Can the Matildas’ halo effect last after the World Cup?

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Eli Mengem is back in his home country, covering the FIFA Women’s World Cup for London-based soccer media company Copa90.

Working at Copa90 for a decade, Mengem has directed and presented a catalogue of documentaries exploring the culture of the “world game” around the globe, contributing to the channel’s 128 million YouTube views.

His Once in a Lifetime documentary for Copa90, following the fans of Trabzonspor as the club won the Turkish Super Lig for the first time in 38 years, won sports documentary of the year at the 2022 Broadcast Sport Awards in London.

He chats with this masthead about the tournament so far.

Copa90’s Eli MengemCredit: Calum Jaspan

How has the media coverage of the tournament been?

I remember when everyone in the football community was scolding Optus Sport for how bad their 2018 coverage was, and I just thought Optus are done here.

That just shows how incredible the coverage has been. They went from public enemy No.1 to adored because they put the work in, they hired real football people from the football community, some gems no one even knew about, and turned it around first with their Premier League coverage.

It’s been brilliant, I’ve got the app, and I am only here for a month, but I am loving it.

Having said that, the reality we have to face is that only so many people have the Optus Sport app. If we want to convert football fans, we need to get the non-football fans in or the fringe football fans in, and a lot of them may not have the Optus app, and that’s where you need Channel Seven, Nine and Ten going, ‘We’ve got this. We’re going to put it on Sunrise, we’ll put it on the six o’clock news, and we’ll have it in between MasterChef or whatever.’ ”

How can Australian media and the sport capitalise on the success of the Matildas?

That’s difficult, and I don’t have the answers to that. We all love talking about the future, but actually, what I’ve been trying to say is that I’m not too focused on that because we are hosting the biggest women’s sporting event on earth.

This is the consequence of a previous legacy. I’m living this moment for now because yesterday I sat with 27,000 Brazilians and Jamaicans, this is it.

Sam Kerr is probably the most recognisable athlete in Australia, in my opinion. I might be wrong. There’s nowhere you could go to in almost every city in Australia and get two people who wouldn’t know Sam Kerr first over any other sport. That’s the reality when you consider gender, age groups and all of that.

We’re in the middle of AFL and rugby league season, and the Matildas are the No.1.

Can soccer take the mantle as Australia’s top women’s sport?

It absolutely will be. But there’s also the reality that it’s very hard to expect this World Cup energy for the club game because it’s just a different beast.

There is no other female athlete that another girl can look at and go, I can be famous like Sam Kerr. I can make money like Sam Kerr. I can be an icon like Sam Kerr.

Sam Kerr, one of Australia’s most marketable exports.Credit: Edwina Pickles

I’m not surprised it fell off with AFLW, because you can’t make a serious living like you can from football like Sam Kerr is showing now, and that is because the market for it is so global.

I really stress this to Australians: Sam Kerr is on cover of one of the biggest video games on earth.

There are bigger goals than being the best in your city, the best in your state, the best in your country. You can be the best in the world, and there’s only one truly global sport, and that is football.

For so long, I thought it was the Socceroos that were going to convert this country, and it’s upon landing here that I’ve realised actually it’s the Matildas that are going to turn Australia into a football nation because it’s the Matildas who can compete on a global level with the best of the best.

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