Soccer has the widest global following of any women’s sport, but it’s still shooting for the goal of equality. Shutterstock spoke with SeeHer, the largest global movement to eliminate gender bias in marketing, advertising, media, and entertainment, to put the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup—and women’s sports as a whole—in context.
Every four years the FIFA Women’s World Cup brings women’s soccer front and center on a global stage. After kicking off on July 20th, the 2023 tournament is spanning Australia and New Zealand, with 32 teams—including the defending U.S. champions, led by team captain Becky Sauerbrunn, Carli Lloyd, and Megan Rapinoe—vying for the title. And Shutterstock Editorial’s photographers are on the sidelines to capture all the best photos and highlights throughout the month-long tournament.
But to players, fans, and the larger role of women in sports, the FIFA Women’s World Cup is far more than statistics, scores, and dates. It means a captive audience for female athletes. Because, with 22% of the world’s eyes on the sport, soccer boasts the largest following of any women’s sport globally.
The Women’s World Cup’s history is rooted in strength and defiance. The first instance of a Women’s World Cup goes back to 1970s Italy—at a time when some countries still banned women’s soccer.
As those restrictions were lifted and new teams were established, the 1988 FIFA Women’s Invitation Tournament in China served as a test for whether a global women’s World Cup was feasible. When 45,000 spectators turned up for China’s opening match versus Canada, the answer was declared a resounding yes!
In 1991, the FIFA Women’s World Cup (then called the FIFA Women’s World Championship) held its first international tournament with a single sponsor and no prize money.
Cut to today. In 2023—with over 1,032,000 tickets sold—all players in the FIFA Women’s World Cup will receive $30,000, with each of the 23 winning players earning a $270,000 paycheck. With a total prize pool of $150 million—more than double 2019’s—there’s still a long way to go when compared to the 2022 men’s tournament’s $440 million prize.
To that end, FIFA President Gianni Infantino has set a goal of having equal prize money for both the men’s and women’s tournaments by 2026 and 2027, respectively.
That change can’t come soon enough. And leading the battle cry is SeeHer, a global collective of marketers, media organizations, and industry influencers committed to creating advertising and supporting content that portrays women and girls as they really are.
To get a unique perspective on the subject, we spoke with SeeHer’s President, Christine Guilfoyle, to learn what is already being done and the necessary changes needed to positively impact women’s portrayals in sports.
Shutterstock: Can you tell us about SeeHer’s mission?
Christine Guilfoyle: SeeHer was launched in 2016 at the Obama White House during the State of Women’s Conference. The Association of National Advertisers, the largest trade organization representing Marketers, learned that gender equality and the authentic and accurate representation of women and girls was on the minds for those that created media, marketing, advertising, and entertainment content.
SeeHer was launched to address this very particular need. Looking at gender through the intersectional lens of race, religion, ethnicity, body type, age, ability, and sexual orientation. All women and girls should feel seen, heard, and valued in all their multiplicity.
We have learned through Gender Equality Measurement testing (GEM®), that depicting characters respectfully, authentically, and without stereotypes is good for society and is a business growth driver.
SeeHer’s biggest goal is to serve the membership, a coalition of the world’s leading marketers, media companies, platforms, advertising agencies, and research companies. All member companies have a chair at the gender equality table and access to GEM® testing, thought leadership, trainings, campaign amplification, events, and more.
SSTK: What opportunity do you see to further your mission specifically related to the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup?
Guilfoyle: In 2019, SeeHer launched the SeeHer in Sports vertical with the mission to improve the portrayal and increase the visibility and distribution of women in sports. In 2019, the FIFA Women’s Final reached 14.3 Million U.S. viewers, which was 22% more than had watched the men’s final the previous year.
Yet, in 2019, 1% of U.S. sponsorship fees went towards women’s sports. SeeHer has been focused on getting that sponsorship number to grow by informing the marketer community and amplifying great case studies of those marketers that double down on women’s sports.
Our research shows that 42% of adults globally say they became interested in women’s sports when they watched international events like the Olympics and the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
This world stage will inspire the next generation of female football stars. FIFA has shared that women’s football is their single biggest opportunity.
SSTK: What strategies and initiatives has SeeHer implemented to enhance the portrayal of women in sports?
Guilfoyle: You can’t improve what you don’t track! The SeeHer in Sports Scorecard, powered by AT&T, was launched in 2022. There is a scorecard for brands, media, teams, leagues, and venues.
We asked SeeHer members and the industry at large to make a commitment to filling out the card so that each company understands where they are in their journey and can benchmark their starting point.
Goals for the next five years were encouraged so that the momentum continues. Change needs to start somewhere. 83% of adults say, “Better representation of women in professional sports will further women’s equality.” Yet only 29% of adults think female athletes get as much respect as male athletes.
SSTK: What challenges have you encountered in your efforts to improve the portrayal and visibility of women in sports, and how have you addressed or overcome them?
Guilfoyle: Women’s sports need to be promoted, distributed, and aired at better times. 40% of adults say that women’s sports get less media coverage including reporting, highlighting, and airing the games.
Research reveals that women’s sports total only 4% of all sports media. 35% of adults say that lack of knowledge about the teams and/or athletes cause fans to be less engaged.
SeeHer media company and platform members are leaned in to providing opportunities and awareness to a broader range of sports, athletes, and improved airing of game times.
