Why everyone’s talking about the Women’s Super League

The English FA faces a challenge to capitalise on the success of the Fifa Women’s World Cup

Arsenal won the 2018-19 FA Women’s Super League title
Arsenal won the 2018-19 FA Women’s Super League title 
(Image credit: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images )

England’s run to the semi-finals of the 2019 Fifa Women’s World Cup has given women’s football - and women’s sport - a massive boost in the country over the past month.

With the Lionesses reaching the final four, where they lost out to eventual champions United States, interest grew as Phil Neville’s side progressed through the tournament.

In fact the semi-final clash between the US and England was watched by a peak audience of more than 11.7 million with the game televised live on BBC One.

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With such strong viewing figures and with interest at an all-time high the question to ask now is this: how can women’s football in England capitalise on the success of the Fifa Women’s World Cup?

Premier League takeover of the WSL?

Before World Cup fever took hold this summer women’s football in England was already enjoying a “landmark moment” when Barclays signed a deal in March to become the first ever title sponsor of the FA Women’s Super League (WSL).

Starting from the 2019-20 season, the top tier will be renamed the Barclays FA Women’s Super League and according to reports the banking group’s three-year partnership is said to be worth more than £10m.

Another major news story to break this week was regarding the future of the WSL.

The FA is currently in charge of the WSL, but according to BBC Sport the Premier League has moved a step closer to taking over from the governing body. While no time frame has been proposed, the FA confirmed it is “open to the idea”.

Manchester City drew 2-2 with Chelsea in the FA Women’s Super League in February

(Image credit: Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Growing the domestic game

Despite the Barclays sponsorship deal and potential Premier League takeover of the WSL, there are a number of challenges for the FA as it bids to capitalise on the World Cup.

Two of the challenges include increasing attendances at WSL matches and increasing the number of girls and women playing the sport.

According to the BBC the FA’s “Gameplan for Growth” strategy has ambitious targets of WSL attendances reaching an average 2,020 fans per game by 2021.

While at the grassroots level the plan is to double participation numbers by 2020. FA chief executive Martin Glenn told the BBC that participation targets are “on track”.

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Double-headers with men’s matches?

One way of increasing attendances is the prospect of some WSL matches being “double-headers” with men’s Premier League games next season.

As well as the double-headers, ESPN reports that some standalone WSL matches will be played at stadiums which host men’s teams. Also, matches will be chosen for TV coverage - starting with the WSL season opener between Manchester City and Manchester United.

The Manchester derby between City and United is the highlight of the opening weekend and it was announced on Monday that the game will be held at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday 7 September.

It was also confirmed that Chelsea vs. Tottenham will be held at Stamford Bridge on Sunday 8 September. The London clash will be free to enter for fans.

Kelly Simmons, the FA’s director of women’s professional football, told BBC Radio 5 Live: “Our job now is to make sure we capitalise on the momentum from the women’s World Cup and build audiences and build attendances.

“I think one of the things the World Cup has done has made our players household names, and now people can follow them back at their clubs.

“We know there’s a massive potential audience of fans coming across from the men’s game and the men’s clubs. We’re seeing very much this ‘one club ethos’.”

Ticketing troubles

The FA’s plan certainly sounds good, but 90min’s Jamie Spencer believes that the double-header fixtures are a bad idea. With single game tickets usually costing around £6 could WSL fans be priced out of watching their teams in the Premier League double-headers?

Spencer writes: “On paper it sounds brilliant; selling tickets that will allow fans entry to both a Premier League and Women’s Super League game in the same stadium, one after the other, turning a new section of fans onto the domestic women’s game.

“But digging a little deeper than the idealistic surface, it seems horribly flawed. The main concern is ticketing, both in terms of price and availability. How would it possibly work?

“It might only be as infrequent as one game for a club in a season. But ‘double-headers’ risk doing more damage than good for the growth of domestic women’s football in this country if those fans who have supported it until now are suddenly priced out of it.”

England players celebrate their World Cup quarter-final victory over Norway

(Image credit: Damien Meyer/AFP/Getty Images)

WSL faces a crisis

The Times’s Molly Hudson also says that even though the World Cup has given women’s football a huge lift the future ownership of the WSL is a major cause for concern.

Hudson writes: “Women’s football in England is facing a crisis over who will take responsibility for building on the surging popularity fuelled by the performances of Phil Neville’s team at the World Cup.

“Despite a television audience of more than 11 million for England’s semi-final defeat by the United States, neither the FA nor the Premier League considers itself capable of expanding the appeal and commercial clout of the domestic women’s competition, the Super League at present.”

Hudson adds that despite nine of the 12 clubs also having a team in the Premier League, the WSL is not profitable, matches are played at smaller stadiums and the pitches are often substandard.

Ready to rock and roll

Even though concerns have been raised, the FA’s head of commercial and marketing for women’s football, Marzena Bogdanowicz, is confident ahead of the new WSL season.

“We will have a major launch campaign for the new WSL season, starting in September, and we will be ready to rock and roll,” she said.

“Nearly all the Lionesses will be playing on your local doorstep, but we want the media to do more to make sure everyone signposts when and where they can watch. This is the key time.”

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North London WSL derby at Spurs new stadium

The fixtures for the FA Women’s Super League (WSL) 2019-20 season have been revealed and it has also been announced that the Tottenham Hotspur vs. Arsenal derby will be played at the Spurs new stadium on 17 November.

This week the FA already confirmed that two WSL derbies will be played at Premier League stadiums in September and now the north London clash has followed suit.

On the opening weekend of the WSL season Manchester City will host Manchester United at the Etihad on Saturday 7 September and a day later Chelsea will play Tottenham at Stamford Bridge.

FA WSL opening weekend fixtures

Saturday 7 September

  • Manchester City vs. Manchester United (3pm; Etihad Stadium)

Sunday 8 September

  • Chelsea vs. Tottenham (12.30pm; Stamford Bridge; live on BBC Sport)
  • Birmingham City vs. Everton (2pm; Solihull Moors FC)
  • Liverpool vs. Reading (2pm; Prenton Park)
  • Arsenal vs. West Ham United (2.30pm; Boreham Wood FC)
  • Bristol City vs. Brighton & Hove Albion (3pm; Stoke Gifford Stadium)
  • For the full WSL season fixture list see thefa.com

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