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Evaluating the rising cost of watching women’s football in the United Kingdom

DAZN’s decision to move the majority of Women’s Champions League (WCL) matches behind a paywall next season is a hugely risky move.

The broadcaster has confirmed (h/t the Guardian) that 42 of the 61 games will be shown on the company’s subscription service, which costs £9.99 a month.

The remaining 19 games will remain free-to-air on YouTube, including 12 group stage matches and all the knockout phase fixtures.

DAZN’s global markets chief executive, Veronica Diquattro, says the move is vital to ensure the future viability of the women’s game.

“We have been growing the visibility of the WCL thanks to our partnership with YouTube,” she said.

“It has seen millions of streams on our DAZN platform and also on our YouTube channel, with 14 million‑plus extra viewers compared to the previous year.

“But now the time is right to convert this visibility into viability and value for the long-term sustainability of the rights.

“Driving the commercial value upwards is how we can make sure there will be future investment in the sport for the benefit of the game and the players.

“And it’s also in the interest of the clubs and UEFA as well.”

DAZN gambling with the future of women’s football

While women’s football has been on a steep upward curve in recent years, this latest move could significantly derail its progress.

DAZN have undoubtedly done well to grow the audience for the Women’s Champions League on YouTube, but this has been achieved on a free platform.

How many of those ’14-million plus extra viewers’ will be willing to shell out another £120 per year to watch the competition?

Women’s football is still fighting to become a major player in an industry packed with other attractions.

A quick look at average attendances for the Women’s Champions League and Women’s Super League highlights where the sport currently lies in the pecking order.

Champions League fixtures attracted an average of around 9,000 per game last season – a similar figure to the average at League Two clubs Stockport County and Swindon Town.

The average in the Women’s Super League is 6,000, which puts it on par with the overall average in the same division.

On that basis, DAZN’s decision to put the bulk of their Women’s Champions League coverage behind a paywall smacks of running before the sport can walk.

Sky Sports have reaped the benefits of including the Women’s Super League in their sports subscription package, recording audience growth of 70 percent this season.

The cheapest sports package on Sky (May 2023) is currently £43 per month, which equates to £516 a year.

However, in addition to the Women’s Super League, subscribers can also access a wide range of top-class sports across the platform.

And while the cost of watching football is already high in the United Kingdom, it is offset by the audience size and the fact that there is a proven market for those subscriptions.

Putting the Women’s Champions League behind a paywall is fraught with danger, particularly when you consider the actual size of the target audience.

There will undoubtedly be loyal match-going fans who subscribe, but it is debatable whether many casual supporters will make a similar move.

Given the rising cost of living in the UK and the other top-class attractions available to sports fans, this decision feels like a serious misstep by DAZN and UEFA.

It could have serious ramifications for the future of women’s football.

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