The news that Sky Sports is set to be named as the main broadcaster of the FA Women’s Super League from 2021, is yet another boost for women’s football.
Over the years Sky has constantly demonstrated its commitment to promoting the rights it owns through its powerful promotion of its Premier League and EFL programming and now the women’s game looks set to get the same treatment. Becoming part of Sky’s football eco system should ensure exposure to a significant new audience.
But what makes the new rights deal – which has yet to be confirmed – a real landmark, is that it represents the first time a domestic broadcaster will have paid a rights fee to show English women’s club football. That in itself is testament to the massive strides which have been made in recent years as women’s football has emerged from the shadow of the men’s game to gain commercial traction in its own right.
Much of that traction has been driven by the England national team’s performances at last year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup. Their charge to the semi-finals, where they lost 2-1 to eventual winners the United States, attracted huge TV audiences and made household names of many of the players.
The new-found popularity was again demonstrated in November when a record crowd of more than 77,000 was at Wembley to see the Lionesses in action against Germany.
At club level too, all the indicators show a sport heading in the right direction. Derby games played at Premier League stadiums have attracted crowds in excess of 30,000, while a healthy transfer market has seen international stars like Alex Morgan of the USA adding her talent to the English game.
The change in English women’s football in the past decade has been nothing short of breath-taking. Back then, playing football was, for most, a hobby, fitted into busy lifestyles alongside studies or a job.
Now 70-80 percent of players in the FA Women’s Super League are full time professionals, with the major stars earning up to £200,000 per year between their club deals and central contracts for the England team.
With increased TV exposure, growing match day attendance and new sponsorship coming directly to the women’s game – rather than as add-ons to deals with men’s teams - the amount of revenue coming into the women’s game is set to grow significantly in the years ahead and, in a market where talent is king, players can expect to see their financial rewards grow still further.
As a result, it has become common for top players to have agents and some player agencies have created specialist divisions to provide services for women players.
Alongside the growth in salaries, comes a new financial reality for professional players and the clubs which employ them. Full time players rely on their football earnings for their livelihoods yet, whether playing games or training, the nature of the job means they face a range of dangers. Long term or even career ending injury is a real risk and the current generation of better-paid women’s players, have an imperative to protect themselves against the loss of income which can result from being out of the game.
At the same time, players are increasingly valuable assets for the clubs who employ them, something which is reflected in the current level of salaries for top players and transfer market activity. That too requires women’s football to take a close look at the financial risk resulting from injury and ensure appropriate cover is in place.
As for in many other areas of support, the fast maturing women’s game can learn from insurance brokers such as Miller in their prominent position as advisors to men’s professional clubs and players. The risks are the same and as they grow in scale, the importance of obtaining appropriate advice is further highlighted.