The FA WSL records a record viewership on Gameweek 1

After Sky and the BBC announced their TV deal last season, it seems that interest in the women's game has increased massively, although it still has a long way to go.

Image: Wikimedia Commons / James Boyes

Image: Wikimedia Commons / James Boyes

It’s been in the works for a while, but at long last, the FA Women’s Super League is widely available on our TV screens.

The opening weekend of the competition saw three big clashes broadcast live across both Sky and BBC, namely Manchester United v Reading, Arsenal v Chelsea, and Everton v Manchester City.

The first two, screened on Sky Sports and Sky Showcase, pulled in 366,000 and 311,000 viewers respectively, with Everton’s tussle with the Sky Blues reaching 800,000 over on BBC One.

Further to this, over one million tuned into the Women’s Football Show, the first of the season, also broadcast on BBC One.

The games broadcast were certainly entertaining, as Manchester United picked up a dominant 2-0 win over Reading, Manchester City trounced Everton 4-0, and Arsenal and Chelsea played out possibly the closest affair of the weekend, with the former overcoming the Blues 3-2 courtesy of a goal from the sensational Vivianne Miedema and two more from Bethany Mead, which cancelled out the replies of Erin Cuthbert and Pernille Harder.

The allure of the women’s game has been a topic of heated debate for years prior to the new broadcasting deal.

Whilst the audience for the sport was evidently there – see the Women’s World Cup in 2019 – some still argued that it simply wouldn’t bring in the crowds that the men’s game does, and if the big hitters like Sky and BT hadn’t already struck a deal to screen the WSL, there must be a reason for it.

However, a record viewership of 1.5 million will silence some critics for the time being at least, and although the numbers do of course still fall some way short of the masses typically recorded by broadcasts of the men’s game, there is new cause for positivity and optimism.

This sentiment was echoed by one fan I spoke to regarding the topic, who noted that it is “refreshing to see that Sky and BBC are finally making an effort to showcase women’s talent. If you show it, people will watch it.

“Once the media give the women the platform they deserve, those numbers will grow exponentially and so will female participation rates.

“Women’s football is football and is entertaining.”

They did also however note that although it is a big improvement, there is still much work to be done.

“1.5 million is a step in the right direction, but it’s still not enough.

“Female athletes are still athletes, and giving a platform to the Women’s Super League will inspire a new generation of girls, more hopeful, more hungry, and will inevitably break the glass ceiling.”

They ended on a positive note, affirming their belief in the backing of the women’s game, saying “I only see these numbers growing.”

The division between men’s and women’s sport in general has been extremely pronounced for as long as most can remember, with a 30-year study published in March this year drawing attention to the terrifying statistic that “95% of total television coverage… focused on men’s sport in 2019.” With women’s sport only receiving 5% of the airtime, it is little wonder that young girls are discouraged from pursuing a career in the games that they love.

The lack of media attention and, as a result, money involved in women’s sport means that young female athletes are actively deterred from following their dreams and fulfilling their potential.

The domino effect simply spirals from there – a lack of media attention and money means a lack of motivation to pursue sport as a financially viable career choice, leading young females to follow other aspirations, therefore reducing the overall quality of female sports because most talented youngsters decide against entering that sphere.

The rise in popularity of women’s football could therefore be massively influential for the future of the game – young girls are being given role models that previously either weren’t there or weren’t shown to them by the media.

The fan I spoke to drew attention to this also, declaring that if you “give us [women] a role model, we’ll want to do better.

“You see it in other sports like cricket now too – women’s cricket is only going to get better because they’ve been given that platform and are being paid actual wages now. That will inspire this generation and it won’t be long before we see women bowling at 80 miles per hour.

“Even though it might just be a small share of screentime, it is actually a really big deal for women because the more that it grows, the more girls get inspired. The more chances that are given to talented women and the more that it’s seen as an actual professional job – which it is – the more women are incentivised to actually go down that route.

“Previously it’s never been worth it as a woman to go into sport unless you’re a gymnast or a ballerina, and even then, it’s hardly viable. Now it’s actually worth it because you get paid real wages, and the standard is going up.

“It’s not because of genetics, it’s because women are being given a chance.”

The prospects for young female athletes are only getting better as time goes on, and the fact that the FA WSL is already such a big hit in terms of viewership can only be a good thing for the future of the game.

The positive impact of this increased coverage is already coming to fruition:

“As a young girl playing typically masculine sports, it means so much to see that female sports are finally being taken a little more seriously. It means that us girls can have role models and aspire to be on the screen one day too rather than being ignored by the media.”

It is high time women were given the recognition they deserve for their sporting efforts and achievements, and now that it is easier to see them in action, girls can at long last take inspiration from role models such as Fran Kirby, Lucy Bronze, Sam Kerr, Steph Houghton, and the aforementioned Vivianne Miedema to name but a few.

Yes, there is quite some distance to make up, and it will certainly be years, possibly decades before the women’s game makes up anywhere close to the same numbers as the male counterpart, but given the torrid history of women’s sport and the pathetic levels of media attention that it has received down the years, even this small step will feel like a massive boon for the prospects of young girls globally.