England’s Women’s Super League kicks off with £1 billion ambition

The Women’s Super League (WSL) kick offs in front of huge crowds in England this weekend, with organisers bidding to exploit an explosion of interest as they target £1 billion in revenue. The Lionesses’ run to the World Cup final in August has further fuelled demand for the women’s game, with TV companies and sponsors scrambling to have a slice of the action. Teams in the WSL are now regularly drawing crowds capable of filling stadiums traditionally reserved for the men.

Arsenal’s clash with Liverpool on Sunday has sold more than 50 000 tickets, while defending champions Chelsea open the defence of their title against Tottenham at Stamford Bridge.

Baby gear brand Joie became the first title sponsor of a WSL stadium earlier this month in a deal to rename the 7 000-capacity arena that hosts Manchester City’s women’s team.

From next season, the top two divisions in the women’s game in England will follow the Premier League’s example in breaking clear of the Football Association to be run by the clubs – with commercial growth in mind.

“One of the stated goals that we have is to make this league the first billion-pound ($1.2-billion) women’s league in the world,” said WSL chair Dawn Airey, referring to plans over the next decade.

“That is league revenue and club revenue and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t do it.” Despite the bold ambition, a major upsurge in television rights deals will be needed to reach that goal.

The current UK domestic deal, worth around £8 million a season, is entering its final year. Competition for the rights is expected to match the growing competitiveness of the league on the pitch.

Chelsea may be going for their fifth consecutive title, but the Blues were pushed in a four-way race at the top of the table until the final few weeks of last season by Arsenal, Manchester United and Manchester City.

Bridging the gap to those four well-funded squads is the task for the chasing pack in the 12-team league and also a pressing issue for the league’s administrators.

“A league of four isn’t going to be sellable to broadcasters and isn’t going to be commercially attractive, so we need a league that really is vibrant. Everybody gets that,” said the FA’s director of women’s football Sue Campbell.

The WSL has followed the Premier League’s lead in becoming a home for the top talent from around the world.

Ninety-four players from the English top-flight represented their nations at the World Cup, 31 more than the US National Women’s Soccer League, which had traditionally been the standard bearer for the sport.

Chelsea have lost two of those as former captain Magdalena Eriksson and her partner Pernille Harder have departed for Bayern Munich.

But Emma Hayes’ women remain favourites to defend their title, with American international Catarina Macario among their summer signings.

Arsenal have struck a major blow against United with the capture of England striker Alessia Russo on a free transfer to assemble a frightening array of firepower.

Beth Mead and Vivianne Miedema are also fit again for the Gunners after suffering anterior cruciate ligament injuries.

City dropped out of the top three for the first time in nine years last season and are expected to bounce back with England stars Lauren Hemp and Chloe Kelly in their ranks.

Source: Supersport

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