BBC ‘not building on Women’s World Cup success by snubbing games with small crowds’

Jack Hardy
Jill Scott of England takes a selfie with friends and family after the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France Quarter Final match between Norway and England on June 27, 2019 in Le Havre, France.  - Getty Images Contributor

The BBC could let the success of women’s football “disappear” by pulling the broadcast of any live domestic matches that attract only small crowds, it has been claimed.

Fixtures in the forthcoming Women’s Super League (WSL) will be streamed by the broadcaster as it tries to build on the popularity of this summer’s Women’s World Cup.

More than 28 million people tuned in for the tournament, which saw England’s Lionesses reach the semi-finals and a 500 per cent increase in peak audience compared with 2015’s event.

From next month, one WSL game a week is due to be streamed on BBC iPlayer and the BBC Sport website, with a new platform set up by the Football Association offering access to more than 150 live fixtures.

But Barbara Slater, BBC director of sport, said domestic matches would have to meet a “quality” standard to be selected for broadcast.

BBC's Director of Sport Barbara Slater Credit: PA

Speaking at a women in sports event at the Edinburgh TV Festival, she told an audience: “There is no question that some of the WSL matches fit that bill, but not all of them.

"We have collectively made decisions with rights holders on occasions not to televise, particularly some of the women’s international matches, because they were going to be so poorly presented and so poorly attended.”

While 56,000 tickets  have already been sold for the Lionesses clash with Germany at Wembley on Nov 9, the domestic games attract an average gate of about 1,000.

Ms Slater said: “We wouldn’t be showing men’s sports if we only had 1,000 people attending.”

The move was greeted with scepticism by Jo Tongue, a sports agent, who claimed it risked sapping the momentum built during the World Cup.

She said: “The problem is you’re letting [crowds] disappear. My niece and nephew knew the names of all the Lionesses … but two months down the line they’re back on Fifa.

"They can tell me every Arsenal men’s player but they can’t name the women’s.” Ms Tongue said that the BBC had a duty “to keep these faces visible”.

On Friday night there was a breakthrough for the sport as Karen Carney, the former England international, became the first female footballer to appear as a pundit on BBC Radio 5 Live’s coverage of the Premier League.