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Women’s game: Fans fear TV KO changes will harm attendances

Supporters in the women’s game have hit out after the FA and broadcasters made a series of late changes to upcoming Women’s Super League (WSL) fixtures, with match-goers given as little as two-and-a-half weeks notice for changing kick-off times.

On 18th January it was announced that Arsenal v Manchester United’s 5th February fixture would kick-off at 12.30pm while the Gooners were also told that their away game against Chelsea would be moved to Friday 11th February (7.45pm).

Supporters fear that the range of early and late games, particularly on a Sunday midday or Sunday evening, are driving down attendances and discouraging families with children from attending.

Public transport isn’t always available for Sunday midday kick-offs if you have to travel across the country while late finishes on an evening are far from ideal, particularly for parents of kids who have to go to school on a Monday morning.

“A stadium without fans does not work”

Sian Wallis (Proud Lilywhites) sits on the FSA’s National Council as part of our Women’s Game Network and thinks more thought has to be given to matchgoing fans by the FA and broadcasters.

“Whilst we were delighted to see the TV deal at the beginning of the season our fears for matchgoing fans have been realised as we find ourselves last on the list of priorities both in terms of kick-off times and notice of fixture changes,” said Sian.

Sian Wallis (Proud Lilywhites): “It is not just the chosen teams who are affected, no one can plan for their game until the TV picks have been confirmed.”

“Ultimately a stadium without fans does not work as well on a TV screen and the current kick-off times and late announcements, not to mention clashes with the men’s games, mean more and more fans are unable to attend games.

“We all want to increase the exposure of the women’s game but this mustn’t be at the expense of the existing matchgoing fan base.”

In the men’s game, the Premier League aims to give supporters a minimum of six weeks notice for broadcast-related kick-off changes.

While they have regularly missed their own deadlines for announcing fixture changes, supporters of the men’s game can still usually rely on longer notice periods than fans of teams in the WSL. Supporters in the women’s game would benefit from improved communication from the FA in relation to broadcast announcements.

The FSA believes there should be a 12-week minimum notice period for league games so that fans can book time off work and have the best access to affordable rail tickets or other public transport options.

Environmental impact

Late changes to kick-off times also means more fans travelling via cars, as public transport might not be available, which undermines aims to reduce the game’s environmental impact.

The FSA has recently partnered with Pledgeball, an organisation that rallies football fans to help tackle the developing climate crisis, and we’d encourage supporters groups across the game to get involved.

One of the most positive steps the game could take in relation to the environment is to put far more thought into how clubs and supporters travel to games, maximising public transport options with sensible fixture scheduling and putting on subsidised coach transport where affordable.

The FSA would like to see the football industry revive talks with rail operating companies to introduce flexible football tickets which are tied to fixtures, rather than specific dates.

What can the FSA do?

The FSA’s Women’s Game Network has previously spoken to the FA about this issue, and assurances were given that fans would be considered following this season’s landmark broadcast deal. But recent events have not convinced supporters this is the case.

As a result the FSA has written to the FA to outline the concerns of supporters in the women’s game and called for further consultation when it comes to football and broadcast matters.

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