Why this BBC presenter has criticised his own bosses for not backing women’s football
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Nick Conrad is thrilled women's football has risen in profile over the last decade - but says the time is now right for it to get a better showing on TV
Last week Barclays Bank prised open the purse strings to back the Women's Super League.
The deal, worth a sizable £10million over three years, is a timely boost to a competition which is flagging behind its male counterpart. In no way is the cash injection comparable to the megabucks of the Premier League, but it goes some way to raise the profile of the game. I'm totally and utterly wed to Norwich City; however, I'd happily support a team playing in the women's game. The BBC has run endless articles and features about the lack of parity between the two sexes in general – but it's 'Auntie' who now needs to play her part.
Though I accept the BBC's influence in the UK has diminished over the years, our television and radio output commands the attention of millions. The time is right for the BBC to commission a women's Match of The Day, scheduled in a primetime slot. Importantly, it needs to follow the exact same format as Gary Lineker's programme. Better still, should we combine the two? Yes, maybe the viewing figures wouldn't be spectacular, but the whole point of the licence fee is to allow us to broadcast programmes which wouldn't be seen as commercially viable. Over time I'd bet that the women's game would rise in profile and popularity!
I'd also encourage the FA to look at schemes to subsidise entry into matches, especially for youngsters, to raise attendances. All EFL clubs partnered with women's teams could allow their season ticket holders to go through the turnstiles for both men's and women's matches.
We seem fixated on wage parity but in football we are miles behind tennis, which enjoys a more prominent women's game.
The Sporting Intelligence survey says, at the end of 2017, there were 157 players in the Women's Super League in England, across 10 teams. The average annual salary for those players was £26,752. Most Premier League players would earn more than that in a week.
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This figure illustrates beautifully the difference between the two games, and why pursuing economic parity, for now, is futile. The bigger and more immediate goal is trying to give businesses the appetite to invest – and that can only be done by growing the influence of the game.
Wealthy clubs have a responsibility to help the women's game. Manchester City are a good example of recent investment, but there are other teams with global brands that have understandably chosen not to. Contrary to common perception, football clubs run on skeleton resources to maximise the amount of cash they can plough into transfers and wages. More needs to be done so that standalone women's clubs can generate income to at least become fully professional and viable in their own right, and avoid falling by the wayside.
The appetite for women's football definitely exists, but we need better visibility of the players currently at the top of the game, in order to inspire the next generation of female footballers – and that's where I'd like to see the BBC playing a greater part.
Last year the FA set about its ambitious strategy to raise the participation and profile of the women's game by 2020. This ambition would be greatly boosted by a network broadcaster giving the elite women's game a greater platform.
Equality with men's football is an unachievable benchmark. Women's football needs to stand on its own. Simply scheduling a women's Match of The Day highlights show will help move the game out of the shadows.