FA central contracts awarded to select England players, the creation of the WSL, the 2015 and 2019 World Cups, club sides going fully professional and increased international exposure have all been crucial steps in the development of women’s football in England.
All have collectively built up to this moment. But the new Women’s Super League television broadcast deal with Sky Sports and the BBC is now the single biggest boost to English women’s football that has ever been seen and is a genuine gamechanger.
The new broadcast deal is thought to be worth in excess of £7m per year until 2024 and will see 44 WSL games each season shown live on Sky Sports – including a guaranteed 35% on flagship channel Sky Sports Main Event – and a further 18 on BBC One or BBC Two.
It is the first time that the FA has sold the broadcast rights for the WSL in the UK and it is a huge moment that will pump money into the clubs, as well as massively increase exposure.
Until now, WSL clubs have not earned broadcast revenue from matches being shown on television. The FA Player has been a free service showing all games other than a handful picked for BT Sport, but the latter hasn’t yielded any profit for the league or its clubs because the rights were not sold and the broadcaster’s only financial obligation was to cover their own production costs.
Increasingly steep broadcast deals over the last ten years are what have turned the men’s Premier League into the richest league in the world by some distance and money from TV is the financial lifeblood of any top level competition.
In 2019, the WSL started to head in that direction by agreeing what was reported as a ‘six figure’ deal with broadcasters in Scandinavia and Latin central America. But the money that will now be coming in from Sky and BBC is a huge financial injection at the exact right time.
The WSL is already gaining a reputation as the best and most competitive women’s league anywhere in the world and has been boosted significantly in the last couple of years by high profile foreign imports like Sam Kerr, Tobin Heath, Christen Press, Sam Mewis, Rose Lavelle and Pernille Harder in addition to rapidly developing home-grown talent.
Bigger budgets made possible from television money will allow for better facilities and infrastructure, improved coaching and bigger contracts that will only improve the standard further.
Having games live on Sky Sports, despite taking more of the WSL behind a paywall – some games will at least also be simultaneously shown on Sky1 as well – will increase the exposure, rather than having most fixtures hidden away on the still relatively little-known FA Player.
The 2019 World Cup, which saw UK viewing records shattered on multiple occasions, was a prime example of people tuning into women’s football if it is made visible. For most with no prior attachment, the curiosity of one game they may initially stumble across because it is front and centre on Sky Sports Main Event might be all that is needed to capture a longer term interest.
The WSL has developed rather organically up to this point, but the boost a landmark television is what will now dramatically accelerate that progress and take it to new heights.