In case you missed it, last week The FA announced a brand spanking new streaming platform for women’s football in England. No longer would people wanting to watch teams outside the big three (four?) be left twiddling their thumbs, no longer would I be inundated with messages on Twitter asking for illegal links to WSL matches (I’m not bitter).
BT Sport (very easy to find dodgy links for), Facebook (globally available) and the BBC Red Button (geo-blocked online with little in the way of links for) would slice up the coverage most weekends of the 2018-19 season. Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City’s matches were rarely not plucked for airing on one of the three platforms, leaving teams like Yeovil Town only exposed when they played the best in the country.
The production could be a little hit and miss (looking at you, Facebook) and the matches on BT Sport were often squeezed somewhere inconvenient, the channels not universally available to those with BT phone and internet services anymore. The matches would get lost, slipping between sofa cushions as people sat down to consume the men’s football that invariably clashed.
That was the Super League; the Championship (semi-professional second tier) wasn’t aired and the coverage was little more than a footnote (if you got even that). The new streaming service will offer all WSL matches as well as one from the Championship each week (hallelujah), and even throw in highlights from selected cup and England matches.
But wait, there’s more, there’s so much more: it’s available internationally! Like the NWSL, W-League and Damallsvenskan platforms, you’ll be able to watch from errrrrywhere in the world and like the American league, the service won’t cost a penny – although we can only hope that The FA are using something more reliable than go90. However, considering fans are getting every damn game, it wouldn’t have hurt to charge something, right?
The FA have a longstanding history of giving women’s football away for nothing, with tickets to the FA Cup final at Wembley given out en mass or the countless, “Kids go free” incentives. Although there isn’t the swell of love for women’s football in England as in the USA, there is certainly the room to charge for the sport – even if it’s not the questionably high prices that US Soccer set for national team matches.
Tickets, get your tickets
Of the 12 WSL and 11 Championship teams, all but five across the two divisions already have tickets for the upcoming season on sale, the average online price for an adult ticket to a WSL match, £6.11 ($7.42) and just £5.88 ($7.14) for a Championship one. There are extra things to take into consideration, like the fact Arsenal add a pound or two to the cost for a ticket bought on the gate and the average for the second tier is notably higher due to the £10 cost of a Lewes ticket. But overall, for both tiers, you can expect to pay £5-£7 ($6-$8.50) for a full price adult ticket bought in advance.
VIP and hospitality tickets are reserved for cup finals, general admission all fans in England have to work with for single match tickets. Conversely, NWSL tickets are sold on a sliding scale from $14 (£11.54) [the cheapest Courage tickets] to $175 (£144) [the most expensive Thorns tickets], the league wide average for the cheapest, $17.22 (£14.19) and the most expensive, $78.11 (£64.38). (Sky Blue and Washington Spirit’s respective matches at the Red Bull Arena and Audi Field not factored in, with tickets priced from $21-$200 for Sky Blue and $32-$159 for the Spirit).
Although most fans won’t dip into their savings to pay for VIP tickets that may as well be for seats on the turf, the majority are more than happy to pay for the low and mid-range tickets. And, let’s be real, $15 or $20 seems a fair price, just as £10 or £15 would seem fair for a WSL ticket, yet teams lowball themselves and we get into a vicious cycle of devaluing women’s football in England. Just like the prior insistence on marketing women’s football to children and young families, the way the sport has historically been dealt with has cheapened it and done a disservice to the players. Whilst I appreciate that fans won’t welcome a price hike and some may not even be able to afford an increase, it’s high time the English public got used to paying for women’s football and putting a real value on it.
So, whilst I welcome the new streaming service – and don’t buy into the notion that the presence of the app will stop people from physically attending matches – I struggle to get beyond the fact that it’s yet another freebie. The streaming service used for W-League and Damallsvenskan, in which users pay a small monthly fee, is something I’d much rather see. Even just £5 or £10 per month, a token amount, would feel like progress. And maybe, once the current deal BT Sport has with WSL (that also doesn’t turn a profit) elapses, the powers that be will move forward with a paid model that shows women’s football is marketable, profitable and, crucially, sustainable.