Manchester United manager Casey Stoney says it is a “massive missed opportunity” that their first women’s team match at Old Trafford will not be broadcast on television.
Saturday’s 11.30am kick-off will be streamed live on the online FA Player, but the BBC Red Button had already chosen Manchester City v Reading (Saturday, 5.30pm) while BT Sport 3 had selected Chelsea v Aston Villa (Sunday, 2.30pm).
Manchester United’s switch to host West Ham United at Old Trafford rather than their usual home of Leigh Sports Village was announced on Tuesday, 16th March, however the network broadcasters typically have to select their picks around a month before the fixtures are played.
Stoney also explained that United cannot show the game live on their club’s own MUTV channel because they have already used their season-long limit.
“The real shame is that we’re not allowed to broadcast the game,” Stoney said. “We’ve missed a massive opportunity. We’re so short-sighted in the women’s game, because we’ve used our three games for MUTV and we can’t broadcast it, because you have a three-game rule [for your own club TV station, per season] that you are allowed to use, set by the FA.
“So I’m really disappointed that no one has picked it up, because the FA have been badgering and badgering and badgering and badgering about playing at Old Trafford and now all of a sudden we’re not showing it.”
Nevertheless, Stoney hopes the fixture will give her players a chance to accustom themselves with the 76,000-capacity stadium ready to play there in front of fans in the future, adding: “As a club, it’s a big step. For me as a head coach it is green grass, white lines and two goals, I’m more interested in getting a win, but for the players it’s a fantastic moment.”
Asked if it was a shame her team’s Old Trafford debut hadn’t come in previous years, now that it is falling behind-closed-doors during the pandemic, Stoney took a positive view, replying: “It depends what way you look at it. I see it as a bit of a practice go, before next year, because you can play here now with less pressure, less of a crowd, get used to the surroundings, and then when we do it again we do it bigger and better.”
In September 2019 Stoney had said “we need to sellout Leigh Sports Village before we even look at Old Trafford” but the coronavirus has changed the situation for the former England captain. When asked why she had a change of heart she said: “We haven’t got any crowds so, at the moment, we can’t sellout Leigh, so if I’m offered the opportunity to play here [at Old Trafford], I’m going to take it. I thought it would lift the players if I’m honest.
“It also means that we’ve played here now, so it’s kind of ‘tick’ and people can leave us alone. If I’m honest, I got sick of the questions, so I’m like ‘let’s get it out the way’ and we can move forward. It’s a grass pitch, two goals, a ball and 11v11.”
On Monday, a new three-year television deal for the WSL, shared between the BBC and Sky Sports, was unveiled by the FA and the rights fee is understood to be worth £7m per season, including regular games on network free-to-air channels BBC One and BBC Two as well as Sky Sports Main Event.
Stoney labelled the new deal as “momentous”, adding: “It’s incredible. It’s fantastic for the women’s game and I think it shows how far the women’s game has come in this country in the last five-six years, so credit to the FA for getting those people on board.
“I hope they do the same in the women’s game in terms of the build-up that you get, the analysis and I hope they break the games down the way that they do in the men’s game. It’s a real opportunity to show the women’s game in a different light, and go into real detail around games.”