Writing about women’s sport is unique. Oftentimes you will cover subjects, themes, events you hope you never have to address again. You hope that the words you write will become redundant and old; helpful for carbon dating and reflection but definitely not still relevant or applicable.
I experienced that feeling when it was announced that every match in Australia’s W-League would be available to watch for the first time in the competition’s history.
What was a dream just a few seasons ago is now a reality. Every W-League match will be available for fans to watch through a combination of television and streaming.
Thursday night will become synonymous with W-League action as one prime time game will be shown every week. This, coupled with fewer double headers, signals a concerted effort to make the W-League the main event rather than the opening act before a men’s match.
Fox Sports—the pay TV channel that showed a limited amount of the competition—will now broadcast all games. Half will be on television, the other half will be streamed via their website (however, a subscription is required to access the streamed matches).
For those who don’t have or don’t want pay TV, the My Football Live app has been introduced and follows similar apps that have been brought out for netball, Australian Rules and rugby league. All matches will be available to be streamed through the app; however, this also comes at a cost with weekly ($4.99 AUD), monthly ($16.99 AUD) and annual ($99.99 AUD) subscription options available.
The W-League will still have some free-to-air TV presence with 15 regular season games plus the finals shown on SBS.
International fans will also be able to watch the W-League with ESPN+ and BT Sport signing deals to show the competition in North America and the United Kingdom respectively.
Amidst all these changes I don’t want to dwell on the negative, but it’s important to have an awareness of what still needs to be changed. Of course the broadcasting deal isn’t perfect. There are sections of fans who will be priced out of watching the full season. There are also technological barriers which must be considered.
Fans who want to watch all the games have two options: fork out the money for subscription television (you can’t just buy the sports package), or fork out the money for the app and be restricted to 7-inch screens.
Putting a cost on accessing coverage inherently limits its reach. That’s unavoidable. Similarly, limiting the app’s coverage to mobile phones and tablets and placing a screen size restriction makes viewing less comfortable than a laptop screen or a television.
Broadcasting also affects scheduling. Even though there are fewer double headers, six of them are on Fridays; in order for the men’s A-League games to kick off around 7:50pm, the women’s matches will start at 5:20pm local time. That’s an inconvenient time both for fans who want to get to the game and those who can only watch at home.
However, for the most part, I’m delighted with what’s on offer and the progress that’s been made.
Longtime Effortistas may remember I wrote about W-League and broadcasting at the start of 2017. At the time, I complained about how I couldn’t immerse myself fully in the league because I wasn’t able to watch every game. This inability to watch wasn’t a choice I made but one that was made for me as only one game per round was available on TV.
I spoke to the then-editor of The Women’s Game, Ann Odong, whose optimism I admired but couldn’t feel myself:
I’m hopeful that the broadcast situation will improve. I’m hopeful that there are going to be discussions with people who consume the product to find out what works best considering it’s all about making sure people who are going to watch and engage with it are able to see it.
Since the A-League’s first season in 2005, every match has been available to watch through pay TV. Select matches have been shown on free to air since the 2013-14 season and now the entire season is available through the My Football Live app.
The blueprint for the women was clear. Being able to watch every single game was the goal and a combination of TV and streaming was the ideal means to achieve it.
The 2017-2018 season saw more games broadcast than in 2016-17, the season I wrote the piece in.
Yet fans still couldn’t watch every game and, as I wrote in a piece for The Women’s Game, “A few years ago, the W-League was only shown as part of double headers with men’s A-League games. That is, more often than not, still the condition behind W-League games being broadcast.”
That is no longer the case. In fact, rather than the W-League’s TV presence being dependent on the men’s game, under the new broadcasting deal the two leagues are almost equal.
For the first time, any way you can watch the A-League, you can also watch the W-League.
Although the broadcast deal involves a cost for fans (I speak for many when I say the freely available livestreams of NWSL games stirs up some envy), it’s money that is going back into the league.
Broadcast money is one of the most significant sources of revenue for sporting leagues around the world. While not paying would be ideal, this money has likely allowed the league to increase both the salary cap and the salary cap floor—the minimum amount clubs must spend. This has consequently made the minimum salary rise, to around $12,000 AUD, and the average salary is expected to hit $17,500 AUD.
While player payment increases are crucial considering female athletes are often insufficently remunerated, I can’t help but focus on the broadcasting announcement from a selfish perspective. This is the first development in Australian women’s football—since I’ve been following it anyway—that directly benefits me.
My favourite reaction was from a woman who replied to one of my many very sentimental, very emotional tweets saying ‘WE DID IT!!!’
While we weren’t in any boardrooms nor do we hold any positions of power, the solidarity felt between fans and the community that has been created on social media means we really did feel this deeply. Maybe more than we should have. We felt like our hours of complaining, our tweets directed at company accounts, our attempts to show that the league was worthy of more than it received helped in some sort of way.
The season begins on October 25. As it progresses I have no doubt we will learn more about what works and what doesn’t.
But for the moment I finally feel that hope others had when things didn’t look as rosy, and I’m embracing it fully.