As the final curtain approaches in Canada, it’s a time to reflect on the month that we’ve seen and experienced.
The women’s game has truly hit new heights. This has been a FIFA Women’s World Cup of fabulous goals, wonderful games, and a sporting tournament that has truly made an impact across the globe.
In the United States, television audience records have been set. In Africa, nations like Nigeria and Cameroon have held their heads high. In the UK, the traditionally hard bitten media has finally been turned to shine a light on the game.
And here in Australia, the Matildas have garnered press attention, commercial TV mentions, and created a little bit of Australian football history into the bargain.
They have even knocked Tim Cahill off the Australian cover of FIFA 16.
From the perspective of SBS, this has been a ground-breaking month: every match available online, 41 matches broadcast live in high definition on TV, and a nightly highlights show. It’s been the most comprehensive coverage of women’s team sport ever seen on free-to-air television.
The results have been hugely encouraging: growing, engaged audiences, not just jumping on the “Aussie” bandwagon, but sticking around to see what Cameroon, Canada, China and Netherlands have to offer, too.
On Sunday, nearly 350,000 watched Australia fall to Japan in the quarter-finals, with the Women’s World Cup surpassing AFL and NRL activity on Twitter.
Overall SBS's coverage is approaching 2.5 million viewers, and it’s all been led by three women: Lucy Zelic, Sally Shipard and Joey Peters. The feedback has been tremendous.
Online, you’ve joined us in your tens of thousands, too, for live match streams. You’ve shared our content across your own social media pages and been part of some terrific conversations online that have only served the stand up the women’s game as the excellent spectacle it is.
As an example, when we shared that winning Matildas moment against Brazil on The World Game’s Facebook page, thousands of you shared it with your own friends and family, and hundreds of thousands of you watched it.
The World Game website hit almost 1 million unique users through the World Cup month of June while our man on the ground, Vitor Sobral, was glowing in his praise of coach Alen Stajcic and the entire playing group declaring they were 'wonderful to work with' as he played his part in bringing you all the latest from the Matildas camp during their Canadian odyssey.
However, as good as the numbers have been, it was never the point. We didn’t decide to show the whole tournament to gain huge viewing figures or garner some sort of commercial success. We did it because it was the right thing to do.
At SBS, we are uniquely placed to offer alternatives. We can provide services that other media outlets simply would not bother to. We want to inspire and encourage passion communities and promote diversity and multiculturalism. We want to make a difference.
To this end, the FIFA Women’s World Cup can be held up as a figurehead for our purpose, for what we are about. And it's all those things that we are hugely proud of.
There’s a school of thought that women’s sport doesn’t interest people. People say it’s always going to be inferior to the games played by male counterparts. If that were the case, then this country would only ever show NRL, AFL, and cricket. Women would be relegated to cheerleaders and WAG’s.
“Pass us a beer love, the footy’s on.” How sad. No Cathy Freeman moment. No Dawn Fraser. No Opals, Hockeyroos, thrilling netball finals. No Anna, Sally, Steph, Kerryn, Leisel and Libby.
Perhaps most importantly, no role models for our young kids.
I have a daughter. She’s 7 years-old, going on 17. She swims, plays netball and football, and even cricket sometimes. She cheers on Spurs, Sydney FC and Wests Tigers (rarely) and the Socceroos. But this month I’ve been able to show her another side, an actual team she could get into. I’ve shown her a team of players she can relate to and aspire to, and that is priceless.
The groundswell of support for the Matildas has also opened up many debates around coverage, pay and acceptance.
It’s also opened many eyes. The challenge now, for us at SBS as much as anyone, is to keep those eyes open as the stardust of the World Cup fades.
When it’s back to 'normal' there are no guarantee. Yet for the first time, in forever, I get a real sense of change in the game, a sense that there’s a feeling of something significant building.
The Era of the Matildas is on its way.