The W-League weekend in 280 characters or less
Melbourne City save face by defeating Perth 1-0, the potential Premiership-decider between Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory is postponed due to a waterlogged pitch, Canberra jump into fourth after tense 1-0 win over Newcastle, and Adelaide stay in finals contention with 3-1 win over Western Sydney.
Here’s the tea
The past three years have seen a number of domestic attendance records broken in women’s club competitions around the world: Atletico Madrid vs. Barcelona (60,739). Portland Thorns vs. North Carolina Courage (25,218). Manchester City vs. Manchester United (31,213). Lyon vs. Paris Saint-Germain (30,661).
We can now add Adelaide United vs. Western Sydney Wanderers to that list. On Sunday afternoon, for the Reds’ final game of the 2020-21 season, 5,159 fans showed up to give them the send-off their impressive campaign has deserved — with the players repaying that enthusiasm in an exciting comeback from 1-0 down to win 3-1.
It may be a fraction of what the world’s biggest clubs have attracted in terms of bums on seats, but differing sporting contexts aside, all of these games had one thing in common: Better marketing.
In the weeks leading up to these particular games, the clubs and leagues involved poured more money and resources than usual into promoting the events themselves with daily newspaper and online articles, video interviews with players and staff, mainstream news spots and features, public posters and billboards, and regular social media pushes. Further, the games were scheduled to be played at some of the best available stadiums — stadiums that the identities of clubs, players, and fans have become deeply tied to.
In other words, the women’s game was organised and marketed just like the men’s game. Is it any surprise, then, that more people showed up to watch given the hype that was deliberately generated around them? That is how the entire advertising industry works, after all.
Ask any Australian football fan what their three biggest suggestions are to improve the professional leagues and you’re almost guaranteed to receive “marketing” as one of the responses. Granted, football in Australia operates in a much more crowded sporting marketplace than it does overseas — competing with the propaganda-machines that are the AFL, NRL and Cricket for the same amount of shrinking mainstream media space — but even within the parameters of football itself, the amount of money and space dedicated to marketing the W-League compared with the A-League is noticeably skewed.
The huge disparity in marketing of the W-League and the A-League is even more baffling in the wider context of the growth of women’s sports over the past few years. There’s a reason the games that opened this section broke those records — all of them were in the wake of the 2019 Women’s World Cup, which smashed global audience figures for a women’s sports event after it attracted over one billion viewers across the tournament. That competition, too, was accompanied by a widespread marketing campaign in the months beforehand, from three-storey-tall billboards of women players in busy public spaces to regular player interviews and updates on major news channels.
None of this is news to you, dear reader. You are here because you have made conscious choices to find content about the W-League; choices you’ve mostly been forced to make because that content is not provided as easily to you as it is in the men’s game. Women’s football fans know all about going the extra mile to find information about the competitions they follow. This past week, we all got a brief, brilliant glimpse into what our lives could be like if that were no longer the case.
Credit should go to Adelaide United, first of all, for not just deciding to go ahead with the attendance record initiative itself, but also for recognising the central role that marketing the game and the league would play in accomplishing it and then doing all the groundwork that led to this history-making moment. Indeed, Adelaide have proven what W-League fans and players have been arguing for years: That if you build it — if you promote it — they will come.
One of my favourite cliches in women’s sport is that “you can’t be what you can’t see.” But there’s something even more basic than that: You can’t see what you can’t see, either. Nobody will invest in your product if they don’t know it exists; nobody will care about what you have to offer them if you don’t give them the opportunity to.
As Australia prepares to co-host the 2023 Women’s World Cup — a tournament whose bid was built on the backbone of gender equality — perhaps our professional leagues could commit, over the next three years, to an equal marketing budget for the competition that has the greatest growth potential of anything else it owns. Because, as we saw in Spain, France, England and the United States after 2019, there are more fans to attract, more money to be made, and more history waiting to be written in the women’s game. All the leagues’ decision-makers need to do is pick up the pen.
Adelaide’s fate is in the hands of the W-League gods now. After their loss against Brisbane Roar saw them bumped out of the top four last week, there was a background hum of concern that Adelaide would “do an Adelaide” once again, stumbling at the final hurdle as they have done in multiple past seasons.