If we look at the NCAA Women’s March Madness final as a benchmark, the 9.9 million viewership set a record for NCAA women’s basketball viewers tuning into ABC, marking a 103% year over year increase.
These viewership records attract major sponsors who are eager to associate themselves with the event’s success.
SSTK: Can you share any success stories or notable achievements that SeeHer has accomplished in terms of enhancing the portrayal and visibility of women in sports?
Guilfoyle: Brands can tap this well of possibility with a smart, informed approach to media planning and buying that favors authentic representation and portrayals. They should not just move money around from male sports to female sports. They need to develop plans that are true to their mission and core strategies.
They can push for media coverage to include both sides. And they must actively champion gender equality. AT&T, Ally Financial, Coca Cola, General Motors, PepsiCo, and Unilever are just some of the SeeHer Member brands that have aggressively pursued sponsorship of women’s sports.
In terms of creative, not surprisingly, efforts to support women’s sports are also effective when they are representative and authentic.
Don’t do something negative against men to build up women. Don’t showcase a girl with a ponytail holding up a trophy when your boys’ ad has the players down and dirty and sweating on the field. Is your campaign diverse and inclusive, on both sides of the camera?
How athletes, professional or otherwise, are shown in advertising should be the same no matter what the gender of the athletes may be.
SSTK: How do you measure success and identify areas for improvement?
Guilfoyle: Organizationally, brands that prosper through women’s sports build gender equality and diversity metrics into their KPIs. Ad agencies, working side by side with their marketer partners, should be accountable for gender authenticity in storytelling.
Representation should be throughout the entire creative ecosystem, in front of and behind the camera.
SSTK: Looking ahead to the future, what are SeeHer’s long-term objectives for improving the portrayal and visibility of women in sports beyond the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup?
Guilfoyle: Since we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the passage of Title IX last June, the landmark U.S. Department of Education mandate that bars sex discrimination in any program receiving federal financial assistance, awareness for women’s sports has grown.
Title IX sparked a revolution in women’s sports, which continues to have enormous upside for brands.
The teams are there, the eyeballs are there, the participation is there, and the passion is powerful and rising. Almost half of National Football League fans are female. Women make up one-third of the National Basketball Association audience. ESPN telecasts of women’s gymnastics, soccer, and basketball are setting records.
44% of all professional athletes are female, per the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women In Sport.
Women’s sports are not just a phenomenon. They are not a mere trend. It’s a sea change in our culture, with powerful societal benefits. According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, participation in athletics gives young women greater confidence, more body positivity, increased self-esteem, and lower depression levels.
Ernst & Young and espnW tell us that a whopping 96% of C-suite female executives in the U.S. have played a sport.
SSTK: Any words you’d like to leave us on?
Guilfoyle: Embrace the theme of this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup: Beyond Greatness.
According to FIFA, the two-word catch cry is about “pushing yourself to go beyond your limits, beyond what you think is possible, beyond your doubts and expectations” and will “provide the spark of inspiration that ignites a new era for women’s football.” This catch cry should inspire our work.
The atmosphere has changed. Millennial and Gen Z consumers demand that brands stand for purpose and authenticity. Women’s sports are a big player in that evolution. Gender equality in media and entertainment is good for society and drives brand reputation, purchase intent, and increased sales for brands.
If you can see her, you can be her.
Plus, see what other stock photos soccer fans are searching for.
About Christine Guilfoyle
In December 2022, Christine Guilfoyle was named president at SeeHer, the leading global collective of marketers, media organizations, and industry influencers committed to creating advertising and supporting content that portrays women and girls as they really are. Guilfoyle has been with the company since 2021 in the role of Executive Vice President, Membership.
During that time, SeeHer’s global membership increased to more than 7,250 brands. She helped members embed SeeHer’s expansive portfolio of tools, measurement, best practices, and trackers into their workstreams; led member support of SeeHer key initiatives, SeeHer in Sports and SeeHer Hear Her, and launched SeeHer Health.
She has held strategic leadership roles at some of America’s most beloved women’s lifestyle brands like Better Homes & Gardens, Martha Stewart Living, EveryDay with Rachael Ray, Shape, and more, with a focus on leading, transitioning, launching, and growing multi-channel media brands.
At the Meredith Corporation, Guilfoyle was SVP/Group Publisher of Martha Stewart Living and Martha Stewart Weddings. She also led the launch of The Magnolia Journal and Allrecipes Magazine, and integrated the acquisitions of Every Day with Rachael Ray, Eating Well, and Shape.
Guilfoyle also served as Publisher of Women’s Wear Daily where she led the transformation from a daily trade newspaper to a comprehensive multi-channel global media brand.
In addition, Guilfoyle led the team that launched Every Day with Rachael Ray which won the Launch of the Year Award from Advertising Age, Adweek, and MIN. FOLIO named her to its inaugural “Top Women in Media” list in 2014.
In 2016, she was inducted into MIN’s Sales Hall of Fame and, in 2017, received the FOLIO honor of “Top 100 Honoree.”
She has been a long-standing member of Cosmetic Executive Women (CEW), She Runs It, and New York Women in Communications. Guilfoyle has been on the Board of Directors for Marist College School of Continuing Education and the New York University Summer Publishing Institute.
*Disclaimer: Shutterstock is not affiliated with FIFA Women’s World Cup™.
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