Viewing figures for the BBC's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup peaked at 11.7 million joshjdss/wikimedia commons

On 22nd March 2021, it was announced that the Women’s Super league had signed a ’landmark’ broadcasting deal with Sky and the BBC, two of the biggest television broadcasters in the UK. Worth up to £24 million over the course of the next 3 seasons, this is the largest commercial agreement in women’s football to date. The financial boost, along with the increase in public exposure that this will provide, is ground-breaking. At least 35 and up to 44 matches a season will be broadcast on Sky starting in August, and between 18 and 22 will be shown on BBC One and BBC Two.

Historically, the biggest issue facing women’s football, and women’s sport as a whole, has been exposure and investment, two factors that are intrinsically linked when it comes to the commercialisation of sport. The more exposure a sport has, the safer it is as an investment, thus funding even more exposure to the wider public. The commercial model of most sports follows this exact positive feedback loop. The important thing to note is that in most cases, the exposure comes before the money. The sport first has to be deemed a sellable product. Men’s football has had the benefit of time to gain popularity and a global reach. Professional women’s football in England, only formally recognised in 1969, has not had the same opportunity.

“Sky and the BBC are making a commitment to women’s football, the likes of which they have never made before”

There is certainly an appetite for women’s football in the UK. For instance, the BBC’s coverage of the 2019 Women’s World Cup attracted a total viewership of up to 47% of the UK with a peak of 11.7 million people watching England’s semi-final loss to the United States, the eventual winners. This sort of audience interest and participation is what grows women’s football and assures broadcasters of its value. With Sky and the BBC buying the broadcasting rights to the WSL, they will be showing women’s football to a wider audience in addition to providing a much-needed monetary boost.

One of the major benefits of this deal is the way women’s football is going to be packaged to the public, particularly in the Sky coverage. The ’Sky treatment’ is known to entail detailed analyses of players and matches, along with adding drama to prominent matchups (and some less prominent ones too). Every match is produced to a high quality, with notable sports stars and pundits lending valuable insight into the games. Women’s football in England will receive this sort of entertainment packaging; matches will be dramatized, analysed and displayed on the same pedestal as men’s football. The same emotional investments apply: the highs, the lows, the stress, and the tension of professional sport. The same hype in the lead-up to Manchester United against Liverpool in the Premier League, will be reproduced for Manchester City against Chelsea, two of the biggest teams in the Women’s Super League.

Sky and the BBC are making a commitment to women’s football, the likes of which they have never made before. Currently, women’s football is not broadcast on any flagship channels; matches can be found on iPlayer, or on minor channels like BT Sport 3. The situation at the moment is that one has to look for women’s football, and for that one has to know: a) that it’s there, and b) the possible places to find it.

“It will benefit the development of young female players and as a result, the quality and outreach of Women’s football in England”

From next season, matches will be broadcast on some of the most watched channels in the UK, most notably Sky Sport Main Event. This broadcasting deal puts women’s football in the limelight, so it doesn’t have to be searched for. It also tackles the inherent inequality in sports viewership in the UK. Not everyone can afford Sky, much less a Sky Sports package; it can be seen as something of a luxury to have the means to watch premier league matches at home. Having the deal shared between Sky and the BBC means that some of the matches will be free to view. This further increases the exposure and reach of the Women’s Super League, with some of the matches more accessible than the Premier league. A new audience will be able to watch high-quality matches on a Saturday afternoon. They will be exposed to the lives and stories of female footballers, who will in turn grow a following and public standing.

In addition to the increased exposure in broadcasting, there is also the critical injection of up to £24 million into women’s football. 75% of the revenue will be distributed evenly among the WSL clubs. The remaining 25% will be shared amongst championship clubs. These investments will be channelled towards grassroots football, paying wages, improving facilities such as training grounds, and hiring backroom staff. Women’s football, just like all other sports, saw significant losses as a result of the pandemic. When the Premier League and other professional sports were restarting midway through last year, the WSL was not given the go-ahead, indicating that at least from the point of view of the government, women’s professional football was effectively seen as an amateur sport. The money from this broadcasting deal will go a long way to ensuring the financial safety of many of these clubs and crucially, allowing women’s clubs to be held in higher regard along with having increased autonomy and independence from the men’s clubs with which they may be affiliated.


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For football supporters, the true marker of the success of this deal will show itself on the football field. This investment into women’s football in England, particularly grassroots football should lead to success on a wider, global scale. At the club level, Women’s Super league sides have been a step behind European giants such as Wolfsburg, Barcelona, and Lyon. If a WSL side were to win the Women’s Champions League in the next few years, that would mark the triumph of this backing. This applies to an even greater degree if the national team has success on the international stage, having reached the semi-finals of the 2017 Euro’s and 2019 World Cup.

The women’s game is finally going to get the publicity and the financial investment it deserves. It will benefit the development of young female players and as a result, the quality and outreach of Women’s football in England. It is a huge forward step in the journey towards gender equality in football and in the words of Steph Houghton, the England and Manchester City captain, it’s a chance to “show the world what an unbelievable league we have”.