That concern became more pronounced in the 24 hours leading into Adelaide’s final regular-season game against Western Sydney on Sunday afternoon when the ins-and-outs squad list showed star striker Chelsie Dawber unavailable due to concussion.
With captain Dylan Holmes having already departed the club to join Sweden’s BK Hacken, two of the Reds’ main attacking threats were suddenly out of the conversation, and when Wanderers midfielder Olivia Price put the visitors ahead in the fourth minute, Adelaide fans weren’t the only ones worried about who would pull the home side back into the contest.
Step up, Isabel Hodgson. The winger’s strike in the 17th minute seemed to shake the Reds out of their stupor, and they started to play the kind of football that has gotten them this far in the competition. Two more goals to Maruschka Waldus and the recalled Fiona Worts — not to mention several other huge chances created by Mallory Weber, Emily Condon and Maria Cote Rojas — saw Adelaide secure the win they needed to stay within touching distance of history. Their season now hinges on whether Sydney FC can defeat Canberra on Friday. I think we’re all hoping history will be kind to them in return.
It feels strange to realise it, but Melbourne City are seventh on the ladder, only three points behind Western Sydney, and with a game in hand. What the hell? When did that happen?
Well, as we know, the short length of the W-League season means two consecutive wins or two consecutive losses can totally redefine a team’s season. Sometimes it’s for the worst (as may be the case with Adelaide), but sometimes it can work in a team’s favour and save them some face, as it has done with City this season.
Two back-to-back wins over Newcastle and Perth has seen City claw their way back into respectability, and a second win over Perth in the final round next weekend could see them hover mid-table (perhaps even leapfrog Western Sydney on goal difference, though that would require scoring five unanswered goals) by season’s close.
One of the reasons they’re there is Rhali Dobson — the only senior City player carried over from last season. The winger hasn’t had the best goal return record during her time at City, scoring just twice since signing from Newcastle in 2017, and having spent an equal amount of time on the bench as on the field in the last two years.
But Rado Vidosic has showed faith in Dobson a little more this season, particularly after an injury to striker Harriet Withers meant Dobson was required to play a more vital attacking role. She repaid that faith on Friday, scoring her first goal of the season which also happened to be the game-winner against Perth.
While it means nothing in the context of the season, moments and results like this still matter to the team and to the players who are part of it — particularly those who have never really been recognised. So this is a shout-out to you, Rhali – one of the W-League’s unsung veterans with over 100 appearances to their name across the last decade. We see you and we appreciate you.
They didn’t even make it onto the pitch this round, but Sydney FC are likely feeling the walls closing in around them as the league enters its final week. The biblical amount of rain that swept across NSW over the weekend meant their potential Premiership-deciding game against Melbourne Victory was postponed.
The date of the rescheduled match is yet to be decided buty, given all games must be completed within a specific window ahead of finals, it’s likely that the title favourites will have to play two of the most difficult and important games of their season (Victory and Canberra) within the space of a few days in order to make up the deficit.
They could, of course, claim their first Premiership trophy in 10 seasons against Canberra away on Friday, but they’ll have to do it with a squad that’s basically being held together with glue and tape. The club made three emergency signings over the weekend to cover for injuries that have affected them over the course of the season, bringing in Natasha Prior to replace Ellie Brush, Claudia Cholakian for Liz Ralston and Eliza Campbell for Katie Offer.
We all know how much time it can take for new players to gel. For Sydney to potentially have to do it in their final two — and most important — games of the season does not bode well for their title push. The team also hasn’t played a competitive match since March 6 when they lost 2-0 to Adelaide, so they may have lost a smidge of match sharpness, too.
Mathematically, Brisbane (22 points), Canberra (21) and Victory (20) can all still snatch the Premiership from Sydney’s (24) grasp, meaning the Sky Blues need at least three points from their last two games to win the plate. Pass me the paper bag, please.
Is there a gif of that?
We got a glimpse into a potential winter W-League season this past weekend as diabolical weather affected NSW-based teams. The closing minutes of Newcastle’s game against Canberra was barely visible through the curtains of rain, with at least one Canberra United player (who has since been confirmed to be Nikki Flannery) turning to whatever she could find to try and stay dry.
It definitely didn’t work, but extra points for comedy.
— Samantha Lewis (@battledinosaur) March 20, 2021