While sports in the United States are slowly beginning to return to normal, the Champions League in Europe has been in full swing since August, and next Sunday Manchester City will play Chelsea in the UEFA Men’s Champions League Final. What most of you probably don’t know, and what even most soccer players don’t know is that last Sunday the Women’s Champions League Final was held, and Barcelona’s Womens team beat Chelsea’s Women’s team 4-0.
Barcelona has a very impressive record in the Women’s Champions League with 26 games played and 26 games won. This is Barcelona’s first Champions League win, and it is well deserved. Barcelona’s Womens team went all regular season without losing a single game. An achievement like this would be on the front-page news if it were Barcelona’s men’s team, rather than its women’s. There is an evident disparity in the advertisement of the men’s and women’s championship game, the commentating and reporting of the game, and most obviously the viewership.
The 2020 Men’s Champions League Final featuring Bayern Munich vs. Paris Saint-Germain had an astounding 2.05 million American viewers, the highest viewership in 5 years. In comparison, 1.7 million viewers tuned in to watch the 2020 Women’s final where Olympique Lyonnais won over Wolfsburg, the highest viewership a UEFA Women’s final had ever seen. The 2013 Men’s Champions League Final had the most fans watching with over 21.6 million people tuning in to watch Bayern Munich beat Real Madrid. That is more than twelve times the viewership for the most watched UEFA Women’s final. The 2013 Champions League final was broadcasted on Fox and streamed free for all fans while the women’s game was shown on DAZN and through select paid streaming programs. With a more popular network boosting the viewership and the ease of access offered for the men’s championship, it is no wonder the women’s game received substantially less viewers.
The 2013 Men’s final included live game commentary and updates with famous reporters such as Warren Barton, Brad Friedel, Eric Wynalda, Stuart Holden, and Alexi Lalas. All of whom are former professional players with years of experience reporting soccer matches and established esteemed reputations. The women’s champions final was hosted by television sportscaster Clive Tyldesley, who is not a player but has been reporting on soccer matches for years. Despite Tyldesley’s knowledge and experience, five voices reporting the men’s final is a huge different from one, and it seems more emphasis and effort were put into the commentating and reporting of the Men’s Champions League final.
There is also a major difference in the pre- and post-game reporting by outside sources and news outlets. News stations, soccer websites, fans and fan accounts, papers and sports magazines are all responsible for spreading awareness of up-coming matches and high stakes games. When a game is reposted on social media by friends and family, included in the daily news report, or even scrolled across while surfing channels you are more likely to tune into the match. The women’s final received much less pre-game exposure on social media, news sites and sports pages in comparison to the men’s games. A simple Google or Wikipedia search of “Men’s Champions League final” and “Women’s Champions League final” will demonstrate the obvious difference in coverage and reporting.
The main reason for the disparity in commentating, after game reporting on news sites, and in papers and the actual televising of the game is based on money. With more viewers comes more in game advertisements and more revenue, which leads to more games televised and more exposure for male athletes. The male athletes thus increase in popularity and earn more sponsorships, subsequently earning more money. As these male athletes become more popular and receive more airtime, the cycle continues leaving women’s sports in the dust. Unable to compete with the popularity male sports and male athletes have, coupled with the stigmatization that female sports are “boring” to watch and feature far less athleticism and strategy, women’s sports have a few hurdles to overcome before it receives the recognition it deserves.
However, this negative perception of women’s sports is beginning to change, the U.S. Women’s National Team is one of the more popular sports teams in the world and even more so within the United States. Having won four World Cup trophies (1991, 1999, 2015, and 2019) and four Olympic Gold medals (1996, 2004, 2008, and 2012) the women’s team regularly outperforms the U.S. Men’s National Team which has participated in 10 FIFA World Cups and four Olympics, and yet to take home a trophy or gold medal. The Women’s National Team is a rare example of a women’s professional game that receives higher praise and fan involvement than a men’s professional team and shows how far women’s sports have come. The sports world is filled with powerful, successful female athletes and professional women’s teams: Serena Williams, Mia Ham, Abby Wambach the Brazilian Women’s National Team, and many more. These athletes are less recognized than their male counterparts in most scenarios and when prompted to name 10 male athletes and 10 female athletes most would struggle to complete the second part of the task. To continue to build the female sports world there needs to be an increase in the fanbase, viewership and sponsorship of female athletes and female athletic teams.
With more networks and streaming platforms streaming women’s professional sports matches, the games will be more accessible to the public and the viewership rates will increase. This will increase the advertising dollars earned from women’s games and help to expand their programming. With more viewers supporting women’s teams the teams and athletes will make more money minimizing the wage gap that exists between female and male athletes. With more reporting of the game and increased exposure before the match begins, we can maximize the awareness of the game and ensure viewership is high. As the popularity of female athletes and female professional sports teams increases, we will begin to see equity in all aspects of the sports world when it comes to men’s and women’s sports.
So, the next time you see a women’s professional sports game on TV, WATCH IT.
To watch game highlights visit UEFA’s website.