This week saw the launch of an elite summer league for women’s football, the Women’s Super League (WSL). Statistics show that women’s football has been the most popular team sport for females to play in the UK since 2002 and so perhaps the emergence of a semi-professional league is an inevitable step in the right direction but can women’s football ever become mainstream?
The WSL comprises 8 clubs which, it is anticipated, shall contain an even spread of talent with 6 of the 8 clubs containing England internationals. The games will be regularly televised live in addition to the airing of highlight packages. But even with regular media coverage, although I foresee a continued growth in women’s participation in football, especially with the sport being embraced by schools, I do not envisage youngsters shelling out £50 to have a Karen Carney shirt (Karen is an England international playing for Birmingham City by the way).
This could see a lack of investment in the women’s football. Despite being athletes at the very top of their sport, a lack of investment will hinder individual sports women from becoming household names , as there will simply not be the same commercial advantages to exploit. Sponsorship, media and entertainment deals are all heavily exploited in men’s football, as in many other professional sports and it is these contracts, with both clubs and the players themselves, that create the money we see the likes of Premiership Footballers earning.
The FA, which is investing £3 million in the WSL over the next 2 years, have imposed a salary cap stating that no more than 4 players from any team can earn more than £20,000 per year to encourage funds being made available for marketing and commercial growth.
Although undoubtedly women’s participation in football is sizeable, it is a fan base, and in particular a substantial female fan base, that must be established by the WSL if women’s football is to become mainstream in terms of a spectator sport which will attract the essential ingredient for sustainability and growth – investment.