Those in charge of the Women’s Super League plan on making it the first billion-pound women’s football league in the world, according to its chair, Dawn Airey.
Speaking ahead of the new WSL season, which kicks-off on 1 October, Airey, said the intention is to hit that revenue target within a decade. “The whole of women’s sport globally [generates] a billion dollars in revenues, from sponsorship and gates, a billion dollars in revenue globally. Men’s sport gets half a trillion. That’s an enormous difference and it shows the enormous potential for women’s sport, and women’s football in particular,” said Airey, who is also chair of the Women’s Championship.
“That isn’t the figure [billion pounds] we just plucked from the air, it is based on a pretty decent and detailed business plan for over the course of the next 10 years,” she added. “We look at the growth of attendances, we look at the growth of engagement and broadcast, we look at the increased interest in sponsorship and marketing opportunities, and then we start being more imaginative about what attending a women’s game means. Not just watching the game, but everything that goes on around it, is there potential for clubs to think differently about their revenues?”
The running of the WSL and Championship will slowly be shifted from the Football Association to the clubs as part of the next stage in the development of the domestic women’s game, with a new company – NewCo – being set up to run the two leagues independently of the governing body. The ambition is to hand over the top-two divisions to the NewCo by the end of the year, giving the new body time to settle in ahead of the 2024-25 season. They have been working on the structure of the leagues and NewCo for “a few years” said Airey.
“Have we got the right financing? Can we establish this independent body to run and manage the leagues that’s properly financed? We’re working on the finances, we’re working on governance. How are decisions made? That’s complicated,” Airey added. “Then there’s the issues of what are the protections that the FA rightly wants to put in place before these leagues are handed over? … We are making good progress.”
The FA’s director of women’s football, Sue Campbell, has been keen to stress that the WSL and Championship are not being separated. There are “two leagues in our structure, two leagues that will benefit from any income coming in”, she said. “One of the big discussions we’re having is what percentage of income is guaranteed to the Championship so that it thrives and grows. We want to sort that now, we don’t want arguments 10 years down the line. Below that, we’ve a massive job to do with the National League and even below that.”
For Airey, keeping the WSL and Championship together is part of their way of avoiding a split at the top. “We’re acutely aware of the lessons from the Premier League and EFL [English Football League],” she said. “There is a current split [25% going to the Championship] and there is absolutely no reason as to why that split shouldn’t continue. It’s two leagues and the Super League clubs are very conscious that the Championship needs to thrive as well.”
On whether they are working on the option of that split being able to be shifted towards 50-50, or indeed flipped, the other way in the future, Campbell said she is sure it will be discussed. “There’s two things that are really important, though,” she added, “one is that we know we need cost controls in the women’s game. The club’s themselves have agreed that we need some cost controls, because otherwise all the money that comes in [not that the players don’t deserve good salaries] ends up getting spent on salaries, salaries, salaries, and the women’s game requires a lot more investment in infrastructure and other things.”
In light of the ongoing battle between the Spanish women’s national team and their federation over creating a safe working environment for women, Campbell added that there will be “new welfare guidelines coming in” as part of the WSL and Championship’s licensing. “Definitely,” she said. “Safeguarding is getting stronger and we like to think we’re doing a good job on that front.”