Women’s football is one of the fastest growing sports in the UK and with the 2022 European Championship on home soil fast approaching, it is only going to get bigger.
Ahead of the 2021/22 season, the Football Association has announced a record three-year deal with Sky Sports and the BBC for the broadcast rights to the Women’s Super League (WSL)
Worth around £8million a year, it has become the biggest broadcast deal in any professional women’s football league in the world and has been a catalyst for the game’s growth over the past 12 months.
Viewership figures for the women’s matches have doubled since 2017, but it was the first time the WSL broadcast rights were sold separately from the men’s match – a historic moment.
For Sky Sports, it was not a cheap decision. It is understood that the investment costs them just under £10m per season, including production, with additional marketing and exposure commitments bringing that figure to around £15m per season.
The deal gave Sky the right to show up to 44 matches live per season, with the BBC showing 22 matches live each season, until summer 2024, and the remaining matches not selected to be shown live on FA Player – for free.
In a further sign of the growing popularity of the women’s game, talkSPORT has also announced that it will broadcast 20 WSL matches live in the 2021/22 season on its radio network, along with exclusive Continental Cup coverage.
Revenue generated from these broadcast deals is split between the WSL and the Women’s Championship, giving clubs more money to invest in players, staff and facilities.
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Lucy Quinn, Birmingham City and Ireland International, believes the commitment shown by broadcasters and the FA to develop women’s football in the UK is having a huge impact.
“They [the broadcast deals] help out massively,” she said.
“I never thought in my career that I would have games of my own shown on Sky Sports as well as legends of the game working as pundits analyzing games like they would on Monday Night Football for men.
“You also have companies like the BBC to thank for creating the FA Player. Obviously Sky is very glamorous and that’s great, but the FA Player is completely free which makes it more accessible to people who don’t have Sky Sports.
“We are in a difficult phase to make the game on the main stage as it should be, but also to not lose where it comes from and to make sure that everyone can see it.
Further proof of the popularity of women’s football, Barcelona broke their own world record for attendance at a women’s football match in April when more than 91,600 fans gathered in the Nou Camp to witness their win over Wolfsburg in the League champions.
Former England manager Hope Powell, now in charge of WSL side Brighton, is amazed at how much the game has developed over the past decade.
“I think if you look at the players now in the WSL, it’s a full-time professional league. If you look at the league, some of these clubs are also professional,” she said.
“There are more and more girls playing the game at all levels, so the numbers are really staggering. It’s so different from what it was ten years ago.
As a teenager, Kelly Smith MBE, an England international with 117 caps and one of the best players of her generation, was forced to move to America to pursue her dream of becoming a professional footballer.
Like Powell, Smith can’t believe how much things have changed since he started playing the game.
She said: “The adversity I felt growing up inspired me to prove people wrong and pursue my dream of being a professional footballer, but I couldn’t see that dream come true because the game Women’s in England at that time had no professional league.
“I didn’t even know England had a women’s team.”
With women’s football more popular than ever, the timing was perfect for the Euros to take place in England.
More than 350,000 tickets have already been purchased for this summer’s tournament, with England’s three group matches and the final at Wembley all sold out.
“As the game continues to grow, the marketing continues to follow, hopefully we’ll see it more regularly, especially in England. I think having the Euros will help,” added Ward.
“We’ve seen it in the WSL spells for major derbies reaching over 20,000, which is amazing after playing in front of 300 people at the local park.”
The summer is set to break records for the game, but Kelly Simmons, director of women’s professional play at the FA, still thinks there’s still plenty of room for growth.
She explained: “If you look at the percentage of the overall population of male and female gamers, the male percentage is significantly higher, but there’s no reason why in the long term it can’t be parity, in which case there is still incredible growth for the women’s game.”
With major investments in all areas of the game, it’s an extremely exciting time for women’s football as it seems there really is no ceiling for the sport.