After 21 months of watching her team from the sidelines, Ada Hegerberg is set to return, and just in time too as a landmark broadcasting deal with DAZN is set to catapult the UEFA Women’s Champions League more permanently into the global conscience. Almost two years after she went down with two unrelated injuries, the Norwegian striker chatted with us at AllForXI to discuss her return and what this new deal with DAZN could mean for women’s football going forward.
Coming from training with Olympique Lyonnais before their Division 1 Féminine match against FC Girondins de Bordeaux, Hegerberg is in high spirits. “It’s such a magical feeling to be back with the team training. I was pumped, concentrated and I enjoyed it as well. It’s important to enjoy the game because we work so hard every day that sometimes you forget to have fun when you train. It’s something I’ll definitely appreciate for years to come.”
That makes sense considering all that Hegerberg has had to endure over the last year and more. After rupturing a cruciate ligament in her right knee in January 2020, she then suffered a left tibia stress fracture which had initially been undetected. That meant that not only did she miss out on Lyon’s run to the quarter-finals of the Champions League, but she also missed the massive run in for the title which saw her team toppled off their perch for the first time since Hegerberg had arrived in France.
When asked about when we’ll be able to see her back on the pitch, Hegerberg insisted that time would tell. It would be a mutual decision with the coaching staff and the trainers, who have been a great help to her throughout this entire ordeal. Until then, she’s looking forward to the group stages in the Champions League, the first time the competition has had group stage matches.
“It’s very exciting to have the first year of group stages. It gives us [the players] more games which I appreciate and they’re usually competitive games so we’re pumped. We also have very diverse opponents in our group, German, Portuguese and Swedish, so we’re ready to play against all of these opponents and we’re very positive about our changes.”
Indeed, Lyon have an interesting journey ahead of them in the Champions League this year. Group D sees them lined up against Bayern Munich, Benfica and BK Häcken. Each team has been a force in their league so far this season and will not make it easy for the former champions as they look to regain their place at the top of Europe’s elite.
Hegerberg’s journey in the Champions League will be available for all to see on DAZN who according to the Lyon striker (who’s also been named as a global ambassador for DAZN), have provided top notch coverage. “I cannot be more excited. It’s something we [in women’s football] have been waiting for. We’ve needed someone to go in and grab the opportunity to give the UWCL a platform and now we do.”
“I am thrilled about this partnership. For people to have access to our games wherever they are is a massive move in the right direction, which was long overdue in my eyes. And looking at the content DAZN is planning, to put the spotlight on players and stories across all places, will take things to the next level too,” said Ada Hegerberg, all-time highest scorer in the UEFA Women’s Champions League, Olympique Lyonnais superstar, and DAZN’s first ever season-long global women’s football ambassador who is eyeing a long-awaited comeback soon. “UEFA Women’s Champions League is coming close and I can’t wait for this season to start and show the world what we are made of!”
It’s true that this will be the first time coverage this broad and this detailed will be placed on the Champions League and it gives the opportunity for many who have never had the chance to see a lot of the best players in women’s football in action at the highest level. It’s not just the coverage that has Hegerberg excited to be a part of this new initiative with DAZN, the business model appeals to her as well. “The football will be available to everyone and when we slowly switch to a reasonable paid subscription model, it will help develop the football side as well. It’s the smartest move for women’s football in years and it’s now up to the players to deliver.”
As with any coverage, it not only appeals to people like Hegerberg as a player but it also excites her as a viewer to finally have the opportunity to see women’s football in an easily accessible way. For too long, many of us have had to dig for broadcasts of the UEFA Women’s Champions League and we haven’t always found them, even when they were key matchups. Hegerberg has shared that same frustration throughout her time as a player. “I feel you 100% on looking for coverage. My parents have been struggling for years and I’ve been desperate to find them streams! It’s not just about forcing women’s football on to people’s eyes. This is about giving access. This is a game changer. Let’s leave the crappy streams in the garbage and get some real coverage.”
“When I was 8, 10 years old, I was dying to see women deliver football at the highest level in order to be inspired. This is also about giving inspiration to the next generation as well, whether we inspire one person or one million. We want to inspire them to come up, take their spot and deliver at the highest level.”
As we continued to discuss what DAZN’s coverage could/would do for women’s football, Hegerberg was keen to point out what this kind of coverage would mean from a player’s perspective. “As players, it gives us a push to train harder, develop more and deliver good football every game.”
“I want to entertain, I want to deliver good football. I want to give my best so that people will come back to watch game after game. We, as players, should see it that way. If we give our best in every game, if we deliver, people will come back to watch more.”
There’s been talk about how women’s football is covered and marketed, and that how it shouldn’t be all that different to how men’s football is marketed. The deal that the FA WSL and Sky Sports have done this season seems to prove that. Women’s football should be about the product and as long as the product delivers, it will bring in viewers. Hegerberg agrees with that and feels that not only will this coverage with DAZN help the game overall, it will also help players on a micro level.
“Every sponsorship deal I’ve ever signed comes from my performances. They also look to stick up for women’s football but my performances are what have brought in the sponsors. I want it to be like that for everyone. Performance plus exposure will build opportunities, marketing-wise and globally. DAZN is giving us that platform and now it’s up to us to perform. We can build market value from that.”
Part of that platform could include being mic’d up and when asked if she’d consider it, Hegerberg joked that we’d get no content from her. “You wouldn’t want to mic me up, you’d have to mute me the whole time!”
“It’s also interesting to see the cultural difference between Europe and the US. You don’t see anywhere in Europe footballers being mic’d up like you do in the US. It’d be a fun thing to test out if you mute me more.”
Hegerberg ended the interview stating that she’d see me very, very soon and that she hoped that I’d be in the stands when Lyon host Bayern. I was a little bemused, not knowing that today, she’d be named in Lyon’s Champions League squad to face Häcken tomorrow. She may have alluded to her timeline not being set for her return to the pitch but clearly, it’s a lot closer than many of us had imagined. That, for many fans of the game, is welcome news.