A new sports talk show made for women, by women, makes its debut on Sky this week, hoping to capitalise on the nation’s zeal for the world champion Black Ferns. Suzanne McFadden writes. 

Women talk about sport in a different way than men do.

That’s an assertion Sarah Ireland, the head of sport operations at Sky, has become certain of.

And from that premise has sprung The Women’s Game, a new studio sports chat show starting on Sky this Wednesday.

Hosted by Laura McGoldrick, just back from the T20 Women’s World Cup in South Africa, the show will put women’s sport front and centre.

And in keeping with Sky’s ‘See the Possible’ commitment – to do more to highlight and support women’s sport, both on and off screen – the series is made by women, for women, on “a platform where conversations around female sport can thrive”.

The Women’s Game kicks off as a six-week pilot series focusing on Super Rugby Aupiki, which also starts this week. “We’re riding the wave of the incredible success and personalities who came out of the Rugby World Cup last year,” Ireland says.

World Cup champion Black Ferns, co-captain Ruahei Demant and star winger Ruby Tui, are the first guests on the show, which will analyse the competition, highlight players and discuss issues on and off the field.

Ruahei Demant receiving the 2022 World Rugby women’s player of the year award. Photo: World Rugby.

But rugby won’t completely consume the content.

“There’s an enormous volume of women’s sport to discuss,” Ireland says. She reels off the female sports events Sky is covering over the next few months – including the T20 World Cup, Football Ferns friendlies, the ANZ Premiership, the A-League Women, Sail GP, the Sevens World Series, Six Nations Women and the LPGA.

“The Women’s Game is initially centred around rugby because of the relevance of Aupiki, but we’ll also be talking about other women’s sport and having athletes from other codes join the show. Hopefully, the pilot series is successful and we can then launch a general women’s sport show.”

But the emphasis will remain on a women’s perspective of sport. That’s where Ireland raises the concept of women talking about sport in a different way to men. “We’re really wanting to hear a women’s opinion and viewpoint. On and off the pitch, too,” she says.

“One of the amazing things to come out of the Rugby World Cup was after seeing how male rugby players are very media-trained, the women’s players were sparkling and open, they had personality and spunk. You could really connect with them.

“I think people, particularly women, are going to really connect with this [show]. With female athletes, there’s a sense of humility and vulnerability. I want to know how did it feel having to train four nights a week with a one-year-old at home?”  

Kristina Eddy is the producer of The Women’s Game; she reported for Sky from the last Olympics and Commonwealth Games. The show’s objective, she says, is to provide a space to normalise conversation about women’s sport.

“So many girls in New Zealand grow up playing sport, and they consume it too, but there’s still a stigma that girls or women don’t ‘chat sport’,” Eddy says. “We saw how much interest there was in the Black Ferns and the World Cup last year, and how much it drove conversation. So I’m hoping this show will capitalise on that mentality.”

Airborne Silver Ferns captain Gina Crampton will be a guest on The Women’s Game. Photo: Michael Bradley Photography. 

Ireland and Eddy have made sure the show has 100 percent female talent, its production team is 80 percent women, and where possible all the studio crew are female, too.

That’s one of the pillars in Sky’s ‘See the Possible’ initiative, launched last April to celebrate wāhine toa in and around sport – increasing visibility through broadcasting more female sport, growing the profiles of female athletes and creating pathways for women in broadcasting.

“It’s now normal here at Sky to have women in leadership positions, to the extent where I simply feel like a person in a leadership position,” Ireland says.

She’s had an interesting journey to this role, after leaving school and heading to the United Kingdom with visions of becoming an actor.

“But I got there and realised the amount of sacrifice you’d have to make to pursue that,” she says. “So I got a job I didn’t know existed – subtitling for the deaf and hard of hearing for ITV. 

“We used old captioning software and there was no internet, so if you were subtitling a documentary, you’d need to look up names in an encyclopaedia.”

Ireland became operations manager for a large translation and language dubbing company before returning home to New Zealand in 2010, to work at Sky as a broadcast project manager. She moved into sport, managing the coverage of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in the same year.

Sky’s head of sport operations, Sarah Ireland, has been with Sky for almost 13 years. Photo: Sky NZ.

For over a year now, Ireland has been head of sport operations, overseeing Sky’s live coverage. That includes around 350 live broadcasts a year – from studio panels to on-the-ground game coverage.

“The way Sky has evolved in the last five years is so different from when I came here nearly 13 years ago,” she says. “Back then it was really a satellite TV company, but now it has digital products and a massive social presence. And we now have competition.”

While The Women’s Game is aimed at a female audience, Ireland is confident it won’t be exclusive.  

“Generally most men are interested in women’s sport, and the Rugby World Cup was the best example of that,” she says. “We weren’t just watching women playing rugby, we were watching really good rugby.

“The whole country was caught up in an incredible fervour, and we’re hoping to recreate that with the FIFA Women’s World Cup in July. It’s a truly massive event to have here.”

An event that could lend itself to another series of The Women’s Game. Ireland can see the show having a strong future. 

“One, it fits into our strategy, two it’s the right thing to do, and three people will find it really interesting. We’ve proven with what happened with the Rugby World Cup that there’s a huge interest in the women’s game.”

* The first episode of The Women’s Game screens on Sky Sport 1 on Wednesday at 8pm.

Suzanne McFadden, the 2021 Voyager Media Awards Sports Journalist of the Year, founded LockerRoom, dedicated to women's sport.

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