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Have women’s football teams been priced out of the FA Super League?

The creation of a new FA Super League for women’s football is intended to raise awareness and drive forward what is now the most popular women’s team sport in the UK. However following the FA’s announcement of the eight successful member clubs www.­fo­ot­ball­tra­dedi­rec­to­ry.­com investigates whether it was funding or football that was the key decider and whether the break off Super League bears an all too similar resemblance to the Premier League’s formation in 1992.

Awareness of women’s football in England has certainly increased. 17,505 supporters attended the recent Women’s FA Cup final to watch Everton LFC beat Arsenal LFC, Bristol Academy has launched plans for the first purpose built women’s football stadium and The FA have agreed a four year deal with ESPN to broadcast the forthcoming Women’s FA Super League matches and FA Cup games. With such a rise in interest in the sport and some of our best players being lured stateside to compete in the fully professional WPS, it was only a matter of time before talk turned to pro­fes­si­ona­lis­ing the game in England.

When first announced in 2009, it was hoped that the FA Women’s Super League would “take female football to a new and unprecedented level” and increase overall participation in the game. The eight club league, to be played over the summer months, will be described as professional and the top four players from each club can expect salaries in the range of £20,000 to £30,000.

Sixteen women’s football teams made bids to join the Super League. All bids were judged against four specific criteria; financial business and management, commercial and marketing, facilities, and finally players and support staff.

Announcement

In April 2010 it was announced that the successful teams were Arsenal LFC, Birmingham City LFC, Bristol Academy Women’s FC, Chelsea LFC, Doncaster Rovers Belles, Everton LFC, OOH Lincoln LFC and Liverpool LFC and would all receive a license for the 2011 and 2012 seasons.

Aside from the fact that the chosen clubs are nicely spread out across the country, they also appear to have something else in common; significant financial backing.

Of the eight selected teams five are funded or supported by their affiliated male football teams (Liverpool LFC, Everton LFC, Arsenal LFC, Chelsea LFC, Birmingham City LFC). Bristol Academy WFC have received a major boost from their affiliation with Filton college and the use of the first dedicated women’s football stadium and Lincoln OOH’s bid was backed by former Lincoln City director and current Nottingham Forest chairman Ray Trew; the team were even renamed after his company OOH Media Group PLC. 

The only exception to the rule is Doncaster Rovers Belles who without the necessary funding from Doncaster Rovers have become a company limited by guarantee. They are now classed as a social enterprise for the community of Doncaster and the wider South Yorkshire regions.  

Exposure

For the selected eight the extra exposure, ESPN coverage and sponsorship opportunities certainly suggest that the Women’s FA Super League will be a positive evolution for the players, clubs and supporters. However what about the clubs that were not able to meet FA criteria or raise the £70,000 needed to match the funding given by the FA for the first two years of the game?

Sunderland Ladies fall into this category and despite a very successful 2009/10 season in the current Tesco Women’s Premier League, were unsuccessful in their bid.  Sunderland chairman Maurice Alderson lamented:  “We can’t afford to pay our players expenses, let alone £30,000 a year.

“We run our whole club on less than half of that. I love the concept of the league and I’d love to be a part of it but it’s going to be very difficult.”

Similarly Leeds Carnegie had to withdraw their bid to join the league after their main sponsor Leeds Metropolitan University announced they were unable to commit to the budget the new league requires. In fact all but one of the unsuccessful clubs that we spoke to shared a lack of funding.

Despite their on the field achievements both Leeds Carnegie and Sunderland Ladies will be forced to watch clubs from lower divisions, like Liverpool FC and OOH Lincoln Ladies, leap frog them into the new top flight.

Sponsorship

Rather than push the whole of women’s football forward the Women’s FA Super League may enhance the gap between the heavily supported and funded teams and those that are forced to rely on local sponsors and in many cases the players themselves and their families.

It is no doubt a daunting prospect for these clubs looking forward as there is the very real prospect that sponsorship will now be more difficult than ever to attract, and their better players will have no choice but to leave their local club’s behind in pursuit of a career in the sport they love.

Had the league license been awarded on sporting merit alone, then the exposure and sponsorship generated from The Women’s FA Super League should have been the ideal platform for these clubs to turn their fortunes around. Instead it looks like it could be the end for some teams as they simply can’t raise the funding to be given a chance.

Could the FA not have taken into account the difference that the Women’s FA Super League would make to these struggling teams and, rather than just select teams that are in the right financial situation to compete now, followed Doncaster Belles examples and helped the smaller clubs with funding, facilities, business plans etc so the FA Women’s Super League could be a true reflection of the top performing football clubs and not simply the top performing businesses?  

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