Record Engagement – Optus Sport’s Mission to Elevate Women’s Football
Optus Sport’s rapturously received coverage of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup was the culmination of its commitment to football – and its support for the growth of the women’s game – over several years.
Unprecedented interest in the tournament, which was co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand for the first time, was undeniably bolstered by the Matildas’ dream semi-final run. But Optus Sport’s investment in digital and social media content to complement its broadcasts intensified Australians’ engagement with the World Cup, the teams and the players.
Far from being a watershed peak followed by an inevitable dip in appeal until the next World Cup rolls around in four years’ time, Optus Sport is dedicated to carving out an unbreakable foothold in the hearts and minds of sports fans and wider society for women’s football on the back of the tournament’s success.
“We’re proud of what we delivered at the World Cup but we don’t see it as an endpoint – we see it as an anchor point,” Optus Sport’s Director of Sport, Production and Content Walid Sukkarieh tells Ministry of Sport.
“We began on this journey a long time ago, our content team are football fans and we all see ourselves as having a responsibility to grow the game we love. And for women’s football, in particular, to showcase it.”
Optus Sport’s headline attraction following its 2016 launch was gaining the rights to the English Premier League. The streaming network soon unveiled its future compass for football coverage by picking up local regional competitions, youth tournaments and the U-20 and U-17 Women’s World Cups.
The acquisition of rights to the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup and the Women’s Super League – the 12-team professional league in England regarded as the best domestic competition in women’s football – that year was another crucial pivot for Optus Sport.
“We went in early and picked up the World Cup in France and we then were one of the first broadcasters in the world to pick up the Women’s Super League,” Sukkarieh says.
“Part of that for us is championing women’s football and the core of what we do. But obviously then that has a broader impact – if you can raise the profile of the biggest participation sport in Australia, and you do it well and continue to invest in football, it will have an impact on other sports as well.”
“We were super proud to be the broadcaster for the (2023) World Cup. Once we secured the rights we were just excited by being able to bring that to life for an Australian home tournament.
“And we knew that we could reach not just football fans, but a broader audience with that. By doing that and amplifying amazing female athletes, people get inspired.”
“With the Matildas getting into the semis, we’re extremely excited about the Women’s Super League – as we have been for many years – but obviously this time with that extra flavour (of the World Cup’s impact).”
RECORDS ARE MADE TO BE BROKEN
Among the slew of extraordinary viewership numbers the FIFA Women’s World Cup garnered, the event attracted the highest total minutes streamed for a tournament in Optus Sport’s history, dwarfing the likes of the men’s World Cup in 2018, and the men’s and women’s UEFA European Football Championships.
Meanwhile, Optus Sport enjoyed its biggest-ever month in terms of minutes streamed overall.
“To contextualise that, we’ve got Premier League, La Liga, J-League and K-League at the same time, so we’ve got a lot of football constantly playing – but the World Cup during this single-month period exceeded anything we’ve ever done,” Sukkarieh shares.
Subscribers watched over 21 hours each of tournament coverage – an extraordinary amount. But the way in which viewers watched World Cup matches also illustrated a significant shift, as Sukkarieh explains.
“Seventy-five percent of people watched on connected TVs – normally it’s about fifty-fifty between TV and smaller devices.
“What that tells us is people are watching as families, it’s a together moment. It’s really important, because you’ve got the whole family together watching female athletes; when we watch rugby league and rugby (union) and so on, often these sports are anchored on the family getting together.
“This tournament has brought that to life (for women’s football) and that’s very indicative of the numbers (for) the big screen. Three of our top five matches ever shown on Optus Sport – and nine of the top 20 – across any competition for minutes streamed are now FIFA Women’s World Cup matches. It’s cut through so deeply across new audiences and our existing audience.”
The Matildas inspired millions and changed the game forever.
The Matildas broke records on and off the pitch.
The Matildas made an entire country fall in love with the beautiful game.
The Matildas proved, once and for all, that we ARE a football nation.
The journey ends… pic.twitter.com/SpvOyKLOzJ
— Optus Sport (@OptusSport) August 16, 2023
BEFORE AND AFTER THE WHISTLE
Optus Sport forecast the runaway popularity of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup by ploughing resources into it’s pre- and post-match coverage, along with hundreds of online articles and thousands of social media posts and clips to further involve a captive audience hungry for content.
Over 100 million views on social media platforms and 3.6 million Australians reached paints a staggering picture of the tournament’s rare levels of engagement.
“If I can pat our team on the back for a second, (it was) amazing coverage from our team, phenomenally received and almost universal praise for the way in which it was delivered, the talent on-screen delivering as well as the ones hidden away behind the scenes,” Sukkarieh beams.
“This is maybe me as a dreamer because I’m a football person (but) we anticipated a huge tournament – it was a cultural event, it was huge.
“It was always set to land like it did and our coverage model was built around that anticipation. We built a coverage model that was basically in your face all the time – long pre-match, long post-match – because we anticipated people would want to watch. Thankfully they did.
“People were engaging with the stories beyond the pitch. If there was something that we hoped would happen, it was people were not just watching the football, they were actively learning about the players. Really understanding the nuances around not just women’s football or sport, but the stories and inspiration behind these amazing athletes and the people who were delivering this tournament on the field.”
