The second season of the Women's Super League (WSL) kicked off on Sunday with expectations high after a successful inaugural year. In 2011, riding a post-World Cup wave of popularity, attendances at matches shot up and viewing figures on ESPN were on a par with the men's Scottish Premier League. Speaking at an event to launch the WSL, the FA's Head of the National Game, Kelly Simmons, spoke of the improvement in the level of competition, saying, "We're really happy with year one, we made a lot of progress, put in a lot of building blocks and the players have made it competitive and compelling."
Yet coverage of women's football in the national press and by national broadcasters is minimal. Hope Powell, coach of the English women's football team bemoaned the lack of attention given to women's football on the international scene. Powell said: "Whenever we go abroad, or we're at European finals or World Cup finals, we get zero coverage."
Given that women's football has become the third largest sport in the country in terms of participation, surely this should be represented in the national media? However, the only newspaper that gives any kind of coverage to women's football is the Sunday Mirror, which offers a small section previewing the day's matches. Can more be done to give women's football a place in the national media? Not according to Mick Dennis, football writer on the Daily Express and previous sports editor of the Evening Standard, who said, "To me, it's a bogus equation. Even if women's football is the third most popular sport in the country, the level of attendance at women's football matches rivals that of the games in the Ryman Premier League, which also don't have their fixtures and results put on the sports pages."
Yet perhaps the future of covering women's football does not lie within the parameters of traditional media. Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter have changed the landscape of news reportage. This phenomenon was seen in last year's Women's World Cup final. At its peak the game was the most Tweeted about event in the world with 7,196 Tweets per second.
With this in mind, each of the eight teams in the WSL has a digital ambassador. The designated player will display their unique Twitter handle on the sleeve of their shirts in order to encourage fans to get in touch.
But will the gimmick pay off? The sustainability of the WSL has supported by a £3 million investment by the FA and four commercial sponsors have been brought on board. Yet the women's game remains at a semi-professional basis with little chance of women having the chance to go full-time. The only professional women's football league in America is currently suspended due to a court case and when Fulham Ladies FC tried to go professional in 2000, the experiment failed within six years. But as Simmons points out, "The problem with Fulham is that they tried to go it alone. What we are doing is trying to build things up slowly, making sure that clubs have the right infrastructure, rather than just handing all the money over to the players."
The eight digital ambassadors are:
Arsenal - Stephanie Houghton @stephhoughton2http://twitter.com/#!/stephhoughton2
Birmingham - Laura Bassett @laurabassett6
Bristol Academy - Siobhan Chamberlain @Sio_Chamberlain
Chelsea - Claire Rafferty @clrafferty1
Doncaster Belles - Julie-Ann Russell @Juuulie_Ann
Everton - Jill Scott @JillScott12
Lincoln - Megan Harris @MegsHarris7
Liverpool - Aroon Clansey @AroonClansey
Follow Nick Purves on Twitter: www.twitter.com/londonwordfood