The planned takeover of the Women’s Super League has been in the works for a while and is set to be finalized next year with August 2024 as the target date.
As the English women’s game seeks to leverage its rapid growth, boosted by the Lionesses’ 2022 Euro victory, an independent club-owned and club-run body is set to assume control of these two leagues next year.
FA’s director of women’s football, Baroness Sue Campbell, mentioned a broad consensus that the women’s game requires different management and operation approaches. She referred to engaging and frank dialogues that have taken place in this regard.
Sport Newes Center explores the possible changes and the takeover process.
How will the transition proceed?
The FA’s head of women’s football, Baroness Sue Campbell, and chief executive Mark Bullingham
In 2018, the FA disclosed it did not plan to manage the professional leagues long-term, thereby welcoming proposals, including one from the Premier League, before deciding on the establishment of an independent body initially planned to assume responsibility last summer.
Assisted by the FA Board, a working group comprising 10 chief executives from the top two English women’s football tiers was established.
The committee, led by Arsenal chief executive Vinai Venkatesham, comprises Manchester United director Patrick Stewart, Crystal Palace chairman Steve Parish, and Lewes chief executive Maggie Murphy.
After screening over 100 candidates, former Nike director Nikki Doucet was selected as consultant to guide the takeover discussions and has chaired four workshops with club executives.
The inaugural meeting held in February tackled the subject “what is the ultimate ambition for the WSL?”
Doucet has gathered feedback from current players across both leagues and consulted with the Professional Footballers Association for their perspective.
A recent meeting with executives from all top two tiers’ 24 clubs is scheduled this month.
What major choices must be made?
Chelsea manager Emma Hayes is among the advocates for a WSL takeover
In the coming year, the group will identify areas for improving the WSL and Women’s Championship and pinpoint growth priorities.
Despite a successful 2022-23 WSL season, marked by record attendances and increased average season ticket sales in most clubs, the FA acknowledges there is room for improvement.
Enhancing the fan experience and upgrading matchday facilities is an area the new body aims to focus on to boost attendances.
Doucet is eager to promote the women’s game’s unique features to potential investors and sponsors, while Campbell often distinguishes the WSL management as “unique” compared to men’s football.
The group is considering recommendations from a report led by ex-England midfielder Karen Carney, investigating issues impacting the women’s game at elite and grassroots levels. These include the contentious idea of a closed league, proposed by Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy, eliminating promotion and relegation.
Other ongoing subjects like prize money, academy structures, and officials’ professionalism will also be discussed.
The implementation of video assistant referees (VAR) is expected to start in the 2024-25 season.
A new broadcast deal needs negotiation as Sky Sports and the BBC’s current contract ends next summer. The working group is reportedly leading these talks.
While discussions mostly focus on the new body’s long-term plans, short-term considerations such as shareholder roles and club voting rights are also being considered.
What do WSL players and staff aspire to?
A new attendance record for an English women’s club match was set at the Emirates Stadium in May when 60,063 spectators witnessed Arsenal’s Champions League semi-final loss to Wolfsburg
Former England player Izzy Christiansen, who retired last season, advocates for clubs to enhance their facilities to accommodate elite-level training.
Christiansen told Sport Newes Center, “If we’re a professional league, every club should be operating at a professional level daily.” She emphasized regular scheduling to prevent lengthy league gaps, and prioritizing WSL fixtures, including considering broadcast schedules to maximize viewership, like Friday night games. A longer winter break could benefit the league’s product in the long run, allowing players to recharge and making fixtures more regular thereafter.
Manchester United manager Marc Skinner has previously expressed concern over the points-based system for international players requiring a visa, introduced in January 2021 and set for adjustment next year.
“We should call for the structure of how we allow players in to [change] – the points tally is too high. If we want our league to be the very best then we need to look at the ceiling of the points,” Skinner said.
Arsenal manager Jonas Eidevall, meanwhile, wishes to address long-term club requirements concerning facilities and pitch quality to avoid fixture delays.
Eidevall said, “Our long-term plan is to be at the Emirates Stadium permanently. I don’t think the league is at a stage where you can have a requirement on all clubs. That’s not something we can do tomorrow. It’s something that could be done in the next five years or so. You could say ‘these are the requirements’ and everybody has a set amount of time to meet them. I think that’s sensible as all professional leagues around the world have stadium requirements.”
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about WSL takeover
Who is set to take over the Women’s Super League?
An independent club-owned and club-run body is poised to take over the Women’s Super League and Women’s Championship by August 2024.
Who is leading the takeover discussions?
Former Nike director Nikki Doucet has been appointed as a consultant to lead the takeover discussions. She has chaired several workshops with club executives.
What are some of the key decisions that need to be made ahead of the takeover?
Key decisions include identifying areas for improvement in the WSL and Women’s Championship, setting growth priorities, enhancing fan experience, upgrading matchday facilities, and renegotiating broadcast deals. Other issues include considering recommendations from a report on issues affecting the women’s game, discussing prize money, academy structures, professionalism of officials, and the implementation of VAR.
What changes do WSL players and staff want to see?
WSL players and staff want clubs to improve their facilities for elite-level training. They are advocating for regular scheduling to prevent lengthy league gaps, prioritizing WSL fixtures, and considering broadcast schedules to maximize viewership. There is also a call for a longer winter break, addressing long-term club requirements concerning facilities and pitch quality, and rethinking the points-based system for international players requiring a visa.
What is the ultimate goal of the WSL takeover?
The takeover aims to capitalize on the rapid growth of English women’s football by leveraging an independent club-owned and club-run body that can operate differently from the men’s leagues. The new body aims to focus on boosting attendance, promoting the unique features of the women’s game to potential investors and sponsors, and improving the league’s overall quality and professionalism.