'Game-changing' TV deal pumps money into English women's football

·3-min read
A new TV rights deal for the English Women's Super League has been described as "game-changing"

Football chiefs have announced a "game-changing" three-year broadcast deal for the English Women's Super League that will inject millions into the game and boost exposure.

Sky Sports will show up to 44 games per season, with the BBC screening 22 matches free-to-air in a deal reported to be worth around £7 million ($9.7 million) per year.

The Football Association's director of the women's professional game, Kelly Simmons, said the deal was "a game-changing agreement that will transform" the WSL.

She said she believed it was the biggest domestic commercial contract ever agreed for women's football rights, describing it as a "landmark deal" for the whole of the women's game.

"When we look at the benchmarks around audience, this without doubt will take us to be the most-watched women's sports league in the world," she said.

"It is transformational. This is mainstream, this is prime slots on television, big audiences, week in, week out, and I think it's such an exciting step for the women's game. It is quite an emotional moment."

- 'Marketable' -

Chelsea women's manager Emma Hayes said the deal proved that people were willing to pay to watch.

"It really is a big day for women's football," Hayes said ahead of the first leg of her side's Champions League quarter-final against German giants Wolfsburg on Wednesday.

"This is just what we've been working towards. Every time we put out a product for people to watch, it's all been about driving standards so it can become marketable.

"That's where the game has reached, it's not just one club, this is all about the whole. I think this is a real celebration for women's football and everyone involved in it."

The WSL has begun to follow in the footsteps of England's Premier League by attracting top talent from around the globe.

Chelsea signed Pernille Harder from Wolfsburg for a world-record fee for a women's player in September.

"It is already the case that England is getting really attractive," said Chelsea and Sweden defender Magda Eriksson. "Having this type of TV deal just amplifies that really."

It is the first time the rights to the WSL have been sold separately from those to the men's game, with the 12 top-flight clubs receiving a proportion of the revenue.

Clubs in the Women's Championship will also benefit, with 25 percent of the funds fed down to the second tier.

Games not on Sky Sports or the BBC will continue to be shown live via the FA Player, the governing body's free streaming platform.

Despite the squeeze on clubs' finances as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich expects more money to be invested in women's football.

"I see no reason why clubs wouldn't want to support women's football and provide the best possible opportunity for them to succeed," the Russian oligarch told Forbes.

"For me, this is both about the principle, but also, women's football has huge potential. If women's football received the same level as support as men's football, the sport would obviously be equally successful on the business side."