grow on that.

The question is what to do with that interest. Will it still be there by the time the Women’s Super League kicks off in September? Its high-profile opening day fixtures might keep interest high. Newly-promoted Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur travel the relatively short distances to face Manchester City and Chelsea respectively – both local rivals for the new faces in question and powerhouses of the women’s game. And the placement of opening weekend during a men’s international break might help matters.

But that’s only one week of football. And after the World Cup dies down, what happens to the rest of the women’s game?

The great tragedies of World Cups is that they only come around once every four years, but it seems we’ve learned to deal with that by quite simply making the club game so utterly addictive. The opposite could be true for the women’s game, and maybe a better parallel is rugby, where international matches garner huge audiences – especially World Cups and Six Nations tournaments. Club rugby by contrast is a much smaller kettle of fish, and interest appears to fade when the clubs come back.

The challenge for women’s football is to remain relevant in the minds of fans after this tournament, and to turn the players into household names.

The best strategies for doing that are up for discussion and that’s why we’ll be talking about what’s next for women’s football at Howard Kennedy in London Bridge on July 11th.

See the Head of Marketing – Europe at Visa, SVP International at Endeavor, Managing Director at Engine Sport and Sports Partnerships Manager at Twitter give their views on what the industry does next. Asking the questions will be the Chair of the Football Writers’ Association, Carrie Brown.

Grab your ticket below:

About author

Chris McMullan
Chris McMullan 835 posts

Chris is a sports journalist and editor of Digital Sport - follow him on Twitter @CJMcMullan_

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