WSL clubs are thought to want a proposed split from the FA to be concluded faster than currently expected in order to make the most of the feel-good factor off the back of England’s Euro 2022 victory and capitalise on the surge of interest in women’s football.
Euro 2022 racked up a total attendance of 570,000, while the final commanded a peak television audience of 17.4m, making it the most watched TV event in the UK this year, plus another 5.9m online streams and many more watching in public spaces.
Since the tournament ended on Sunday night, England have sold out Wembley again in the space of just 24 hours for a friendly against the United States in October, while Google searches for ‘WSL tickets’ spiked 400% in the 24 hours immediately after the final.
Most WSL clubs have already experienced an increased demand for tickets amid huge rises in sales compared to previous years, with the new 2022/23 season just around the corner next month.
There was a spike in WSL interest in the wake of the 2019 World Cup. But the 2019/20 season ended up being cancelled due to the outbreak of Covid-19 and the momentum halted.
Now, however, the surge feels bigger already. The important thing is making sure it lasts.
Talks to transfer control of the WSL, which has been run by the FA since it was founded just over a decade ago, have been ongoing for some time. English football’s governing body isn’t normally responsible for running league competitions and it has long been felt that an organiser with more commercial knowledge and experience is best to take the WSL to the next level.
It was only last year that TV rights for the WSL were sold to domestic broadcasters for the first time, while a successful ongoing partnership with Barclays remains in its relative infancy. The league is still only at the beginning of taking advantage of its potential as a commercial enterprise.
The Premier League is in ‘active conversations’ with the FA over how to help the development of the women’s game and are investing £21m in both the professional game and girls’ grassroots football. But the likelihood of the globally successful sporting brand taking over at this stage is slim.
It was reported just before Euro 2022 began that the FA had rejected a £150m offer from a private equity company to form a re-branded WSL similar to the Premier League in structure. It is thought the FA wasn’t keen on the terms of the takeover and prefers a more nurtured pattern of growth.
FA director of women’s professional football Kelly Simmons recently confirmed to talkSPORT that discussions with clubs about the league’s ownership model have been ongoing for around 18 months. But the intention is to transfer control ‘when the time is right’.
The next meeting with clubs is scheduled for September. But the Daily Telegraph has reported that WSL teams, particularly the top sides who see a split as being more important to allow them to grow, are keen to speed things up and the ‘majority’ of clubs want the FA to accelerate the appointment of an independent chief executive of a new standalone company.
As things stand, clubs are thought to have concerns over a lack of commercial expertise in the FA to really drive forward the development of the WSL and make the most of the surge in interest in women’s football following the success of Euro 2022.