If you do one thing for the W-League…
Six W-League seasons in and we’re having the same conversations we’ve had annually since Season 1: What will it take for female footballers to receive pay comparable to their abilities? Why are female footballers more likely to do their ACLs? And how can you possibly support your team when you can’t see all their matches?
I’ve blogged about all three issues, but the one that’s exasperating me the most right now is the third (although the ACL epidemic runs a close second, and the pay issue runs a close second to that second). It’s both because the W-League isn’t being broadcast beyond one match a week and because gridiron will be. Lingerie gridiron, that is.
Stay with me.
I chaired a sports writing panel at the National Young Writers Festival recently, and during it an audience member asked why women’s sport doesn’t get the following it deserves. My answer, straight up, having thought long and hard about it over the years, was this: You can’t see it. And if you can’t see it, you can’t support it.
If you do nothing else for women’s sport—and I mean nothing: not increasing wages (which you should) and not researching ways to stem the ever-present plague of knee injuries (which you also should)—broadcast the matches.
By ‘broadcast’, I mean showing, either on TV or via a live stream on the interwebs. By ‘matches’, I mean every. single. match.
This isn’t a criticism of the ABC’s broadcast work. Believe me, I’m grateful that our national broadcaster is picking up the slack (I’m also grateful Fox Sports will show a couple of double headers—but it’s a one-off and not consistent coverage). But the system isn’t working, for a number of reasons.
First, just one W-League match is broadcast per week. At best, you can see two games a week: one in your home town and one on TV (it’s not affordable to fly about the country to catch all the games. Besides, with many games scheduled near each other or overlapping, it’s physically impossible).
This is unique to women’s sport, because the default position with men’s sports is that you can see every single minute of every single game, whether it’s the most gripping, local-derby, top-of-the-table clash or a snooze-fest dead rubber. You may not want to watch the latter, or you may do so with some fingers-over-eyes resignation. But either way, you know how your team’s doing, and where it sits in the competition mix.
To only intermittently see your W-League team robs you of a chance to truly support them, or even to support the sport as a whole. You certainly can’t accurately gauge skill level or how competitive your team will be.
Not being able to see teams play consistently also makes it hard to form a habit of watching them. Casual fans may not realise or find out when they can watch their team play. Which makes it difficult to grow the following of a sport, and with it improve chances of obtaining sponsorship, which in turn helps with questions one and two mentioned above.
Sponsorship means money for players and for research. Money for players means they get to commit to training full time, instead of juggling 12 part-time jobs. Money for training full time and research will go some way to preventing knee injuries, with players and staff able to concentrate on improving technique and aiding recovery.
I’ll admit the whole thing sounds chicken-and-egg-ish. Do you need support (i.e. guaranteed large numbers of eyeballs tuning in) before you’ll broadcast every match? Or do you need every match broadcast before you get the support? It’s definitely the latter, but the broadcast decisions are being based on the former.
Frustratingly, the W-League’s broadcast match schedule is completed before the season kicks off. It’s based on sharing the coverage of teams equally, which is admirable. Unfortunately, it also means sometimes the broadcast matches are the dead rubbers, while the will-they-won’t-they-make-the-finals heartstoppers are played out in obscurity.
Social media has a bunch of strengths, but in isolation it is, frankly, a sub-par way to follow and support your sport. It’s a patchwork effort, and an exhausting one, requiring you to be following players and clubs and other fans in order to piece together a fuller picture. If you don’t happen to be online at the time something occurs, there’s a chance it’ll get buried in the flurry of posts and tweets—football and non-football—that fill your feed.
Nor does delayed broadcast work in this social media-dominated landscape. These days I happen to be living in a state that (foolishly) doesn’t adhere to daylight saving. Trying to dodge a match score while waiting an hour to be able to see the footage turns me into a twitching, social media- and smartphone-blocking grump. And highlights packages released later in the week? Pffffft, far, far too late.
Realistically, broadcast deals are not the answer. We need to be going straight to live stream. Un-geo-blocked live stream, which enables interstate and international fans to tune in in real time (seriously, removing geo-blocking is a monumental no-brainer). Sport is one of those things you need to see live.
Coincidentally and ironically, I wrote this blog while watching an A-League game between two teams I am not officially a fan of but am happy to watch. And I wrote it in a week where Channel 7 announced it would broadcast lingerie football. In high definition. When it doesn’t even show its AFL matches in HD. No prizes for guessing why.
Sure, I probably sound grouchy. I’m complaining I can’t see W-League matches and then I’m complaining that others who want to can see lingerie gridiron. But they’re actually two ends of the same issue: that women’s sports broadcast isn’t ever about women’s sport.
With the W-League, it’s that no one considers there to be a large enough following to warrant the cost of airing the games. With lingerie gridiron, there are eyeballs willing to tune in, but not to appreciate women’s sport (and don’t even get me started on the skimped-on safety issues about which you can sign a petition).
There’ll always be a market for women in skimpy clothing, but it’s wrong to assume there isn’t a market for ‘serious’ sport, that happens to be played by women; people just need to know it is there and be able to access it.
If you do one thing for the W-League, show all the games.