The Invisible Twelfth Man: Has The New TV Be A Good Thing For Attendances?

Photo: BarclaysFAWSL

Ask fans of any Premier League club about where football went wrong. Those of a certain age will undoubtedly say when Sky Sports entered the fray.

Inconvenient kick-off times which no fan can get to. An increase in ticket prices, knowing that tv money will make up for any that are unsold. Player wages that made the divide between the supposed Top Six and the rest of the League into a canyon.

The disconnect between fans and game grew and never really recovered. What was once the working-class game had turned into the stopping ground of the hooray Henry’s. Those whose shoulders the game had been built, priced out, never to return.

[blockquote text=”The higher cash injection had changed the game forever and not necessarily got the better.” show_quote_icon=”yes” text_color=”#dd3333″]

It was announced that the FA had brokered a deal with Sky with broadcast rights. Once the jubilations were over the trepidation started. Blinded by the prospect of money, the pitfalls were never fully examined.

On the surface what could go wrong. The Sky deal would help a drastically underfunded sport. Starting with the top flight and soon this will filter to other divisions and finally give a boost to the grassroots. Though anyone can tell you trickle-down economics never works. But more importantly it was going to help cement the legitimacy of the sport.

That being played week in week out on one of the biggest stages in the sporting world. There are upsides to this deal of course there are. Firstly, the quality of the film production would be drastically increased. No longer would fans be subject to shaky camera work causing seasickness. One camera up on a tripod with no angles. A rouge cameraman’s hand wiping the rain off the lens. Action replays of all goals and contentious decisions. Fans were salivating at the prospect.

Even when respected institutions held the games such as the BBC, the footage was less than desired. With the money behind the deal, finally, the game could be watched the way it was always meant to be.

With a bigger budget, higher-profile commentators could be hired. Ones who had actually done research into the game. That actually knew the players names. What a concept. What a hope!

Soon the practicalities of the deal come in and this is purpose of the article. Why the deal is actually terrible for the women’s game at this stage of growth.

The biggest reason is kick off times it affects on attendance. It became clear early on that the Women’s game were not going to get the choice cuts in tens of tv times. Instead, they were to be sandwiched in between the men’s fixtures. This means all televised fixtures were 7:30 on a Friday. 11 am on a Saturday and 12 on a Sunday or 18:45 that evening. Which is not ideal. Many of the fixtures are too late or early for their target audience. Because let’s face it the women’s game is still being marketed as a family game. Most of the evening games have been sparsely attended due to many parents not wanting their children out in the cold so late.

Let’s take the Spurs v West Ham game that recently played out at The Hive. This is a derby with both teams involved having a fraught history with each other. Despite both being London teams the attendance was a fraction under 700. Which for a derby in this reporter’s view is pathetic. The reverse fixture which was played before Christmas at three was a slightly more healthy 1242.

But I don’t blame the fans, it was a toss up for most if they were going to make it. Due to travel, work or school concerns many decided to not take the risk.

We are seeing it more and more in the league. The awkward game times are making it tough for fans to travel and we are seeing lower and lower attendances. One Birmingham game got as low as the mid 200’s.

If the point of this deal was growing the game then it’s failed. Unlike the men’s game, the deal won’t cover lost revenue putting already stretched funds under further pressure. Teams don’t have the sponsorship deals, merchandise profit and other external cash sources to make up the stop gap. Therefore we are pushing the gap between clubs supported by their brother club and those who are not, even wider.

Clubs themselves have said they have a big concern over attendance. Emma Hayes, Chelsea’s coach speaking on midweek fixtures ‘ we need to have prime time slots to build our game. Moving a London derby to midweek from a weekend. It needs work.’

Photo: @WestHamWomen

This leads to the second reason why this deal is not the deal it has been publicised to be. The spilt when it was announced was to be 70 percent WSL and 30 Championship. This completely negates the tiers which in this writer’s humble opinion need the most help.

Most of the top tier clubs have big brother clubs helping them. With funding, promoting the game and providing facilities. I say most as we all know the Birmingham/ Liverpool situation. Where the women’s team are left to fend for themselves.

But if the top-flight teams have a one hundredth of their male equivalent’s budget then the third tier and lower have a 100th of that. With players having to juggle full-time jobs/ education with training and games. Expansion is a pipe dream and it is making harder for these players to make the jump. How many talented players may we have lost because it’s become not worth it?

With the gap growing wider and wider we will never have a Jamie Vardy story in the Women’s Game, a player so talented they can jump from non-league to top-flight and achieve greatness.

The next stumbling block is not exclusive to Sky but its profile has exacerbated the problem. It’s sudden explosion on the social media scene has seen an increase of abuse aimed at the players and the game as a whole.

This was going to happen regardless of which platform picked up the game. It’s in this reporter’s opinion this is a downside that has very little pay off is even worse.

Despite having specific social media channels, certain Neolithic individuals feel the need to spit vitriol. Ranging from the boring ‘get back in the kitchen’ or ‘ nobody cares’ to vile cancer wishes and rape threats.

I don’t think this is Sky’s fault entirely but little seems being done to prevent it. Someone must have known that pushing the game onto such a pivotal sporting platform would increase attention. Both negative and positive. There must have been a contingency plan but there clearly isn’t.

These players are not celebrities like their male counterparts. There is not a huge team to hide them from this barrage. From the mildly irritating to the more serious, most players will see it all. Once again stunting the growth of the game.

In conclusion, the deal seemed like a dream come true. But the truth is Sky is a premium product. It’s not accessible to all and it’s made a game that was full accessible untouchable. Changing of times, grounds and other details has led to a decline in attendance, a decline in the funding despite the opposite promised. Most importantly a decline in growth which was the point all along.

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