The last eighteen months have seen significant change in how we view women’s sport, be it at an elite or participatory level; and this includes its coverage in the media. As with any initiative, there must be a spark or an idea to kick things off the ground. With the 20×20 project, it has been much more than that.
The campaign was set up in 2018 by creative agency Along Came A Spider with three specific aims to be reached by the end of 2020. Namely, to see a 20% increase in media coverage of women in sport; more female participation at all levels; and an increased attendance at women’s games and events. It’s an initiative that has been long overdue but has the campaign actually worked and is it going in the right direction?
Our current times with the coronavirus pandemic have certainly not helped the project and so it is only fair that the goals may take time to be achieved especially with no fans being allowed to attend matches for public health reasons. Attendances were on the rise before the pandemic however with record attendances at the 2019 All-Ireland ladies football final which was played in front of 56,114 fans and over 250,000 watching on television. The Ireland-Canada hockey Olympic qualifiers were held in Donnybrook, both legs in front of 7,000 fans.
The project also carried out a survey in the last month and yielded some interesting results. 80% of those surveyed said that they were more aware of women’s sport and 61% were supportive of the project. 75% of men also said that they supported the project, so it is certainly an initiative which has universal appeal, a crucial aspect for any project to be successful. There were also successful results in relation to female participation in sport. 42% of women surveyed said that they have participated in more physical activity be it in team sports or individual fitness.
One area which appears to have fallen short is the media coverage. Although there has been an increase, it still falls short of the 20% target. Online coverage has increased by 50% but television coverage on female events fell by 40% in 2019. This is despite an increase from 7% to 18% in Irish TV audience figures for the same year. This could be down to lack of live coverage on TV with many games being streamed online on the TG4 website or RTÉ player and may not be as accessible for some people. As a result, one could argue that accessibility and viewership are the main areas where work needs to be done, something which could be complicated for media organisations who could argue that there is no point showing games if the ratings or audience viewership isn’t high enough to warrant coverage. In this instance, perhaps putting more money into making various women’s sports competitions a more engaging brand – be it through extensive marketing or media promotion on social media and traditional platforms – could be a solution to this fix.
What is encouraging to see is the talent of the current generation of female athletes emerging from Ireland. Katie Taylor who once again proved herself to be an icon of Irish sport last Saturday week has long been a pioneer of women’s boxing and is reaping the rewards that she deserves. Over 2 million people tuned in to watch the fight across Britain and Ireland; Katie Taylor, arguably one of the biggest names in boxing. The Irish women’s hockey were World Cup finalists in 2018 and are preparing for the Olympics in Tokyo next year where a medal could be on the cards. There is promising Irish female talent on the water too as Annalise Murphy won silver in the sailing at the last games in Rio and is consistently in the mix at World Cup events.
Overall, the project has been successful in raising awareness of female participation which in turn has had a positive effect on the level of quality at the elite level which naturally leads to an increased audience. The overall project is not completed yet but it is going in the right direction and with any revolution, it does not happen overnight.