Why 2017 Will Be The Biggest Year Yet For Women In Sport

WBBL02 opened to record TV audience figures in just its second year

WBBL02 opened to record TV audience figures in just its second year

The Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) kicked off on the weekend with a bang bigger than the sound of the ball slamming on Meg Lanning’s bat for that monster of a six.

If Cricket Australia was impressed with the audience figures of last year’s inaugural season, they’ll be blown away with the opening weekend this year.

The WBBL games again outrated the A-League and NBL with the prime-time match between the Sydney Thunder and Melbourne Stars peaking with a national audience of 637,000. The average audience for the second session was a 67% increase on the season average in WBBL01.

 

 

 

And this is just the beginning of what is the biggest year for Women in Sport yet.

Following the women’s Big Bash, the AFL Women’s League will launch its inaugural season on February 4, then in March the new Super Netball will kick off.

All three sports will be broadcast on the main free to air networks, for netball and AFL for the first time. Never before have we been exposed to so many women’s sports.

Here’s the thing: this has to work.

It’s taken generations to get to this point; to develop the women’s game, to challenge outdated and ignorant attitudes that women’s sport isn’t interesting, to finally have the opportunity to work towards gender equality in professional sport.

Put simply, fail now and we’ll be waiting a decade before women are given another opportunity like this. 

 

Put simply, fail now and we’ll be waiting a decade before women are given another opportunity like this.

 

Initial fears are that this has all come too soon. The AFL brought forward their plan for a professional women’s league from 2020, the Netball only announced the new competition and broadcast deal with Channel 9 last year and the WBBL surprised both broadcasters and its governing body at its immediate popularity and fame. In a rush to get to the destination, were we forgetting to build a sturdy path for our journey? If so, will the critics and naysayers destroy this opportunity before it’s had time to develop?

And develop is the key word here. 2017 is the starting point.

These leagues aren’t expecting to match their male counterparts immediately. But as the quality and audience grows, so too will the sponsors and the money in the game. The AFL and NRL 20 years ago weren’t at the standard they are today and the players weren’t paid the kind of salaries of modern day footballers. Professional male sports have a head start of decades on women’s sports. Their game grew and so too did the rewards. The women’s game will grow too and at an accelerated rate but day dot is next year.

These competitions need to be judged on their own merits and shouldn’t be compared to the men’s. They’re essentially a whole new ball game and the most important person they have to impress is that little girl in the crowd. That little girl who loves her sport, who lives and breathes it, that little girl who dreams of competing on the world stage and when she sees a Meg Lanning, Sharni Layton or Katie Brennan doing just that, she’s inspired. She can relate to those girls, she can see herself in those girls. So when she reaches puberty and peer pressure tells her that sport’s not cool, she can look to those women and know it is. Exposing her to those women tells her that she can achieve anything in life, whether on the sporting field or off it.

But it’s not just about the little girl out there, it’s about the little boy as well. At the WBBL games on the weekend, there were a large number of little boys watching on, who leaned over the fence with their pens, bats and posters hoping to get the autograph of one of the female stars of the game. 

 

 

For social change to happen, you need to involve the other 50% of the population, the men. Exposing little boys to the women’s game teaches them from an early age that sport is about women not just about men. It shows them women are just as much the professional athlete as men. It shows them women are equal to men. Generational change happens right here.

In addition to the WBBL, AFL and Netball, there’s also the women’s Rugby 7s tournaments with new stops on their tour and the Rugby League World Cup which, for the first time, will hold the women’s at the same time as the men’s.

I hope we look back on 2017 as a landmark year for women in sport, a litmus test that challenged our sporting culture and changed the face of sport for generations to come. I hope I tell my grandchildren about this year and they look at me in disbelief that anyone ever thought professional women’s sports could never work.

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