For three seasons, Hannah Waddingham played the owner of a struggling football club on Apple TV+’s Ted Lasso. As Rebecca Welton, Waddingham evolved from the show’s assumed villain to its surprising hero, going on a journey of self-discovery that ended (for now) with her staying behind in England to champion her found family on and off the pitch. By the show’s series finale, Rebecca had bought into the Lasso way, encouraging her best friend and business partner to pursue the idea of a women’s team for the club that she once despised.
It feels like a natural transition then that Waddingham would take up the torch for more visibility in women’s sports once her Ted Lasso tenure ended (or went on hiatus).
Earlier this month, Waddingham lit the ceremonial torch before a match between Gotham FC and Angel City FC at Red Bull Arena as part of Johnnie Walker’s Watch Women’s Sports campaign. Waddingham is hoping to bring attention to the FIFA Women’s World Cup with “Match Day Memos” that fans can sign up to receive so they can keep track of all the on-field action in Australia and New Zealand this summer. But she’s also making the case for why women’s sports deserve more coverage year-round.
As it stands, 10 percent or less of sports coverage (on TV and in the media) is dedicated to women’s sports despite women making up 40 percent of the professional athlete pool. That disparity directly contributes to inequality when it comes to pay and working conditions — on the field, the court, and beyond. While more and more teams like the USWNT are taking a stand to demand fair wages and better facilities, the bigger goal is to prove to marketing execs and sponsors that fans have and will show up for women’s sports.
And who better to spearhead that initiative than TV’s favorite soccer boss?
Below, UPROXX chatted with Waddingham earlier this week about the final season of Ted Lasso, surprise Emmy nominations, and the parallels between female athletes’ fight for recognition and her own career.
You’re using (your work on) Ted Lasso to draw attention to women’s sports. How did this partnership come about?
I am very transparent about these things. I want to make sure that I don’t align myself with any company or any ethos that I don’t believe in. In this instance, Johnnie Walker had seen that I was taking my daughter to women’s football matches. I’m very much a proud supporter of the Lionesses here in England. My father, who’s quite an old-fashioned, 82-year-old traditionalist, brilliantly and surprisingly informed me that he prefers the women’s game because they actually play as a team. And I just thought, ‘More people of all generations need to actually observe that that is the case.’ We talk about pure football in Ted Lasso, and that is what the women play because they have fought for it.
You’re just now getting recognition in your own career. Can you empathize with that fight?
Absolutely. I would say it’s like myself in theater. I feel a real affinity with female athletes, not just footballers, but female athletes because when you go into theater, you’re not doing it for money or for fame because there’s not really either of those in theater. It’s the same with women in sports. You have to work that much harder to get where you want to be. So I wanted to join that fight because I understand that tribe’s way of thinking — of it being a vocation in life. And if I can help put bums in stadiums, then I’ll literally lead the charge from the front.
If I can elevate it in any way, get more people just thinking about it… The women’s teams in England and America are both more successful than the men’s teams and yet the stadiums are half empty and there’s only 10 percent total sports coverage. I mean, I don’t know how anyone anywhere can think that that’s all right. It makes no sense. Because we are historically, and socially conditioned to think that men are in charge of sport. Aren’t we? That the women’s game is somehow the B game. It’s not taken as seriously, but my God, have you seen how they go at each other? They are on for it.
Female athletes are fighting for better working conditions and pay. The WGA and possibly SAG-AFTRA are doing the same. Is there an overlap there?
Undoubtable parallels. I looked around at NY Gotham’s stadium the other day and I thought, ‘Here’s all this sponsorship.’ And at the moment I would imagine they’re getting very little return, but they believe in it so much that they’re not going anywhere.
Is there a lesson for both groups?
Stick it out. Raise [each other] up. Hold hands and move forward.
How would Rebecca Welton solve the issue of visibility in women’s sports?
She would take the tray of food that Edwin Akufo [Sam Richardson] throws at everyone and throw it right back in his face. That woman’s had enough.
Congratulations on your Emmy nomination, by the way. You know I have to ask, who was your first call?
I was actually very proud of myself because a few minutes before, I gave myself a talking-to and just said, ‘Come on, girl, there are so many brilliant performances in this category. You’ve already had two nominations. Let’s just chill our beans here.’
So I’d already prepared myself. So that was an amazing moment. And then after my manager told me I said to him, ‘Come on, tell me, has Phil been nominated?’ And he started to go through the list of people, and I was going, ‘Yes. Okay.’ And then he said, ‘… and Phil,’ and there was a feeling in my body that I have never felt before. It makes me realize that all is right with the world.
With Jamie’s arc, it definitely felt like this was his season.
He is a special man. He doesn’t have an arrogant bone in his body. Even with his nomination now, he was full of humility and joy and surprise. There is nobody that deserves it more than him. And all our lot, all of us, the Greyhounds, are beside ourselves. It’s all about Philip.
Does all that attention make him uncomfortable then?
[Laughs] No, he likes it.
Has there been any movement on potential spinoffs for the show?
No, no talk whatsoever. It was a natural three-season triumvirate of a story. And that’s that. As much as we honored and respected each season, you have to honor and respect a decision. Who knows whether there’ll be anything down the line? But at the moment, no.
Does it feel good to at least be able to say goodbye on your terms?
No. [Laughs] I mean, I never want to say goodbye to Rebecca, ever.