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Katy Sandalls: Can streaming save women's football?

PUBLISHED: 10:15 08 August 2019 | UPDATED: 10:15 08 August 2019

Women's Super League games are set to be streamed from this season Picture: PA Images

Women's Super League games are set to be streamed from this season Picture: PA Images

PA Wire/PA Images

To stream or not to stream, that's the question Katy Sandalls asks herself this month as women's football prepares to step into a brave new world.

In the words of Natalie Imbruglia, nothing is quite right and I am indeed torn. There's been a lot of surprising goings on in football this month - and not just Alex Greenwood possibly heading over to Lyon.

Despite coming to the crescendo of transfer season nothing seems to have divided - and not in an Ed Sheeran way - women's football fans like plans to broadcast top league women's games online.

Yes, as is often the way now, another big FA announcement comes just before my column is due. This time it's the news that all FAWSL games (and one FAWC game) will be available for free on the new FA player.

Excellent, you scream. You're always telling us women's football needs more coverage. Excellent, I scream back, you've been listening to me! I really do think this is a fantastic opportunity for women's football, it's just not convinced me fully.

Last month, I said that what women's football needs is bums on seats, people getting out and about to support their respective teams. Views online is obviously not bums on seats.

It's an easier, more convenient way of watching football for fans, but it isn't one that provides money directly to the clubs in the same way, and it isn't one that creates atmosphere in stadiums.

There's little worse than watching a streamed game in an empty stadium, believe me. A few years ago I watched some streams of England international games on the continent; the grounds were dead bar the voice of the coaches and the pitches were in poor condition.

While the quality of play was good, the whole thing felt sterile and a bit staged. It's not a kind of game that encourages you to keep watching or to pursue an interest in women's football. Plus empty stadiums just mean more dreadful Mexican waves and no one wants that.

My other concern is where the interest is going. This coverage is limited to the top flight of women's football in England with a brief dip into the second division.

This could widen the gap between the Super League and Championship. There's already a difference in professionalism to contend with, now a difference in coverage? FAWC needs to be promoted properly.

If it isn't, you limit public engagement to 10 clubs that may be nowhere near where potential fans live, meaning you definitely won't get fans going to games.

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Will the coverage mention the third tier National League sides? Only in brief clips for FA Cup games.

It's likely that fans might miss out on following their most local teams and that is a concern when building the grassroots game is already so difficult.

Or to put it another way, as someone said to me on Twitter this week, are you going to freeze your backside off braving the snow at a midweek league game in December, or are you going to stay at home wrapped up under a blanket? The choice for most would be the blanket.

Despite all of this you have to take away the fact that this is coverage. For years we have complained about the short clips of games tucked away on the BBC's Women's Football Show, if you've not heard of it that would be because it's scheduled at about 11pm - prime time viewing eh lads?

This is a proper chance to watch games, catch up on action, and best of all it's free.

I think if it was used properly, as a way of transitioning new Lionesses fans over to the domestic game, than I think it has a chance of succeeding in the right way.

However, the FA still needs to support clubs in getting fans out to games to enjoy things first hand; that's where memories are made and lifelong passions are built.

This of course coming from the woman whose own first experience of live women's football came after running across a duel carriageway in Doncaster to make kick-off. Don't do it kids!

But seriously, both streaming and watching games in person need to be thought out properly by those in charge if women's football is to see long term growth.

- If you are want to catch some live football this month then most of our local leagues kick-off in August; Ipswich Town in the FAWNL, our Eastern Region Clubs and the Suffolk Girls' and Women's league. Keep an eye on the 'Glancing Header' Twitter for weekly fixture updates.

Best of luck to all our local clubs! Let's smash this new season.

Keep up to date with all of the goings on of women's football in Suffolk and beyond by following our women's football Twitter account @Glancing_Header and Instagram @glancingheader.

Email your stories to katy.sandalls@archant.co.uk or @katysandalls on Twitter.

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