Floodlight farce shows women’s sport still lags behind

We’re a sports-mad PR agency and have worked on all sorts of successful campaigns around rugby, soccer, golf, sailing and many other sports over the years.

We’re big into football, and last year our client Continental Tyres signed a major new deal with the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) that really gave our Sports PR division something to get its teeth into. Conti is now an official partner of women’s football in Ireland and title sponsor of the Women’s National League, the Women’s FAI Cup and the FAI’s elite development camps.

The deal was welcomed as a major shot in the arm, not just for women’s football but for women’s sport in general, which we were pretty pleased about, firstly because we love sport (have we mentioned that?) and secondly because women’s sport still, STILL, gets a relatively raw deal.

Okay, there are brands like Continental Tyres, AON Insurance (rugby), Tesco/TG4 (GAA) and Liberty Insurance (camogie) who buck the trend but the sad fact is, in terms of marketing and sponsorship, in terms of TV coverage and exposure, in terms of following and attendance, women’s sport still lags a long way behind men’s sport.

This is not only a shame but a huge injustice. As anyone who follows women’s sport will tell you, the level of skill, commitment, talent, dedication, you name it, is right up there. Mobile phone companies should be paying to get their logos on women’s shirts. TV companies should be forking out to broadcast their matches. National sporting bodies should be creating a serious buzz around women’s sport.

But it ain’t happening.

Last Friday we got another classic example. While Ireland’s under-20 (men’s) rugby team was beating France in Athlone in front of the RTE cameras, over in Ashbourne, Ireland lost 10-5 against France in the Women’s Six Nations. No TV cameras, needless to say, which was probably a blessing in disguise as it turned out because the floodlights went out. Not once but twice. Yep, in a Six Nations game between Ireland and France, the lights went out.

Pretty embarrassing stuff, and you have to wonder what the visiting French made of it. (At least winning the game would have cheered them up.) You might also wonder why the game was played there in the first place – Ashbourne RFC is a fantastic club with a proud tradition but is it really the best available venue for what should have been one of the showpiece matches in this season’s Women’s Six Nations?

This Ireland Women’s team, after all, have beaten the All Blacks, and reached the semi-final of last year’s Women’s Rugby World Cup. They deserve better than floodlight failure on a cold February night. They deserve to be playing in Musgrave Park or Kingspan Stadium or even the RDS, running out in front of a big, excited crowd that has been drawn to the venue by a proper marketing campaign.

This isn’t just about women’s sport at the highest level. It’s also about the thousands of young girls around Ireland who excel at rugby, soccer, netball, badminton, running, whatever, but who see how little attention is paid to women’s sport – relatively speaking – and wonder if it’s worth continuing with. That’s the real shame.

Let’s hope more companies follow the example of Continental Tyres. Let’s also get behind the Ireland Women’s team in their next game against England the weekend after next. It’s not on TV, by the way.

(Photo © AFP)