FA moves towards independence for WSL after rebuffing private equity firms

The Football Association is aiming to move ownership of the Women’s Super League and Championship into its own company in January and has rebuffed any advances from private equity firms looking to buy the leagues.

Baroness Sue Campbell, the FA director of women’s football, said: “We’re working with the clubs to create a company which will be an FA subsidiary and the FA will still be there as a shareholder.

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“The best way I can describe it is that it isn’t green lit but it’s amber and we will progress carefully. We have a lot of work to do this autumn, looking at detailed governance and legal structures because if we are going to go to this wholly owned subsidiary, we have to do all the legal structures with the associations etc, and the clubs are quite rightly saying they want to have a look at that detail. They are happy for us to proceed but they want a look at that detail.”

This move is a stepping stone towards complete independence of the leagues, she said. “We don’t want to launch an independent company until we’re sure of its sustainability financially. To be honest, that won’t come until we get the next broadcast deal. That’s a couple of years away. We will do this – which is essentially an interim structure – from January 2023 through to 2026 when hopefully we can get it right.”

Responding to a report in the Daily Mail of a £150m bid for the WSL from a private equity firm, she said: “We looked at what the financial needs were. We involved Rothschild to explore the gap between what we felt we wanted to invest to really grow the game and where we were.”

That gap between the investment and ambition was worked out at being £25m. Rothschild were asked to explore two options, a loan or private equity. “They came back and advised us not to do private equity at this time. Their advice was very different, and we followed that advice.

Baroness Sue Campbell during a training session at St George’s Park.
Baroness Sue Campbell, the FA director of women’s football, said the move is a stepping stone towards complete independence of the leagues. Photograph: Alamy

“Loans would be incredibly hard too given where we are in the economy and at that point we had a board meeting and decided to approach the Premier League. We wanted to see if they were willing through their good causes money to fill that gap and that’s [what they did].”

Campbell confirmed: “We’ve had offers from private equity companies, we just said no to them. It’s never been considered by the board. Those offers have come in and we’ve just said no.”

Managing the ambition of the top clubs is a challenge but they are broadly on the same page as the FA. “It isn’t easy. They are ambitious,” Campbell said. “When you are ambitious, driven and you want to achieve, you don’t feel you have time. But the important thing is that we don’t let the head leave the body. If the head leaves the body then there is no integrity to the football pyramid and I think they understand that.

“If you talk to them, they are very respectful of the progress that has been made, where we are and they are pushing us. I wouldn’t want it any different way. They are ambitious, I am ambitious, but I have to weigh up the ambition of the whole game with that of a few people. It doesn’t mean we will fall out – we’re not – we have had really good discussions with all clubs and they have some tough questions but we talked it through and I think we are in a good place.”