Joanne O'Riordan: Women’s sport needs to build on high-profile summer
Responsibility lies with all to make sure women’s sports are thought about all year and every year
The women’s Gaelic football and Camogie All-Ireland finals have been designated as “events of major importance to Irish society” and added to the list of sporting events that must be shown on free-to-air television. At the announcement on Wednesday were Minister for Communications Denis Naughten, Camogie Association president Catherine Neary, Kilkenny’s Miriam Fribsy, Mayo’s Sarah Rowe, and Ladies Gaelic Football Association president Marie Hickey.
Camogie, football, rugby, hockey and golf. That was the agenda for women’s sports broadcasting over the last week. Sky Sports had wall-to-wall coverage of the Solheim Cup; TG4, once again, was immense covering football; with RTÉ chipping in along with eir Sport with the Rugby World Cup and the camogie All-Ireland semi-finals. I thought to myself ‘am I dreaming?’
In a year where there’s no men’s World Cup or an Olympics, women’s sport has pushed its way into the Irish conscience in a way that has never been seen before. Not only have we moved on from the dreary reporting of it, but RTÉ also landed a heavyweight punch regarding analysis at the Women’s Rugby World Cup with unfaltering work done by Lynne Cantwell, Róisín Foley and Fiona Steed. The analysis was hailed across the board, and the tactical nous displayed by the panel was incredibly refreshing.
Not only was the engagement of audiences on the rise, but many people were discussing where it went wrong for Ireland. Sure, there was the odd doubter, like in many other sports, but it was refreshing to scroll through hashtags on Twitter and see a debate occurring among fans on the best starting XV, where games were won and lost, and what’s next for this Irish team.
Fast forward to a stellar GAA weekend, and while Mayo and Kerry dominated, camogie players and women footballers were also gracing the pages of the print media. The discussion was wide-ranging, including a debate about how the current Cork team were going to build legacies of their own, and how Donegal were building off of a campaign where they earned a spot in the National League final. The camogie semi-finals also proved exciting encounters as Cork hung on against Galway and Kilkenny, seeing off Dublin, looked to fill the void left by their male counterparts and retain their All-Ireland title.
Continuity of coverage
The question for media across the board is while this summer was wide open for women to push forward, how do we continue to keep this going? The Premier League has started and transfer deadline day is fast approaching, along with the climaxes of the hurling and football championships. Rugby’s Pro 12 is about to begin, while golf is settling down after another year of highs and lows.
Papers and TV have limited resources and sports are competing with one another for coverage and only the most popular earn the right to grace the front or back pages. There is also neglect from the big sporting bodies. Although the GAA get somewhat of a free pass on this as the LGFA and Camogie Association are separate organisations, rugby and soccer are still in the baby stages when it comes to embracing and promoting their women’s games.
The FAI were dismayed when the Irish national team argued for basic essentials such as wifi and their own gear (to keep!). And the IRFU witnessed long queues for the ticketing exchange programme they ran throughout the entire World Cup campaign.
Leaving that aside for the moment, how can we as fans ensure that women’s sports are at the forefront of CEO’s minds? Audience interest cannot be manufactured, it has to organically grow. Match-goers tend to be male, according to studies, with the women who attend being an average age of 25 to 35. While these studies were primarily UK and Premier League-based, the statistics can broadly be applied to other sports.
However, in an age defined by clicks, retweets and shares, women’s sports can safely identify a new platform to expand a fanbase. Many fans watch sport on their phones, with ESPN reporting that many people are now watching games online instead of watching on television. Quick, snappy and 24/7 access is what fans want, and if you’re a sports fan, in general you won’t mind what gender you’re watching.
The LGFA have heavily relied on the sponsorship of Lidl to help promote their games and, credit where credit is due, they’ve done a great job. From sponsoring kits for up-and-coming talent, to replaying ads across TV, the deal has breathed new life into the game.
And the grassroots is growing. If you have attended a game, or watched a game on TG4, you will hear the screams of pre-teen girls cheering on their heroes. With the addition of Lidl money, even if a finite resource, the LGFA can look to grow the sport.
After the year that’s been had, it would be an absolute shame for all this hard work to go to waste. While many in women’s sports feel it only comes in a four-year cycle, attitudes will hopefully change. It is up to fans to demand the coverage – retweet instead of like, follow your favourites, and if possible go to games.
Responsibility lies with fans, media, athletes, sponsors and sports organisations to make sure that women’s sports are thought about 365 days of the year.
If we get it right,it will make all of the struggles worthwhile.