Sky’s the limit for Championship clubs with slice of new WSL TV deal

A quarter of the multi-million pound revenue can help second-tier clubs close the gap on big guns, attract top talent, and push for promotion, writes Rich Laverty. 

While the WSL revelled in the long-awaited announcement of their £24million three-year TV deal with Sky Sports and the BBC this week, it was cause for celebration for the Championship too.

Rumours had been rife for some time that Sky would be building on what ESPN and then BT Sport had started, so when the details were finally released regarding the new coverage there was widespread optimism.

It is hard to ignore the significance of the WSL being shown live on Sky Sports or BBC’s headline channels at key times across Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with TV slots selected to avoid direct clashes with the men’s game and Premier League football.

But it also came as a pleasant surprise that 25 per cent of the deal worth around £7m or £8m a year would filter down to the Championship, despite no confirmation that any second-tier games would be broadcast live.

While the money will certainly be welcome for many top tier clubs, it is unlikely that it will make a huge difference to top sides who are already breaking down barriers with regards to wages offered or transfer fees paid. 

It will, however, potentially see sides at the lower end of the table be able to take steps to make some more financially savvy signings for the upcoming season, invest in academy set-ups or generally improve playing conditions – helping them narrow the void between themselves and the top sides, and attract top talent.

We’ve also seen how increased visibility encourages bigger and better sponsorship deals in the women’s game. Over one billion people tuned into the 2019 Women’s World Cup, and we saw big name sponsors such as Coca-Cola, Adidas and VISA among others, dig deep into their pockets to get involved. The combined Sky Sports and BBC coverage next season could see a similar surge in sponsorship involvement and revenue in the WSL and Championship – which would be extremely positive.

Similarly, for those Championship clubs running part-time and full-time programmes, the 25 per cent that will filter down over the three-year deal should have a big impact. The promise of consistent funding will only encourage more teams to take on the challenge and push for promotion from the Women’s National League into the Championship and beyond.

Beyond some of the potentially negative implications, the whole deal is a huge plus for the game. When I first got involved in the sport back in 2014, BT Sport had just taken over the mantle from ESPN, who had done a great job of pushing the game forward with their own three-year deal starting at the beginning of the WSL era in April 2011.

That baseline marker is nearly a decade ago and I’m sure that many involved in the game back then would never have dared believe their game would be shown on one of the world’s biggest sports channels within a decade of the league’s inception.

Beyond the money and the support, it will give all 23 current top-two tier sides, just the knowledge women’s football will be consistently visible on Sky Sports at reasonable times next season is a huge plus in itself – as well as the BBC also showing games for those who only have access to terrestrial TV – increasing widespread visibility.

Overall, even for the most hardened sceptics of women’s football or those still not convinced the sport has solid enough foundations, it’s impossible not to be excited by the deal. I generally loathe the cliched tag lines of ‘game-changing’ or ‘watershed’, but this is one time where both are certainly applicable as the women’s game in England heads into potentially its most exciting era yet.

Follow Rich on Twitter at @RichJLaverty

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