The progress of women’s football in Spain is being thwarted by the broadcast stalemate and strike threat, writes Martin Whiteley.
Nobody can deny the recent impact of Barcelona on women’s football in Spain after a maiden Champions League win for the country – but the Primera Division TV deal dispute is threatening to undermine their hard work.
A 4-0 home victory this weekend against Athletic Bilbao gave Barca their 12th straight top-flight win this season. The leaders have scored 72 league goals in the process, conceding just three.
Their defence of the Champions League is also looking good, having already assured a place in this season’s last eight after claiming maximum points from their first four Group C games. While there has already been personal glory for captain Alexia Putellas who recently picked up this year’s Women’s Ballon d’Or trophy.
As for their El Clasico rivals Real Madrid, they’re currently on a five-game unbeaten run after beating basement Villarreal 2-0 at the weekend and overcoming a sluggish start to the campaign. Despite still having some work to do, they are expected to advance from their group to join Barca in the Champions League quarter-finals too.
The funds available to these two clubs allows them to give their female players the best facilities, a good working wage, and first-class medical attention. This has allowed them to drive a rapid rise in the standards of the Primera Division and the Spanish national team.
However, this financial clout is not matched by rest of the Primera Division. The league is lagging a long way behind the two behemoths in professionalism, intent, and financial security. Unlike Barca and Real Madrid, many other clubs rely on money that is generated as a group. The greatest amount of this would come from a good television deal.
In 2019, the Spanish media rights and production agency, Mediapro, invested €9 million to broadcast women’s top-flight games for three years. As well as the money from the deal, Mediapro pledged a further €1.5m in the hope of averting the November 2019 strike over pay and part-time contracts by ensuring that salary contributions could be met. The strike went ahead before the dispute was eventually resolved that December and when the collective agreement was signed the company invested another €1.1m.
However, this agreement only covered teams that were part of the Association of Women’s Soccer Clubs (ACFF). Back then, Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao were not part of that organisation. The following year, the list of non-ACFF sides grew to include Real Madrid, who had merged with Tacon ahead of the 2020-21 season.
As well as showing games on their own in-house channels, Real and Barca signed a deal with the Madrid-based broadcaster RTVE in October 2020. Madrid CFF, Athletic Bilbao, and Santa Teresa joined them in this deal.
This October, four of the teams signed another one-season deal covering their home games, while newly-promoted Deportivo Alaves took the place of relegated Santa Teresa.
One month earlier, the remaining clubs had been dealt a devastating blow when Mediapro abruptly pulled out of the final year of their agreement. They stated that the inability of all parties to resolve the TV rights issue was their reason for withdrawing. The company did say that it would return when the situation gets resolved. However, the French Ligue 1 terminated their TV deal with Mediapro, due to the company’s financial difficulties.
Needing a solution the clubs demanded that the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) get involved. The response of the RFEF was to try and convince the ACFF clubs to join those already with RTVE.
That idea was flatly rejected. It was seen as a step backwards after the money Mediapro had invested recently and will hopefully do so again very soon.
Before they will fully ratify the new professional league, The High Council for Sports – the Spanish government agency who will run the league until the RFEF takes over in 2024 — want a unanimous proposal presented to them.
One proposal has been submitted by Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, and Athletic Bilbao, while another is supported by the 12 ACFF clubs. Madrid CFF have not associated themselves with either. This impasse will need to be bridged if Spanish women’s football is to progress.
Not surprisingly, the players are unhappy with the current stalemate. Representatives from 14 of the clubs recently met at the headquarters of the Association of Spanish Footballers to voice their concerns. It was hinted afterwards that there was talk of another strike.
The standard on the field of the Spanish women’s league and national team has never been higher. The task now is for those in charge off the field to up their game considerably, to make sure all that hard work can be fully capitalised on going forward.
Follow Martin on Twitter @673martin