Premier League step closer to Women's Super League takeover from FA

Exclusive by Dan RoanBBC sports editor
Arsenal are the reigning Women's Super League champions
Arsenal are the reigning Women's Super League champions

The Premier League has moved a step closer to taking over the Women's Super League from the Football Association.

Clubs unanimously agreed to conduct a feasibility study into the idea at a shareholders' meeting last month.

It follows talks between the Premier League and FA over the past six months, and no timeframe has yet been proposed.

The FA confirmed it is open to the idea. It sees the women's England teams and grassroots participation as their long-term priorities.

Any takeover could still be several seasons away.

The FA set up the WSL in 2011, and oversaw its development to become Europe's only full-time professional competition with 12 teams for 2019-20.

Premier League-affiliated clubs make up 13 of the 22 sides in the women's top two divisions and some believe the WSL could be run more professionally.

The league has recently been boosted by the promotion of Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur to the top division, and a £10m sponsorship deal with Barclays.

However, attendances have dropped below an average of 1,000, and some Premier League clubs now feel there is significant scope for growth in sponsorship and broadcasting deals, especially after England's journey to the World Cup semi-final was watched by record television audiences.

An FA spokesperson said: "The FA can confirm that it is supporting the Premier League in a project to explore the long-term feasibility of the Premier League running the Women's Super League (WSL). This is a purely exploratory project and based on a long term timescale.

"The FA is proud that it set up the first European women's professional league and the relevant player pathways as part of its commitment to growing the women's game. We have recently established a joint WSL/Women's Championship Board with the clubs to oversee the future strategy and policy of the professional game.

"It is this Board that will recommend the best way forward to The FA as it determines what is in the best interests of the leagues. However, The FA has always been clear that it is open to an external body running the WSL in the long term, as The FA's remit is to support the game from grassroots to elite teams."

Games could be played at Premier League grounds

BBC Sport understands that talks are ongoing about the possibility of playing multiple matches at Premier League stadiums on the opening weekend of the 2019-20 WSL season, which starts on Saturday, 7 September.

The first round of the top-flight women's fixtures fall during an international break for the men's sides and Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool are among the home teams, along with Championship-affiliated outfits Birmingham City and Bristol City.

Chelsea women's boss Emma Hayes has previously called for the Premier League to be involved in the running of women's football.

She has been critical of the way the FA has structured the league season, where there have often been big gaps between fixtures, leading to a handicap ahead of Champions League games.

Most teams still run at a loss, with the three biggest - Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal - reliant on significant support from their men's teams.

Last year, the FA revealed they are to increase their investment in women's and girls' football by a further £50m over six years. They are halfway through their four-year 'Gameplan For Growth' strategy, aiming to boost participation and create a high-performance system for England teams.

The need to harness elite success has been brought into sharper focus by recent figures from the Sport and Recreation Alliance that found 90% of children are not active for the recommended one hour per day.external-link

There is also a gender gap in activity with girls as young as five years old less likely to be active than boys.

According to Sport England, 0.9% or 200,500 women aged 16 or over play football regularly (twice a month) compared to 8.4% or 1.8 million men.

Next year's Tokyo Olympics - where TeamGB will have a women's football side for the first time since London 2012 - and England hosting the 2021 European championships - are also seen as key opportunities for growing the game.

The Premier League does not oversee any senior women's football competitions, but all current men's Premier League clubs do run community football for girls, which saw 23,000 take part last season.

Former sports minister Tracey Crouch has called for the England team to be honoured for reaching the semi-finals of the Women's World Cup in France, matching the achievement of the England men's team in Russia last summer.

"It is only right that the success of the women's football team in the World Cup is honoured in the same way the men were last year," said Crouch.

"The manager Phil Neville has achieved as much as Gareth Southgate did at a World Cup, as have many of the squad such as Golden Boot challenger Ellen White and midfield stalwart Jill Scott.

"Although the captain Steph Houghton and our most capped player Karen Carney have already received MBEs, at the appropriate time, it would be nice to see additional honours given to recognise what they have done to revolutionise the game."

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