It won’t be shocking when I tell you that when the possibility on merging the WSL with the EPL to become one entity, the majority of Women’s Super League clubs favour the division being run independently rather than taken over by the Premier League.
Truth is that since February, various Premier League clubs discussed a feasibility study into a possible takeover of the women’s top flight from the Football Association, but a decision was pushed back a year. On 30th June, the Premier League chief executive, Richard Masters, told the parliamentary select committee for digital, culture, media and sport it was his ambition to see the organisation assume responsibility for the top tier.
However, despite likely intentions to the contrary and huge financial benefits, it’s very probable that the women’s game in the UK would end playing a second fiddle, or even a downgrade on their position, to the Premier League.
Of course, as things are now, the belief is the focus would be total commercialisation without the wider investment and work, such as coach and player development and dual career pathways, that the FA champions alongside the league’s development. That has led them to favour independent leadership that can take a more holistic approach towards the growth of the game and its sustainability.
That’s why many women’s clubs are against the idea of a possible deal. After all, an independent league (as the WSL is right now) would be able to make decisions solely in the interests of the women’s game.
For example, after the success of the USA women’s national team at the 1999’s World Cup, there were numerous attempts to establish an independent women’s professional league in the USA, but none lasted long; with the governing body, US Soccer, stepping in to relaunch a professional women’s league, the National Women’s Soccer League, in 2012.
The clubs own the NWSL but it’s managed by US Soccer, although there are talks over a structured separation that would see the league move towards being able to stand alone. That’s exactly what they want to do in the UK, but without the necessity of affiliating themselves to the WSL’s male counterpart. At least, not for now.
Handing the women’s game to a suitable custodian has always been a long-term aim of the FA. However, it will do so only once the league is secure, has reached a point of sustainability and its worth is well established, with a new broadcast rights deal believed to be key to assessing that. The FA wants to feel sure the league is strong enough to avoid the fate of some of the early attempts in the US.
Any decision on a takeover or the future running of the women’s game will be up to the new Women’s Super League and Championship board, made up of representatives from six clubs (Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, Tottenham, Aston Villa and Durham), three FA representatives (the CEO, Mark Bullingham; the director of the women’s game, Baroness Sue Campbell; and the chair of the FA women’s board, Sue Hough) and three independent members.
Last July the FA said it was “supporting the Premier League in a project to explore the long-term feasibility of the Premier League running the Women’s Super League. This is a purely exploratory project and based on a long-term timescale.
Moreover, Masters told the DCMS select committee of the league’s interest:
“We want the women’s game to be successful, which is why we are helping them and why we’ve engaged in those discussions with the FA about resuming responsibility for it.
“From a personal perspective, it is something I would like to do in the future for this organisation, being not just responsible for top of the pyramid in terms of the men’s game but also the women’s game.”
In the end, it’s clear that if this takeover plan is made on a foreseeable future, when the women’s game has grown just enough to compete and have enough importance as other women professional football leagues such as the US or Germany, the, it’ll be OK. But, if it’s done now, specially with how thins are going with this pandemic, the women’s game, rather than be helped by the EPL, could end up being eaten entirely.