Emmet Ryan looks at one of the biggest issues facing women’s sport; How do they get more women to watch?
Shortly before the Ladies Gaelic Football (LGFA) All-Ireland Finals in September, the association’s president, Pat Quill, said he expected 70 per cent of the crowd in attendance to be male. With growing numbers of women watching sport in general, why is it so hard for sporting bodies to get them to watch elite female athletes?
“The strange thing about it is women don’t seem to come out to support their own sport. We have huge numbers participating, somewhere in the region of 140,000, but they don’t come out to support their own. There are a lot of counter attractions but with a lot of players participating, for some reason we can’t turn that into attendances. If we could get a reasonable proportion of them, that would be a huge boost,” says Quill.
“Men’s games get huge coverage and build-up. We have improved our coverage but we don’t have the blanket coverage they have,” he says. “If you flood the airwaves with something, it builds it up. The reality is, if they support their own game everybody benefits. Potential sponsors would see the crowds, from that point of view it would be well worth it.”
Getting that PR boost requires investment, which of course would be aided by sponsorship, but it also requires focus from organisations to market themselves. “Where we are, we have regular workshops with county board and club administrators and officers to drum up support. Our All-Ireland Finals attract in the region of 22,000, which isn’t bad, but there would be other games that wouldn’t attract anywhere near that. Our games are excellently priced, with three All-Irelands for €25,” says Quill. “Some of our underage games are reasonably well attended because parents and other family members come along to support them but we don’t see that follow through at adult level.”
Quill sees a partnership with the GAA as one route to gain notice. Pairing up with high-profile men’s games, those which generate solid crowds, can expose more people to the LGFA’s product. “It happens around the country, last weekend it happened up in Tyrone in Healy Park. It happens on a more regular basis than it used to. We always look at the various programmes that are on and see if there are options available,” he says.
Marie Crowe, a journalist who plays Football with St Patrick’s Athletic sees this kind of exposure as vital to the growth of women’s sports. “It is challenging, the numbers prove that. The one way to get people to go is to piggyback off the guys’ events. Get people exposed and let them make up their own minds,” she says.
“A lot of people have an opinion on female sport without necessarily going to see it. They don’t get exposed to it unless females are successful at a high level. Everybody’s talking about the Rugby players and it’s purely because they have been successful,” says Crowe. So successful have the Rugby team been that RTE will stream their game against France live on RTE.ie. It’s not the Hook and Pope treatment but it’s a sign that success brings with it added exposure. Winning, while crucial, can’t be the only driver. Crowe says minority sports need to sell themselves around stories so casual viewers can identify more with them.
“People need to relate to a person in the sport. People give out about Jerry Kiernan with Athletics but he’s still recognised as someone that’s associated with that sport. It takes a while for people to associate somebody with a minority sport on TV,” says Crowe.
“Match reports can be monotonous. If you’re not interested in the sport, you’re not going to read the match report. If somebody has a good story with an interesting background or strong thoughts then they become interesting to the journalist and in turn the general public. If the story is interesting enough it will get in the paper. It’s up to the organisations to put these stories out there,” she says.
The opportunity for sporting organisations to drive their own stories has never been greater. The power of social media can be over-played at times but put somebody clever in charge of a Twitter and Facebook page and they can make big inroads with the public. “Before you had to go to journalists or editors but now it’s in their hands to create interest and build a buzz. It up to organisations to make their Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, and websites as interactive as possible,” says Crowe. “They’ll get people more interested in their sports from that.”
The numbers indicate there’s quite a lot of women out there with an interest in sport that Irish organisations can attract. Research by Pembroke Communications found that 50 per cent of Irish women have a general interest in sport, while 25 per cent of women would keep up to date with sport a daily basis. Reaching these women is the challenge. Kelli Slattery of Pembroke Communications says a targeted approach needs to be taken.
“Give tickets to schools near the venue because it’s not just about women being interested in women’s sports, it’s people being interested in women’s sport. It’s about attracting a crowd. The women’s Rugby team are a great case study for a growing women’s sport in Ireland. There’s no doubt that their success will see an increase in participation and profile,” says Slattery.
“Whether it’s getting attention around events or making the media aware of results quickly, it’s about doing really simple things like that. Make it as accessible as possible to the media and as easy to cover as possibly,” she says.
The perception bridge however remains the biggest bridge to cross. Few people are more qualified to comment on this than Niamh Griffin, a journalist and former Muay Thai champion. “There’s a perception that women’s sport is of a lower standard. And in some cases that’s true and in others it’s nonsense,” says Griffin. “But watching sport is all about perception and image so I would imagine if you think women’s sport is less entertaining, slower, less technical then you won’t spend your money on a ticket or bother turning on the telly, will you?”
Griffin airs the views of our other interviews that aggressive marketing strategies are needed to alter perceptions. “Take the best players in your team or your sport and big them up – get them out in the community showing people what they can do. There is justification to asking why women’s sports don’t get more media attention but you have to work at it too,” she says.
“Take advantage of schemes like the Irish Sport Council’s Women in Sport – there is funding available to get women involved and boost your club. Get advice on how to bring in women to your club and how to promote the women you have,” says Griffin.
“When it comes to media look at your local radio station or regional newspaper. Get in touch, ask the sports-guys to come out and see what your female players are doing – maybe they won’t come the first time but they will eventually,” she says. “Make friends with a good photographer, put photos up on Facebook. Everytime a woman or a girl in your club does well, tell the world about it. And when you get to do an interview, please don’t spend half the time moaning about the lack of coverage for female sport when you’re getting some Focus on the positives too.
Griffin summed up the best way to make these marketing pushes pay off. “Win stuff. Win and they will come same as with the men,” she says.
Sport Is Everything. Emmet Ryan.
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