How the pandemic has affected the Women’s Super League

The coronavirus pandemic has had a huge effect on sports as a whole, but particularly when it comes to women’s sports and women’s football.

If you look back to the summer of 2019, World Cup fever swept across England as the Women’s national team reached the semi finals of the tournament in France.

Data from the BBC showed that 47% of the UK population watched the coverage of the tournament with 11.7 million people tuning in for the semi final against the USA.

It was the highest live TV audience in 2019 at the time. Then just months later, the sport ground to a halt due to the emergence of Coronavirus.

The Women’s Super League season was officially called off in May 2020 with the league decided on a point per game basis.

Financial impact

The financial impact that clubs suffered really started to show from that point onwards.

At the time there wasn’t a significant TV rights deal in place that may have helped ease the blow for clubs. Many of those in the WSL rely significantly on Matchday revenue.

Recent accounts released by Manchester United Women for the financial year ending June 2021 show a loss of £76k in Matchday revenue compared to the previous year, this is due to playing games behind closed doors.

The club also saw commercial revenue drop by £416k and this was a result of rebates having to be given to sponsors.

For the season suspended Chelsea, who were crowned eventual champions received prize money of £100k which is striking in comparison to what clubs in the Premier League receive.

They did however donate all of their winnings to charity which shows how much some clubs, particularly those towards the top of the Women’s game are backed financially by their owners.

The prize money for 2021 remained the same.

While the pandemic has been difficult for all teams in the WSL, the teams lower down that receive less support from their club will certainly have felt the affects more.

Return of fans and TV deal

This season has seen fans return to stadiums for the first time since the pandemic began. It has provided a real boost to clubs and will go a long way in helping them recover from the crisis.

For the first time ever a landmark broadcasting deal was agreed between the FA, the Premier League and Sky ahead of the current season. It is worth around £8 million a season and will see a huge amount of increased revenue in the Women’s game.

The increased coverage and the quality of it has also resulted in more people being interested in women’s Football. A report published recently by Leaders in Sport and Sky Sports 21% of adults have spent more time following women’s sport in the last 18 months, with 68% putting this down to the improved coverage.

The deal represents a huge step forward for the WSL and will really take the game to the next level.

Tracey Crouch MP, and chair of the fan led review into football said: “The research shows that despite the challenges of the pandemic, women’s sport has great resilience and it’s not just surviving but thriving.”

2021 also saw the return of the Women’s Football Weekend in November. An event that champions women’s football and encourages fans to go and watch their local side.

The weekend set a new TV record for the WSL with matches broadcast on Sky Sports and BBC drawing cumulative audience of more than 1.5 million.

Attendance records were also broken with the North London derby between Tottenham and Arsenal attracting a record crowd of 2,900.

This all shows that whilst the pandemic has had a profound affect on clubs in the women’s game, there have been many positives to come out of it and it seems to be growing faster than ever.

Main photo credit: Esperando, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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