Kelly Simmons: Women's Super League 'can break into the mainstream'

By Tom GarryBBC Sport
Kelly Simmons
Kelly Simmons is a member of the Fifa women's committee and Uefa's grassroots panel

The Football Association's new director of the women's professional game says the sport is capable of "breaking into the mainstream" on a regular basis.

Starting in the new FA role on Monday, Kelly Simmons will focus on England's top leagues - run by the FA - as the Women's Super League turns full-time.

The new WSL season gets under way on Sunday after last term's licence bids.

Simmons says securing title sponsorship for the WSL will be among her first priorities and talks are in progress.

"I'm delighted. It's a fantastic time to come back in and focus on the women's game," she told BBC Sport. "We potentially have three great years ahead, with the World Cup, the Olympics and our bid for Women's Euro 2021.

"However, at the moment, across all women's sport, if there's a World Championship, Euros or Olympics, women's sport has that [brief] high-profile moment in the spotlight, but then it tends to disappear again.

"It's been very hard for women's sports to break into the mainstream. But I genuinely think women's football can be that breakthrough sport, getting exposure on a weekly basis, not just once every four years.

"I believe there will be brands who want to help make that happen and one of my big priorities in the new job is to secure title sponsorship for the WSL.

Sunday's WSL fixtures
Sunday's fixtures (kick-off times in BST) involve all teams except top-flight newcomers West Ham, whose campaign begins on 19 September because of the odd number of sides in the league

"We're talking to potential partners at the moment. We need to help grow revenue for the league, helping teams become commercially sustainable.

"I want to see clubs getting more of their own revenue streams, being more sustainable and protected, pulling down that reliance on men's grants."

Most top English women's sides currently receive funding from their men's affiliate club, rather than breaking even financially as a standalone outfit.

Simmons, who was awarded an MBE for services to football in 2001, was previously the FA's participation and development director.

'No talks' over external takeover of the WSL

At a recent meeting, Simmons told WSL clubs the FA was open to the idea of an external body - like the Premier League or the English Football League - running the WSL in the future.

However, she told BBC Sport that no discussions with either the Premier League or the EFL had taken place, stating that the FA were simply "not closed" to the idea.

"We were just saying in that meeting that, down the line, we are not closed to it being run outside of the FA if somebody was to step forward," Simmons explained.

"But we are not in discussions about anyone taking over the WSL. We're simply not removed to the idea, because we don't tend to run leagues. For now, the women's game is going to be driven by the FA.

"I'm going to set out a five-year plan to drive the whole top end of the game forward. We want on-pitch success in the Champions League and England doing really well."

England reached next summer's Women's World Cup with Friday's 3-0 victory in Wales and the Lionesses' qualification campaign concludes in Kazakhstan on Tuesday

The first WSL fixtures include a meeting of last season's top two, Chelsea and Manchester City, on Sunday, before the two sides begin their European campaigns on 12-13 September.

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