Back in September the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) announced plans for a review of the women’s game, to be chaired by former-England international Karen Carney MBE.
DCMS said the review would “look to deliver bold and sustainable growth of the women’s game at elite and grassroots level” with a primary focus on audience growth, financial sustainability, prize money, facilities and existing structures in the women’s game.
All interested parties were invited to submit evidence and here at the FSA we pulled together a group of experts and supporter representatives to draft our initial submission. A “Vision Day” held in July with the FSA’s Women’s Game Network also helped us shape the response.
- A single review can’t solve everything but we would like to see a working group created with representatives from all major stakeholders – a think tank that helps shape the exciting future that lies ahead in the women’s game, with significant supporter involvement.
- Audience and growth – Supporters should be embedded in the heart of the game, with the importance of equality and diversity emphasised while improving safeguarding and welfare.
- Commercial and broadcasting – a balance needs to be found between the interests of matchgoing fans and the growth of broadcast. Let’s not replicate the mistakes of the men’s game. We’d like to see a reduction of the gaps in the pyramid caused by broadcast too as competitive balance is critical. More thought needs to be given to commercial partnering.
- Funding – supporters agreed there is the need for some form of central funding along with a fair distribution model. Football as a whole, can afford to support the women’s game, in the same way solidarity payments are distributed in the men’s game, but the interpretation of fair distribution varies.
- Structures and governance – there should be a pathway to independence for women’s teams, an increase in transparency of finances, governance structures and supporter involvement embedded in all areas.
- Sustainability – environmental sustainability to be included in club licensing criteria.
Those recommendations are all critical, big picture items, although our research also hit upon many matchgoing issues which are massively important and deserve to be highlighted – especially those relating to away supporters, a group that can be overlooked by home clubs.
Away fan culture
Away support is a core part of fan culture, disproportionately enhancing the atmosphere at games in a way that we all enjoy. Away supporters can be the most passionate and committed fans in the game and will act as a catalyst for growth. However, away supporters often don’t feel valued, at a domestic or international level.
Supporting the Lionesses away from home is extremely difficult. Lack of support with travel arrangements and a sparsity of information means making plans can be really difficult. Ticket information for internationals is often provided with less than three weeks notice.
On the domestic front, away support is made difficult by multiple barriers including fixture clashes with men’s teams, away ticketing schemes and kick-off times (more on that below).
Home and away ends
A lack of clarity as to whether seating is reserved forces supporters’ clubs to research seating arrangements at each stadium and communicate in an unofficial capacity so fans know where to buy their ticket. We would like to see the clubs working together to implement a standard way of purchasing away tickets directly from their own club.
We would also like to see the league and the clubs implement away sections in the women’s game. This is not about the segregation of fans (as we still believe there should be a mixed zone option) but it is about having the choice so away fans can sit together and help generate a good atmosphere in the stadium.
The majority of clubs do not provide the option of a visitors’ section or, if they do, they announce it much later than the ticket release date. We advocate for supporters to have a choice whilst maintaining the benefits and option of fans from both teams sitting together too.
Ticketing & TV
Supporters said they also wanted to see greater focus given on the away fan experience in relation to customer care, ticketing and facilities. This was the case at domestic and international level.
“Supporting a club away from home is complex and requires supporters from the visiting team to create online accounts with the home team to buy a ticket,” said Jude Morris King, a Manchester City Women’s FC supporter. A WSL fan will need to register 11 different accounts in order to attend league away matches and that means 11 sets of marketing bumf from teams you don’t support.
Unsocial kick-off times also have a detrimental effect on travelling fans and numbers, especially those making longer journeys. Increased visibility is welcome and the production values on the BBC and Sky Sports are generally very good, but asking supporters to leave home at 4.30am for an 11:30am kick off hundreds of miles away leaves fans feeling undervalued and replicates existing problems in the men’s game.
The FSA says:
“Away supporters should have the choice to sit in an away section or mixed zone to help drive the atmosphere at games – a vital part of any match.
“Clubs could also look to build an away fan base by working with supporters’ groups to provide affordable travel and removing other barriers – for instance, away fans should be able to purchase tickets without having to register as fans of the home club.”