Exposure has been the single greatest ally to the growth of women’s football in recent years – that much was clear when prime television slots on the BBC resulted in more than 28m in cumulative viewing figures in the UK for the 2019 World Cup.
International football has tended to lead the way when it comes to the women’s side of the sport, with popularity and interest in England often receiving sizeable boosts whenever the Lionesses are playing at a major tournament.
In that sense, Euro 2022 on home soil this summer, for which the FA is targeting tickets sales three times that of the hugely successful Euro 2017 in Netherlands five years ago, will be another massive moment for women’s football.
The club game, while around for decades – the Women’s FA Cup was first contested in 1971 as soon as the FA’s 50-year ban was lifted – has only grown in mainstream prominence more recently.
Having seen a big spike in interest off the back of the 2019 World Cup, when accessible kick-off times in France gave the Lionesses greater traction back home than had been the case in Canada four years earlier, the club game has enjoyed commercial partnership with Barclays and a broadcast deal with Sky Sports and the BBC to help raise its profile further.
But the news in recent days that WSL teams, along with those from France, Germany and the American NWSL, could appear in FIFA 23 would be another seismic step forward in terms of brand exposure, global marketing and accessibility.
EA Sports has included top women’s international teams in each of the last seven FIFA games, dating back to FIFA 16. It has been a popular step and has introduced those teams and players to an audience that might otherwise never have taken an interest.
Dedicated women’s football fans had already been calling on EA to go further for several years. Now, it looks like those wishes will soon be granted.
“It can only help,” said Manchester United manager Marc Skinner when 90min asked him about the expected addition to the globally-popular franchise.
“We’re working consistently on the exposure of the game. Years ago, we wouldn’t even be having press conferences or conversations with people that can spread the word,” he added, referencing the speed at which general coverage of women’s football has grown in recent times.
“[FIFA 23] would be a huge market to show people who we are, to continue that exposure. It’s big mediums like that which can give a real boost to an industry that is growing in its own right.”
It has to be done right, however. One of the main criticisms of the existing women’s teams in FIFA 22 and previous editions is poor levels of player likeness – compared to Premier League players who have often stunningly realistic facial scans. Inaccurate or out of date player ratings is another.
Overall, having women’s club teams included in FIFA games going forward would be an extraordinarily powerful tool for exposure.
Who is to say that a gamer who discovers Arsenal Women, Chelsea Women, Manchester City Women, or whoever, on a video game won’t then go on become attached to that team and take an interest in those players in real life as well.