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  • Writer's pictureHarry Bailey

How a World Cup broadcast blackout would affect women's football in Australia

The FIFA Women’s World Cup is lurking around the corner. It is expected to be a significant development for promoting women’s football in Australia. Despite Football Australia’s (FA) long-term ambitions for the tournament, a possible broadcast blackout now puts the tournament's viewership projections at serious risk.

The blackout has been threatened after FIFA president Gianni Infantino publicly criticised European broadcasters for lowballing their offers to screen the tournament. Infantino described the offers as “disappointing” and a “slap in the face”.

As FIFA leans towards achieving prize money parity by 2027 for both the men's and women’s editions, Infantino believes broadcasters have a duty "to promote and invest in women’s sport”.

FIFA is not budging to accept offers of around $1-10 million, leaving European nations such as England, France, Germany, Spain, and Italy without viewing rights for the big tournament.

Front Page Football recently spoke to FA Head of Women’s Football Sarah Walsh about the matter, who explained how the value of this World Cup is a complex issue.

“It’s a nuanced conversation. There’s a balance to ensure that this Women’s World Cup reaches all markets but also meets its true value," Walsh told FPF.

“It’s really important that FIFA are thinking very carefully [about] how they are balancing these two things together.”

Walsh expressed that since FIFA’s decision to separate the women’s and men’s World Cup rights in 2021, broadcasters are yet to consider the current value of the women’s game adequately.

“Handing it over (the broadcasting rights) for what is being put forward by the European markets does not support the growth of the women’s game," she said.

"Unbundling those rights will take a bit of time for them (broadcasters) to understand the true value of the World Cup.

“We are only starting to scratch the surface on sporting rights for football properties. It’s going to be a bit of an adjustment period to truly reflect what the value of the rights should be.”

Walsh (centre) at an event marking 100 days to go until the Women's World Cup. (Tiffany Williams/Football Australia)

Walsh also believes the Matildas are leading the way in promoting women’s sports, and European broadcasters should take note of Australia’s efforts in promoting the game.

“Here in Australia, we are seeing major growth in our broadcast numbers, ticketing, and sponsorship,” she said.

“Our partners in Australia are going to take our game to new and improved heights.”

With the blackout looming for the European nations mentioned above, what impact could it have on the FA’s plan to further develop women’s football? A World Cup blackout would pose many issues for the FA.

Let's cast our minds back to 2021 when the FA announced the 15-year plan outlining its long-term goals to develop women's football from hosting a World Cup. The 'Legacy '23' report would act as a campaign to help increase women's participation, improve facilities, empower more female leaders, and enhance international engagement.

Under the ‘tourism & international engagement’ banner of the campaign, one of the major goals for the tournament was to help boost international relations with all the participating nations. Long-term, this strategy would help attract new players both locally and globally. FA CEO James Johnson highlights in the report that Legacy '23 aims for Australia "to become the centre of women’s football in the Asia-Pacific region.”

The FA have already started to commit its efforts to this area, as seen last year through introducing a women’s pathway program for Pacific footballers. The program quickly became a critical pathway for elite athletes from Pacific regions, as they were allowed to undergo trials at A-League Women's sides.

The FA is significantly emphasising improving Australian football through international talent. As the country's football governing body co-hosting this World Cup, the FA have a fantastic opportunity to extend its pathway programs into Europe further and potentially into the United States (US).

With the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France reaching over one billion television viewers, the FA has vast potential to promote Australia. The concept is simple: the more eyes, the more engagement. However, should this threatened blackout persist, unfortunately for the FA, viewership numbers across the globe would shrink significantly.

Australia already suffers from its complicated international time zones, and a World Cup is one of few opportunities to gain attention from a worldwide audience. A World Cup boosts international attention and encourages international viewers to consume the A-League Women's and Men’s competitions.

Although the Matildas compare favourably against those internationally, the A-League Women must still catch up globally. Compared to many of the Matildas' counterparts, such as the Lionesses and the US Women's National Team (USWNT), each nation's respective league is a significant asset in developing homegrown players.

Take the Lionesses, for example. The Women’s Super League (WSL) received 8.4 million live views in 2022. This viewership broke records and undoubtedly helped attract players worldwide, as the increase in viewers also increased the league's revenue. Attracting many top players worldwide, such as Australia’s very own Sam Kerr, means the financial advantage the WSL has over the A-League Women is monumental.

Sydney FC celebrate winning the 2022/23 A-League Women championship recently. (AAP/James Gourley)

Whilst hosting a Women’s World Cup may not boost the A-League Women to the heights of the WSL, Australia would be showcased as a footballing nation, promoting its cities, stadiums, and lifestyle. Australian football is then promoted from the grassroots up by encouraging a younger generation to get their boots on. It makes Australia an attractive destination for international football talents.

Per the Legacy '23 campaign, the 15-year plan to incorporate international talent would create pathways for elite-level players to develop their game in Australia. Thus, the quality of the A-League Women improves, increasing television views and revenue. The A-League Women would skyrocket to new heights.

Increased financial support would help clubs recruit international talent and encourage young aspiring athletes to choose football. Thus, a larger pool of talented female footballers in Australia's youth systems would improve the development of women’s football in Australia.

But a European blackout would diminish this growth, as powerful football nations are deprived of the World Cup spectacle. Australia would be stripped of millions of potential views.

With fewer eyes on the tournament, the chances of European talent coming down under to develop their careers are lower. But Walsh is confident this World Cup won’t go unnoticed by European nations, and FIFA will allow access to the tournament somehow.

“I hope we find a medium ground. We need to understand FIFA's objective [for] this World Cup, which is to commercialise the women’s game,” she said.

“I have no doubt, however, that FIFA will find some kind of solution that would allow European countries to watch these matches.”

But with the World Cup ready to kick off in just over two months, tensions between FIFA and European broadcasters don’t seem to be easing.

Whilst Walsh is hopeful an agreement will eventually transpire, the FA will be biting their nails every step of the way.

For more content covering women's football in Australia, click here to read our feature on APIA Leichhardt striker Isabella Coco-Di Sipio!


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