CHRISTIAN RADNEDGE REPORTS —- Only a matter of weeks have passed since the largest ever FIFA Women’s World Cup came to a close but Moya Dodd already has her eyes on setting up the next big event in the women’s football calendar – a FIFA Women’s Club World Cup.
Australia’s Dodd, co-opted member of the world federation’s executive committee, has expanded on the vision which she addressed at the FIFA Women’s Football Symposium earlier this month in Vancouver.
The men’s Club World Cup was taken over by FIFA in 2000 and has enjoyed mixed success in what is now a two-week format in December because this cuts across the European season. But that is not a concern for a potential women’s event, according to Dodd.
She said: “It’s a different context in women’s football, because there is currently no club tournament in women’s football that commands a global coverage and a global audience.
“That’s clearly not the case in men’s football so there is I think a gap that could be well filled by a global club showcase that is distributed throughout the FIFA broadcast territories.
“That’s one thing FIFA does very well – distributing football throughout the global territories. I think there were 188 territories for this 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup and that’s a lot of the world that’s being covered with women’s football.
“I’m sure that for a club world cup, the distribution channels that FIFA has in place would also be brought to bear to showcase the best players globally.”
Such a showcase would provide the world with more of an opportunity to see the likes of Carli Lloyd, the US star who scored a hat-trick in the women’s world cup final in the 5-2 defeat of Japan to help the Americans win their third world title.
Reviewing the Women’s World Cup, Dodd was sure it could already be judged a significant marker for the women’s game . . . as she explained:
What is your overall assessment of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada?
It stands as a new milestone I think. We had 24 teams for the first time, and that itself meant that the game was able to be spread further around the world; we’ve had extraordinary television audience figures.
This isn’t just a milestone for women’s football though but for football in these important markets which represent a good deal of growth for the game globally.
It’s exciting to see that it’s the women’s game which has been a part of that growth. The viewership in North America and around the world, England included was exceptional. Japan, in front USA, Canada. You saw the release the TV stats on Fox it out-rated an NBA, certainly the Stanley Cup as well.
There’s a good team at FIFA that does the digital stuff. Digital is growing anyway; these are the vents that really give the surge.
The interesting thing about digital and social media is it bypasses the traditional media outlets so there is no editor who is going to demote a story or picture – it is just all out there in cyberspace and the patterns of connection and the patterns of take-up are an unfiltered representation of the true level of interest that there is in this sport, notwithstanding its historical under exposure of women’s football. That’s enormously encouraging.
How do you take those numbers and translate it into something more tangible, something that improves the game, moves it on?
The challenge is to turn an event spike into an everyday high level of interest and I think the key markets and the key member associations in those markets will be looking at that challenge right now and making plans to capitalise on it.
I think the periodic nature of the world cup is a challenge for us to sustain that level of interest between tournaments.
That’s one reason why I’d like to see a club world cup is because you would have an annual major FIFA event showcasing elite women’s football and I think that would resonate with audiences, it would help to establish the player brands, the team brands and that would build up the everyday level of interest in the sport.
The men’s tournament struggles with exposure because of the timing of it, coming in the middle of European regular season?
It’s a different context in women’s football, because there is currently no club tournament in women’s football that commands a global coverage and a global audience.
That’s clearly not the case in men’s football, so there is I think a gap that could be well filled by a global club showcase that is distributed throughout the FIFA broadcast territories. That’s one thing FIFA does very well – distributing football throughout the global territories.
I think there were 188 territories for this tournament – that’s a lot of the world that’s being covered with women’s football. I’m sure that for a club world cup, the distribution channels that fifa has in place would also be brought to bear to showcase the best players globally.
Club football obviously has different dimensions to national team football.
One of those is the exceptional players whose country isn’t represented at the finals can still be showcased in those club tournaments.
So from men’s football Ryan Giggs was a good example; in women’s football Jess Fishlock the captain of Wales is a good example and there are many others. So in a way that would actually open up more country-wide interest in this tournament because they would actually have more players that could play in this tournament.
How do you garner more media interest in women’s football?
Obviously FIFA doesn’t control the media, and in building media interest is I think the media sponsors and many parties outside FIFA and outside football’s governing bodies have parts to play.
I think this tournament will have awoken many in the football ecosphere of media, sponsors, marketing executives, I think they will have been awoken to the possibilities that the women’s game holds.
It’s been talked about for years now, maybe decades but when you see the women’s world cup final being the top rating football match in the US on Fox ever for any game men’s or women’s then you have to recognise the potential that it holds.
You were a big part of the FIFA Women’s Symposium in Vancouver at the end of the tournament – how do you feel that was received?
I thought the symposium was excellent. There are very few opportunities that the women’s football community has to gather and you know share challenges and solutions and to network. Typically the women’s football representatives that came to the symposium would not be delegates at the congress for example. So to have them together, to have the women’s game as the topic of conversation for three days was very energising for all the delegates and speakers. It was heartening to see the challenges discussed with such frankness and to see the recognition of the important role that women need to play in the future of football.
The final day was one where the decision makers were encouraged to come into the room and hear the testimonies if you like of leading male advocates of the game such as Sunil Gulati the head of US Soccer. I think those testimonies are really important to persuade the presidents around the world that this is an opportunity they can’t ignore. And there are real benefits for the game in their country if they take those opportunities. I think it’s clear that women need to play a bigger role in the future governance of the game and that that will greatly enhance it. I think it’s clear that women need to keep playing the game in competitions that are higher and better level. Because the product that is being shown now is hugely entertaining and it’s a great addition to the product line of football, if you want to think about it in marketing terms. It’s of huge benefit to the brand of football globally that women’s football is taking its place.
There must have been a sense of relief that Blatter and Valcke weren’t there because the focus then was purely on the football – there wasn’t any distraction or sideshow?
I think the game is always going to speak for itself on grand final day.
Yet you experienced a chorus of boos when the FIFA dignitaries were introduced for the trophy presentation?
I didn’t pay too much attention to that, I think that’s the awards presentations are for the players not for the officials.
Someone’s got to hand over the trophy but at the end of the day those are the moments that belong to the players. So it was their moment.
But a whole stadium booing – that speaks a lot about the image of FIFA?
It was a first for me to experience that but again I didn’t pay too much attention to it because those moments are for the players.
As for the final itself, that was the third successive major final between Japan and the US. Is that an issue for concern given that many had expected a stronger showing from Europe?
I think in the end, it is remarkable that we’ve seen those teams do so well in the last few tournaments but I think that the gap between the best teams was pretty small in this tournament and it comes down to one outstretched foot or a bit of luck here or there which is often the difference between winning or losing at this level.
The Americans were almost on home soil. I think in a way it was more remarkable in 2011 that there was no European team in the final because that was in Europe last time.
But I think European women’s football is strong because you look at the rankings and if you look at the top ten Europe is very well represented and four of the top six currently and UEFA hold top class competitions for the national teams as well, particularly the frequency of the youth tournaments is unmatched in the rest of the world.
To be having under-17 and under-19 tournaments every year is something that the rest of world looks on with a little bit of envy. Because those playing opportunities are invaluable to the development of young players, and they have the resources to do that.