The majority of Women’s Super League clubs favour the division being run independently rather than taken over by the Premier League, the Guardian understands.
In February 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 30 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, there is a fear among most of the 12 WSL clubs that, despite likely intentions to the contrary and huge financial benefits, the league would play second fiddle to the Premier League.
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.
An independent league would be able to make decisions solely in the interests of the women’s game. After the success of the US women’s national team at the 1999 World Cup there were numerous attempts to establish an independent women’s professional league in the US 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 is managed by US Soccer, although there are talks over a structured separation that would see the league move towards being able to stand alone.
Handing the women’s game to a suitable custodian has 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.”
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.”