“For us that’s a massive win. For sports and generally for broader society to be able to engage with the tournament and women’s sport … this is the start of something way, way bigger.”
A SPORT FOR ALL
Sukkarieh revealed that while the FIFA Women’s World Cup attracted a substantial new audience of female viewers, it also retained much of its rusted-on male football fans for the tournament.
That even gender split extended to the consumption of content beyond the broadcast coverage.
“We have the Premier League, an overnight competition (for Australian viewers), as our anchor – we’re skewed generally towards that 24- to 55-year-old male demographic.
“What we started to see (during the World Cup) – and it’s hard to get gender split (viewing figures) when families are watching, of course – but when we look at the lead indicators for article reads, there was a fifty-fifty gender split.
“So we had a lot of men engaging, and we’re talking 7 million article reads. It was the same with our social content on TikTok – naturally those platforms are more female-skewed, but the fact males as well as females were engaging significantly … is extremely encouraging.
“It shows the impact of the tournament: While also attracting women it’s continuing to attract male sports fans as well.”
The far-reaching influence of the World Cup is destined to have multifaceted positive upshots for women’s sport and beyond.
“We are confident that the halo effect will be across society more broadly and sport more broadly and female sport more broadly,” Sukkarieh affirms.
“We know young children – girls and boys – will be inspired by what they’ve just experienced in the tournament.
“I’ve got two little boys and they’ve never asked me for a Socceroos jersey, but they both now have Matildas jerseys. They wake up and watch WSL highlights – they’re from last year but they don’t care, they just want to see Sam Kerr on the screen.
“That is what we want to try and create: boys, girls, families, everyone just looking at women’s sport … and engaging with women’s sport the same way they would all sport.”
The scintillating quality of the on-field product, along with the drama the FIFA Women’s World Cup produced and the passion it inspired from supporters, has cemented women’s football – and female sport generally – as a looming juggernaut in its own right.
Increased corporate and media investment is naturally set to follow, which should help expediate a long overdue closing of the gender gap in broadcast deals, facilities and pay for athletes. Sukkarieh says Optus Sport celebrates its role at the forefront of championing the cause.
“We are proud to invest in women’s sport and we have been consistent in doing that. We’ve invested in a couple of World Cups now, we’re pleased to see that it’s been embraced, we knew it would be a successful event.
“But we also believe that it’s important for brands, such as ourselves, to step up and invest in women’s sport and we’re confident we’ve helped to drive that.
“(As well as) broadcast rights, our coverage was deliberately very strong because we believe it showcases the sport in the way it deserves. That then drives more exposure and enables more investment, not just (from) broadcasters but other brands. It’s a whole cycle of investment.
“We’re always looking at ways we can improve on showcasing women’s sport generally, and women’s football in particular for us. By covering it, it organically grows the whole pool, which then grows the sport and benefits the athletes.”
The historic achievements of the World Cup catapulted Optus Sport into the consciousness – and living rooms – of many, many thousands of Australians who were perhaps previously unaware of its faithful commitment to growing the sport.
But Sukkarieh reiterates that the tournament is merely a step, albeit it an effervescent and game-changing one, on Optus Sport’s quest to unlocking top-level women’s football’s full potential as a product.
The upcoming 2023-24 Women’s Super League campaign, which runs from October 1-May 18, is the next immediate step – and the presence of 13 Australians (with more to come if the rumour mill is to be believed) including 10 Matildas squad members is set to make it Optus Sport’s biggest season since securing broadcast rights in 2019.
“We’re in a position where we can continue to champion not only those players – though it’s very important, because it’s the best of the best playing in the best competition in the world – but tell the stories of women’s football. Storytelling is such an important part of what we do, be it based around ex-players who paved the way, current players or the future generation.
“Our focus very much remains on amplifying and championing women’s football in this country and getting people to engage with that.
“We definitely see ourselves whilst covering women’s football, (also) playing a key role in ensuring that … focusing on the growth of women’s sport is very much front of mind.
“We’ve been there, we (are) there and we’re going to stay there – that’s our plan.”
OPTUS SPORT’S 2023 FIFA WOMEN’S WORLD CUP COVERAGE BY THE NUMBERS
- Coverage of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023™ delivered the highest total minutes streamed for a tournament in Optus Sport history
- Biggest month ever in Optus Sport history for total minutes streamed
- On average, Optus Sport customers watched more than 21 hours of FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023™ coverage, with 75% viewing on TVs.
- Three FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023™ matches are now in Optus Sport’s top five games of all time in terms of minutes streamed
- Nine FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023™ matches now in the top 20 overall.
- Over 100 million video views across all social platforms throughout the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023™.
- Over 4000 pieces of content created/published throughout the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023™.
- Optus Sport social platforms reached approximately 3.6 million Australians.
- Over 400 articles on the FIFA Women’s World Cup were published during the tournament, marking the highest monthly engagement in Optus Sport history with 7 million reads.
- Optus Sport FIFA Women’s World Cup Google Web Stories for the Matildas matches against France and England are the highest viewed Google Web Stories recorded in Australia.
- Of the 7mil + article reads and 20-million video views on TikTok, there was a 50/50 gender split.