FROM a media perspective, my experience at the Stadion Essen last Saturday was a genuine eye-opener. The occasion? A women’s football match between Germany and Scotland.
Although only a friendly, the game was transmitted live on terrestial television by the German public service broadcaster, ZDF. They also provided a live stream on their website.
On the morning of the match, the newspaper at my hotel led its broadsheet sports section with a full page feature on the German women’s team manager, Silvia Neid.
As we drove to the match from nearby Oberhausen, roadside billboards had huge posters, with pictures of the top female players, publicising the game.
At the recently-built stadium, a 44-page glossy A4 match programme was packed with information and adverts – including a double page spread for Mercedes-Benz in the middle.
The atmosphere at the ground, which is shared by women’s Bundesliga side, SGS Essen, and the men’s club, Rott-Weiss Essen, was upbeat and family-friendly. The glass-windowed hospitality suite running almost the length of the main stand was packed with lunchers.
On a warm early afternoon, even The Proclaimers got an airing as the teams warmed up, while, trackside, a former German woman internationalist anchored the television coverage.
The attendance at the suitably-sized stadium was almost 10,000 – this, despite the game going out live.
I counted an incredible 73 accredited Press photographers with cameras poised waiting for the teams to appear from the dressing rooms.
Struck by this huge media interest, I used my laptop to look at the BBC Scotland Sport website.
If there was anything about the game, I couldn’t find it, suggesting – as is nearly always the case, in my experience – that the match wasn’t deemed worthy of proper coverage.
Nowadays, most of Scotland’s newspapers allocate space to the Scotland women’s team. Some more than others, but the overall coverage is definitely increasing.
Media organisations are waking up to the huge potential of the sport. To ignore such a fast-growing market risks looking way behind the curve. Germany, to continue the example, has over one million registered female footballers.
BBC Scotland doesn’t even have a commercial aspect to consider. It is a public service broadcaster, funded by the licence fee to which men and women contribute, compulsorily.
It seems to be a different story down south, where women’s football is championed on the BBC by Clare Balding and others. England women’s matches are regularly screened live on the BBC network, which has also made a substantial commitment to covering next month’s European Championship in Sweden.
Here in Scotland, even some World Cup and European Championship qualifying games have barely been acknowledged by BBC Scotland – whether online, or on radio and television sports bulletins.
Contrast that with what was happening in Germany for a mere friendly.
It’s not as if the Scotland women’s team hasn’t earned respect. Although they lost to the multiple European champions, their previous five games resulted in a draw with England, followed by wins over Italy, Holland, Wales and Iceland.
They are ranked 21st out of 176 countries by football’s world governing body, FIFA.
Essen was a revelation. But then again, what do the Germans know about football and how to cover it?
Alan Campbell is a freelance journalist who includes women’s football among the sports he covers.
Pic: Alistair Devine.