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Premier League 2.0? What the WSL restructure means for the future of women’s football

AuthorsHuzaifa Moosa

6 min read


Premier League 2 0 What the WSL restructure means for the future of womens football

A restructure is underway for the WSL and Women’s Championship, which could replicate the success of the men’s game with its Premier League breakaway in the ‘90s.

Backed by the likes of Sue Campbell, Karen Brady and Karen Carney, is women’s football taking another giant leap towards global commercial success?

Here, Trainee solicitor and member of our sports sector team Huzaifa Moosa explores what the new rules mean for clubs and the future of women's football.


New owners

The WSL (Women’s Super League) and Championship (Women’s Championship) are wholly owned by (and in the full control of) The FA — the governing body of association football in England. Yet it is anticipated that the 2024-25 season will see the WSL and Championship owned by a new subsidiary company under The FA, after it turned down serious offers from private equity investors.

Although The FA plays a governing role in the Premier League and EFL (English Football League) — largely through veto and sanction powers, with a special shareholder role — it has been much more involved in the running of the WSL since its inception in 2010 and professionalisation in 2017.

It has long been speculated that The FA would sell or restructure the WSL and Championship, particularly given the bit-part role it plays in the men’s game. The growth in the women’s game has been plain to see, but in order to reach new heights it needs further investment and commercialisation.

Whether this new ownership structure is being implemented solely to offer protection from the type of chaos and mutiny of the Premier League split in the ‘90s is yet to be seen.

Last year, it was reported that The FA had received offers from private equity investors in the region of £150 million, but these were firmly rejected. The FA appointed Rothschild (a wealth management firm) to assess private equity options but eventually decided against this path in favour of a restructure.

It’s also important to consider the role of clubs and players in the restructure. The FA may run the risk that the Football League did in the early ‘90s, when clubs were outgrowing the league and the power dynamic shifted — leading to the Premier League breakaway.


Exponential growth and decision-making disconnect

Women’s football is experiencing exponential growth.

Club revenues are increasing significantly, with Manchester City W.F.C. bringing in revenues of approximately £4.38m in 2021/22. Players’ commercial values are also growing, with certain WSL players receiving £4m to £5m in sponsorship deals per year. Yet annual salaries are only around £200,000 (by contrast, the average Premier League salary is around £60,000 per week).

On the pitch, WSL attendances are also increasing. Before the Women’s Euros in 2022, the average WSL attendance was 1,850. Following England’s crowning as European champions, this increased by 235% to 6,204. The WLS’s North London derby last season was played in front of 47,367 fans.

However, the television deals secured by The FA provide relatively little to clubs (compared to the circa £1.6 billion per year deal for the Premier League). This disconnect has resulted in reports of WSL clubs’ discontent at their lack of influence in decision-making.

Since the 2021-22 season, the WSL has been broadcast under a landmark broadcasting deal between The FA, BBC and Sky Sports, worth an estimated £8 million per season. Women’s football is proving very popular with younger people, which has manifested in many online-only broadcasting deals including UEFA’s four-year deal with DAZN for Women’s Champions League games.

Although the women’s game still lags behind men’s football in terms of viewership and sponsorship, the fact that women’s sport only represents 13% of TV coverage hours but accounts for 15% of sports viewership shows an increasing demand.


What is the WSL restructure?

The restructure project for the WSL and Women’s Championship has been dubbed ‘NewCo’, as the intention is for a new company to be created to own the competitions and drive them forward.

While The FA’s director of women’s football — Baroness Sue Campbell — commented that this NewCo will be ‘independent’ from The FA, it’s worth noting that this subsidiary would still be wholly owned by The FA. This means that although The FA may not exercise it, it will in all likelihood maintain a lot more power over the WSL and Championship than it does over the Premier League and EFL.

The FA’s working group as part of this project includes executives from various large clubs, including Baroness Karen Brady of West Ham United, Vinai Venkatesham of Arsenal, Omar Berrada of Manchester City and Patrick Stewart of Manchester United. This strong club-led approach suggests that commercial growth and club power could be at the centre of the WSL’s future and may mirror the structure in the Premier League.


Driving commercial growth

Former England player Karen Carney MBE recently published a report as part of her independent review into the future of women’s football. In it, she set out her vision for NewCo as a club-led, independent decision-making structure that could raise the minimum standards and drive forward the commercial development of women’s football. There was also a recognition of the importance of NewCo in unlocking investment and funding while providing infrastructure for competition.

Yet Carney set out how NewCo is to be more than a commercial venture. Rather, the hope is that it could set out clear regulations to focus on financial sustainability, preventing women’s football from suffering the same plight that other sports have. Carney touched on the need for accounting clarity, guarantees from owners and affiliated clubs, the submission of annual business plans, enhanced owners’ and directors’ tests, and conditions of licence.

If implemented, this will set additional legal and accounting demands for clubs, raising both standards and cost. Yet this could be the key to ensuring sustainable, long-term growth.

The FA has recently advertised for a new head of policy for women’s football, which could mean that policies around player pay (including maternity and sick pay) as well as rules on scholarship/youth contracts, transgender rights and protections for injured players being reviewed and refreshed.

While it’s unclear whether this new role will sit within the NewCo structure, given that Carney’s report sets out clear recommendations on policies — including a parental package and player union representation — it might be part of a long-term strategic view for the NewCo.


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