KELLY SIMMONS, the Football Association’s Director of the Women’s Professional Game (I know, rolls off the tongue doesn’t it?) has announced that the FA is launching an online streaming platform dedicated to women’s football from the start of the forthcoming 2019-20 season.
The free player will stream all FA Women’s Super League (FAWSL) matches live, complementing the solid level of coverage already established by the BBC and BT Sport – who are set to televise 30 live games (multi-camera) and a weekly ‘highlights’ show.
‘FA Player’ (as good a guess as any) will provide real time access to over 150 matches throughout the season, encompassing every FAWSL fixture, as well as a pre-selected game each week from the Women’s Championship.
In addition, the service will offer coverage of the Lionesses, the FA Cup and the Continental League Cup, and provide archive footage and features.
Capitalising on the peak 11.7m viewing audience for the England Women’s team at this summer’s World Cup remains key to sustaining the sport’s momentum in this country. Already over 50,000 tickets have been sold for the Lionesses’ fixture with Germany at Wembley in November, a record number, so demand – certainly for women’s international football – is continuing to rise.
Marzena Bogdanowicz, FA Head of Commercial and Marketing for Women’s Football (another catchy job title) told BBC Radio 5-Live recently, “nearly all the Lionesses will be playing on your local doorstep, but we want the media to do more. This is the key time.”
Launch is planned just before the opening weekend of fixtures on September 7th and 8th, which includes the Manchester derby at the Etihad and an all-London affair between Chelsea and Tottenham at Stamford Bridge.
The initiative comes hard on the heels of other schemes being proposed by the FA including double headers with men’s matches, played at Premier League stadia – the finer details of which are yet to be explained more fully.
The announcement hints at a user-friendly service, with Simmons talking of all matches being available ‘at the click of a button’. This will be vital for technophobes like yours truly who are keen to follow the women’s Super League but find navigating half the internet a complete nightmare… the FA’s own website included at times. Simplicity of sign up and access will be crucial to building and retaining an audience.
Presumably advertising and sponsorship are going to be key to making the service profitable or at least pay for itself, but that mustn’t detract from the ease and enjoyment of viewing the football.
Side note – Just a thought, but uploading all FAWSL highlights on a platform such as YouTube each week could also be a winner and again attract advertisers if hit rates are good. I’ve followed the NFL (American ‘Gridiron’ Football) through this platform and haven’t missed a key play over several 17-week regular seasons and four post-season weekends.
With the player viewed as “a pivotal and significant step in the FA’s journey to grow the women’s game and attract new audiences across the UK”, it will be interesting to see what impact it has on attendance figures, if any. A big step in developing women’s football in England is to double average ground attendances by 2021.
Over in the United States, there was a palpable ‘bounce’ in figures following the return of the victorious US Women’s National Team but some of the NWSL clubs are already seeing gates fall back to their previous levels.
Debate may surface about whether the player will enable the FAWSL to draw bigger crowds longer term through unprecedented access to matches and top stars online, or whether it will actually keep people away because they can watch women’s football from the comfort of their own armchair, dipping in and out at their convenience.
But all in all, this feels like a good move with real possibilities in terms of audience engagement – particularly the younger generations who are tech savvy and also less inclined to view women’s football with the derision of ‘old-skool’, dyed-in-the-wool supporters of men’s teams.
As a season ticket holder for a men’s EFL League One team I know that (with the best will in the world) I’ll only get to a few women’s games on a Sunday. My family might get pretty cheesed off with me being out all weekend! But I will be delighted to be able to access live games from home or catch up on my phone through extended highlights on my work commute…