Finding comfort in rich community: how women’s football has built its own world

Women’s football is expanding. Rapidly. This summer, the Women’s World Cup is coming to Australia, bringing with it a newly discovered global fan base and creating massive anticipation around the event.

Published by: Campaign
Written by: Lucy Trott
Date: 07/07/2023

In recent years we have seen broadcasting contracts, record attendance and brand deals rolling in for favoured female football players; the growth ultimately being due to the seemingly overnight expansion of fanship.

The Lionesses' stellar performance at last year’s Euros piqued the interest of the nation and reactivated the passion of a generation of girls and women.

Watching the games was something that filled me with a lot of hope and anticipation of where this sudden burst of fanship could lead to after the competition finished.

The Lionesses winning only intensified that feeling. I remember on the evening of the win I was sitting in London’s Sky Garden and saw the Shard lit up with the England flag.

For me this was a moment where it became apparent that people were starting to really care about the game.

Football has always been a heavily gate-kept sport for women. Not only in terms of play but in terms of fanship. The lad culture that is often associated with the game makes claiming fanship a difficult experience due to the constant scrutiny that comes along with it.

And if you couldn’t, you just weren't a true enough fan and were automatically dismissed from the community. Not surprisingly, this caused a generation to lose passion within the sport because they were denied that feeling of belonging.

An unconscious patriarchal bias had been established within society. Football is a men’s sport. That was the case until the women's game took over a generation.

The world of women’s football can provide to women what the men’s game cannot: community. Media outlets such as We Play Strong have provided fans with knowledge and broadened the world within which women's football fans can operate. More recently it has acquired a brand partnership with Gatorade to detail how key members of Barcelona Femení prepared for the UWCL final.

With media outlets and matches now being hosted by both male and female presenters such as Alex Scott, women are finally being put into positions where they are the industry experts, owning their own space.

Brand deals have also been flooding in for players. When launching its spring/summer 2023 collection, Gucci enlisted the likes of Spain’s Mapi León, USA’s Trinity Rodman and the Lionesses’ own Alessia Russo.

But the fashion space isn’t the only one being populated by players. Most recently Pepsi has launched a new cohort of ambassadors to be the face of its support for the women's game, with familiar faces such as Arsenal’s Leah Williamson and Katie McCabe.

PepsiCo has also launched major campaigns promoting the industry, most recently teaming up with professional network Women In Football to support female coaches and their development; something that fans of the game see as an important part of the progression of the sport.

However, the sense of exclusivity within this is something that fans are wary to lose. In the current landscape the game feels more personal and the community feels more tight knit.

It’s easier to feel connected to a player or club in a 3,000-capacity venue rather than a 60,000 capacity stadium. But then again, I feel that the overarching attitude is that fans want the best for the players and their club and in order for the standard of treatment and the standard of play to increase, revenue from a greater fanbase is needed.

Not only for the financial capital it brings in, but to demonstrate to the decision makers that the game is worth the investment. Attendance records are expected to be broken at the Women's World Cup this year with plenty of fans from the UK flying out to show their support.

The expansion doesn’t need to mean a compromise of community, but a broadening and greater establishment within society that women have a cemented position within the world of football. With the Women’s World Cup coming up this summer, women’s football has the perfect opportunity.

To read the full article, visit Campaign.