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Ada Hegerberg, DAZN making big moves in UEFA Women’s Champions League

(Monika Majer/Getty Images)

Earlier this year, DAZN announced that it had acquired the broadcasting rights to the UEFA Women’s Champions League (UWCL). As part of the four-year deal, which starts Tuesday, fans around the world will be able to watch UWCL games live on one centralized channel for the first time.

Now, Ada Hegerberg, UWCL’s all-time leading scorer, has joined forces with DAZN as their first-ever, season-long global women’s football ambassador. Returning to the pitch after a nearly two-year recovery from a torn ACL, Hegerberg will actively represent a landmark investment in the women’s game.

The Olympique Lyonnais forward and inaugural female Ballon d’Or winner, who’s also a campaign ambassador for We All Rise with More Eyes, is passionate about pushing for more women’s sports coverage.

“With success, huge responsibility comes with you,” Hegerberg told Just Women’s Sports. “You want to use that for something good and I think the women’s game needs high profiles to carry the game. And the more of us there are, the more power we have.”

Following a season in which the UWCL final wasn’t “even near to be found” on French television, Hegerberg sees DAZN’s broadcast deal as historic. All 61 UWCL matches this season and next will be available on DAZN and for free through their YouTube channel, starting with the group stage kickoff on Tuesday.

“I feel like we’ve all just been waiting for someone to just jump in there and grab the opportunity and DAZN just came into the game, took control,” said Hegerberg. “We couldn’t be happier. I couldn’t be happier because it’s all about making the sport available for people.

“We’re not talking about forcing the sport on anyone. We’re talking about giving people access to it. Whether it’s one person or one million, it’s all about inspiring people, the next generation, even the parents too.”

Growing up in Norway, Hegerberg played soccer with boys, even cutting her hair to look more like them. In the documentary “My Name is Ada Hegerberg,” Hegerberg’s mother says she didn’t let her hair grow back out until she saw the movie “Bend It Like Beckham” and realized girls could play soccer, too.

Hegerberg famously opted out of playing for the Norwegian national team in 2017, including for the 2019 World Cup, to protest the country’s unequal treatment of its women’s program. She hasn’t played for the team since.

The 26-year-old highlighted how important DAZN’s partnership with UEFA and YouTube is for young girls who need exposure to women in sports.

“I would love when I was younger to have female leader role models to look up to,” she said. “You recognize yourself in them.”

DAZN’s on-air team is the biggest ever to cover women’s soccer for a single broadcaster. The group includes dozens of professional commentators from England, France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, Portugal and Ukraine. Each match will be available in up to three languages: English and the languages of both the home team and away team.

Included in the deal is a new installment of We All Rise with More Eyes, with a six-part series highlighting women’s football across six European countries.

DAZN and The Female Quotient also published a report on Monday, titled “The Coverage Gap,” that underlines their vision and mission with the broadcast deal. The report says that 64 percent of consumers don’t watch women’s sports because they don’t know enough about the athletes and teams and broadcasts aren’t accessible enough. It adds that lack of coverage and inadequate promotion of events create significant barriers to viewership.

The UWCL and DAZN are taking a step to change that cycle this season.

Hegerberg’s Olympique Lyonnais kick off their UWCL season on Tuesday at 12:45 p.m. ET against Häcken. The striker returned to the field in September for the first time since January 2020.

“I’m feeling great physically and mentally,” Hegerberg said. “It’s been a hell of a journey, but I really had time to reflect on myself and football in general, and kind of the whole journey humbled me a lot. It kind of reminds you how important it is to just lean back and enjoy the game because we’re here to enjoy it.”

During her season on the sideline, Lyon’s five-year run of Champions League titles came to an end when they fell in the quarterfinals to Paris Saint-Germain. PSG also interrupted Lyon’s streak of 14 consecutive Division 1 Féminin championships, winning their first in 2020-21.

Since losing to the Portland Thorns of the NWSL in the Women’s International Champions Cup on Aug. 21, Lyon is on a seven-game win streak, boasting a goal differential of plus-24.

The Champions League group stage, which runs until Dec. 16, includes four groups with 16 teams competing. The top two teams coming out of the group stage advance to the quarterfinals on Dec. 20.

Hegerberg notes there is more pressure this season with the increased depth and quality of coverage: She and the other players need to perform if they want people to watch their debut game, and the one after that, and eventually the whole season.

But Hegerberg is up for the challenge.

“Now it’s up to us, the players, the clubs, to perform and entertain so people actually want to watch this for the years to come,” she said.