Opinion: The WSL TV deal is a big step forward, now greater structure must follow

Casey Stoney

On Monday the FA announced its iconic and revolutionary multimillion pound broadcasting deal with Sky and the BBC that will see the Women’s Super League propelled into a new limelight.

From next season, two games will be on Sky every round with one on the BBC, while those matches not picked up by the broadcasters will be available to watch on the FA Player.

It is confounding and somewhat unbelievable that amid a time when a global pandemic has caused unprecedented uncertainty, that such a lucrative and extensive deal was able to be agreed upon.

But, despite the doubts, despite the fears, this deal has happened and now has the potential to be transformational for the women’s game. That is of course if everything is organised correctly. Indeed, while we can expect greater coverage and greater recognition for the sport, there still needs to be greater structure.

Because, though the prospect of more televised matches is huge, and there is scope for clubs to build financially, the glaring problems within the existing composition will not just solve themselves.

TV revenue money must be used by clubs to improve infrastructure and particularly pitch conditions. There should also be a focus on helping clubs down the football pyramid, who could be in danger of falling behind as the bigger clubs prosper. And, as we are regrettably seeing now with Man United’s scheduled game at Old Trafford this weekend not picked up by any broadcaster, there must be a willingness to adapt and appeal to fans needs should unforeseen circumstances arise.

The United game feels like a missed opportunity. It’s the first time the women’s team will ever take to the hallowed turf of Old Trafford, yet the match will only be available to watch on the less than reliable FA Player.

As Casey Stoney put it: “I think the real shame is that we’re not allowed to broadcast it. I think we’ve missed a massive opportunity. Again, we’re so short-sighted in the women’s game, because we’ve used our three games for MUTV and we can’t broadcast it.

“So I’m really disappointed in that sense, that no one’s picked it up. Because the FA have been badgering and badgering about playing at Old Trafford, and now all of a sudden, we can’t show it.”

Old Trafford

It’s easy for the FA to proclaim that it’s out of their control. It’s even easier for BT to affirm that the scheduling has already been decided, but these declarations are much harder to accept when you consider that nothing clashes with the United game.

There is no Premier League action this weekend, while BT’s Rugby Union coverage of Bristol Bears and Harlequins is scheduled for 13:30 –– which is after the match at Old Trafford finishes.

This goes to show that having a brand new TV deal next year is not bound to succeed. Games will constantly be rescheduled due to clashes, postponements and other unknown factors, but the broadcasters and the FA must do their utmost to ensure that they try and show the most enticing games.

Equally, with the recent confirmation that tiers three to six of the English women’s football pyramid will be curtailed, there is more desire than ever to try and keep lower league teams afloat.

Though the logistical problems with continuing are understandable, and men’s football has suffered a similar fate at the lower league level, as the WSL begins to generate more revenue, it simply can’t let these lower tiers be cast adrift.

Women’s Super League teams will receive 75% of the share for clubs, with Championship teams set to benefit from a 25% stake. Right now, there’s no money for leagues below this level, but Kelly Simmons, the FA director of the women’s professional game, stressed that this is “one for us to look at as the revenues grow.”

To increase the competitiveness of English women’s football long term, these lower league clubs need funding just as the top clubs do, to create a more sustainable platform for the future of the game.

Another growing problem this season has been the number of fixture postponements, which have in all honesty become a somewhat embarrassing regularity.

Frozen pitches have been the cause of a lot of the issues, and while adverse weather conditions will always give rise to potential impediments, they’ll be far more expectation for games to be fulfilled now that so much money has been invested by broadcasters.

Therefore, more funds must be invested in infrastructure and pitches as soon as possible. It was previously unfeasible for there to be any regulations concerning pitch requirements, but if this new TV deal delivers as hoped, then the likes of underground heating to deal with the cold winter months should become mandatory.

In time, one can hope that in light of this weekend’s games at Old Trafford and The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, that clubs may allow their women’s sides to play at the men’s stadium more regularly. Who knows, maybe one day, if football ever reaches the point where there is genuine equality for all, then perhaps they could even share it?

Ultimately, this TV deal is exciting, it’s sizable and it’s long overdue. The opportunity for long term growth and fruitful success is now there. It’s now time to grab this chance tightly and build a sustainable framework for the future.

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