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Balancing stakeholder interest in Women’s football - a commentary on the Carney Review

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Friday, 25 August 2023 By Katie Smith, Lucy Webster

Women’s football is firmly in the spotlight this summer.  Following a record-breaking 2022/23 English domestic season, where viewership and live audiences for the Women’s Super League (“WSL”) hit an all time high, the expanded World Cup format on display in Australia and New Zealand showcased the ever-increasing quality and strength in depth of the women’s game[1].  Despite losing out to Spain in the final, the Lionesses have captured the interest of the nation.  This is borne out by the TV figures for the final, with a reported 14.4 million tuning in across the BBC and ITV - a record TV audience in the UK for a Women's World Cup final[2]

While all signs point towards a bright future for women’s football in England and beyond, the sport is still at a nascent stage.  There remain clear opportunities for improvement and growth. 

For example, the row over the value of broadcast rights to show the 2023 World Cup meant that there was a real risk that the tournament would not be shown on TV in the UK (and elsewhere), with threats of a media blackout in key jurisdictions less than two months before the opening match[3]. Fortunately, a deal was struck with the BBC and ITV just 5 weeks out from the start of the tournament – unlike in Japan (who also have a strong pedigree in women’s football), where an agreement was not reached until the opening day.  Clearly, it is important that the commercial value of women’s football is properly recognised – but so is the visibility of the most important tournament on the football calendar.  There is a similar impasse regarding bonus payments and commercial arrangements for the Lionesses which, as widely reported, differ starkly to their male counterparts[4]

In this mixed context of great potential and challenge, the publication of former England international Karen Carney MBE’s report, Raising the Bar – Reframing the Opportunity in Women’s Football (“Review”) in July 2023, is broadly seen as a positive step at a key time for the game[5].  The Review seeks to provide the vision and direction to realise the potential and take the women’s game in England to the next level. 

In this article, we summarise some of the key findings of the Review and share our take on what it means for women’s football.

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Written by

Katie Smith

Katie Smith

Katie Smith is an associate in the Litigation Practice in the London office of Squire Patton Boggs.

Lucy Webster

Lucy Webster

Lucy Webster is a partner in the Litigation team in London. Lucy specialises in high-value domestic and cross-border disputes in court proceedings, as well as international arbitration under various institutional rules. Lucy is recognised particularly for her work in the environmental, social and governance (ESG), clean energy, sports and media sectors.

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