Premier League could take over WSL as strategy to grow women’s football is up for discussion

In the wake Sunday’s World Cup final, thoughts in women’s football will have to quickly turn to keeping up the momentum that’s been gained over the past few months of increased media coverage and investment.

Today, it’s been reported by Dan Roan of the BBC that the FA and the Premier League are in talks for the latter to replace the former as the custodian of the Women’s Super League.

According to the report, WSL clubs have “unanimously agreed to conduct a feasibility study” into the matter, while some believe that elite women’s football in England “could be run more professionally.” Most of the clubs in the top divisions of women’s football are already Premier League clubs, while all of English football’s top six clubs will be represented in the WSL next season.

The strategy for growing women’s football further after the high of this summer will be all-important over the next few years. While the England Lionesses saw record viewing figures comparable to what we’ve seen in elite men’s football over the last few weeks, attendances in the WSL don’t even average 1000. So whatever plaudits the FA and others will rightly take for their commitment to growing the women’s game there is a huge job of work to do – and that starts right now.

Increased attendances and media coverage will undoubtedly make the sport more attractive to advertisers and sponsors, but ahead of our Growing Women’s Football event next Thursday (11th July), chats with our panelists reveal some interesting thinking on the subject. Sponsorship has moved on from the days when media value was the be-all and end-all of a brand’s decision making. Aligning a brand with sport and elite performance is a strong message to send out, as is the ability to partner with a sports star in order to tell a story.

On a similar note, the increased awareness about women’s football helps to build those stories. What a tournament like a World Cup can do is expose the personalities of sports stars. We saw that at last year’s men’s World Cup where the likes of Harry Maguire and Kyle Walker endeared themselves to the English public. This year, Jill Scott and Karen Bardley were able to create themselves and their own personalities with their social media posts – the sorts of posts marketers call ‘authentic’.

Away from England, Wendie Renard and Megan Rapinoe became household names for various reasons. That won’t just propel women’s football into the spotlight, but will also ensure that the legacy of the tournament lives on past Sunday’s final. Just like with any narrative arc, be it a Hollywood Blockbuster or a Netflix Original, fans get hooked on the story when they feel they know the character.

It’s clear that women’s football is finally on the rise with concerted efforts from some of the biggest players – both in the media and in the corporate worlds. What’s less clear is what happens next. There are always going to be differences of opinion on how to grow the sport, and already there have been debates around some potentially sensitive subjects, such as smaller goalposts, where some are fully in favour and others definitely aren’t.

There will be plenty of battles ahead in which a move might be beneficial to the sport overall, but may appear to hint at inequality.

The path to growing the sport is being laid as we speak and where it leads is now up for discussion, so come and join us next week to see what Visa, Twitter, Endeavor and Engine Sport have to say to our moderator Carrie Brown, chair of the Football Writers’ Association.

Reserve your ticket here:

About author

Chris McMullan
Chris McMullan 836 posts

Chris is a sports journalist and editor of Digital Sport - follow him on Twitter @CJMcMullan_

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