The UK news outlet Birmingham Mail reported Monday on a broadcasting decision by Sky Sports, a large British media company that airs sports content across several channels. The FA Women’s Cup Final was broadcast on Sky Sports 2, and was an exciting match between the Birmingham City Ladies and the Chelsea Ladies. Birmingham City tied the match 2-2 in the 112th minute, coming from behind for the second time in the game. They ended up outshooting Chelsea 3-2 in the ensuing penalty kick drama, winning it all. But some viewers didn’t get to watch the action, because when the match was still 2-1 and with 8 minutes left of stoppage time, Sky Sports 2 switched over to the Men’s League One Final. Sky immediately aired the rest of the women’s match on their “red button” service, but not all television providers, including Virgin, have red button and so those viewers seeking to watch the rest of the women’s match were completely out of luck.
Just so we’re clear, League One in men’s soccer is two tiers below the English Premier League. In other words, the two teams that played in the League One Final, Charlton Athletic and Sheffield Wednesday, have now been promoted to the Championship League, and if either of them finish at the top of that league next year, only then would they play in the EPL among the likes of Arsenal, Manchester United, and Chelsea.
Like the WPS in America, which folded two weeks ago, women’s football in the UK has struggled to stay afloat. Thus, national coverage on a big-time tv station is incredibly important. The Birmingham City Ladies’ club secretary, Mike Maybury, said: “Sky had taken the contract to air it, they should have fulfilled their obligation. We nearly folded a few years ago because we couldn’t get funding, luckily someone did invest a little in us, but the money in women’s football is nothing compared to men’s football. We’ve always had to fight for everything. The match on Sky was a good advertisement for women’s football, which is another reason it’s so disappointing that it was not aired to the end of the game.”
I feel like a broken record but it bears repeating: people who like watching men’s sports will like watching women’s sports, but if sports media limits people’s ability to watch it, then they’ll never watch it, and never become invested in it. Although Sky Sports characterized the move as “a difficult scheduling decision,” I’m sure it wasn’t. Sky Sports probably figured more people would tune in to the third-tier men’s final than to the first-tier women’s final, and maybe they are right. But this will always be a self-fulfilling prophesy if viewers aren’t given the opportunity to watch women’s sports, especially the most exciting part of a game between the two best teams during the culmination of the entire season.