Women’s football in England takes a leap in the dark this week with the launch of the UK’s first ever elite women’s football division – The Women’s Super League.
Backed by £3m of the FA’s money, the WSL will feature eight hand-picked teams battling it out over the summer months, the ultimate aim of which is to make the sport a sustainable commercial success and in turn attract the kind of revenues and funds which allow clubs to stand on their own two feet.
Despite being the UK’s most popular team sport for females, the women’s game has continually struggled to maintain the level of credibility to be taken seriously by the mainstream media and as such is a turn off to potential investors.
Football Trade Directory’s managing director George Moss believes that for the WSL to be a success, individual clubs need to embrace professional standards on and off the field rather than relying on cash handouts from the FA.
"This is a fantastic opportunity for the women’s game to get a real foothold in what is a competitive market," Moss said.
"In some respects it’s the perfect time for the women’s game to embrace professionalism. The World Cup in Germany later this year will guarantee exposure for the game and if the England girls do well then all the better. I’m sure that the women’s game will also be a big draw for audiences in the 2012 London Olympics.
"It’s up to the individual clubs to strike while the iron is hot. Success in these first two years will not be measured in terms of trophies on the field but how the clubs develop commercially off the field. These clubs must prove that they can be self-sustainable."
The WSL will receive TV exposure throughout the summer on ESPN, five matches to be shown live with a weekly highlights show hosted by Kelly Cates. However it’s not all good news for women’s football fans in the UK, as yet there is no TV rights package in place to show England’s participation in the forthcoming World Cup and there is an on-going struggle to gain exposure for what is seen by many to be minority sport. A view backed up by England head coach Hope Powell: "Women's sports get a raw deal in this country," said Powell.
"Women's football is no different but we're trying to change attitudes and mindsets to give it some air time and some space."
England’s chances of winning the World Cup look to be a long shot, Powell’s team may have recently beaten the all-conquering US Women’s team, but they are only ranked 10th in the world. Football Trade Directory’s George Moss believes that women’s football can learn more from their US counterparts, off the field rather than on it.
"Women’s football is massive in the States, but even with its popularity over there it has faced its problems. After just three seasons their first professional league went under and even in its second incarnation teams are struggling financially and commercially.
"We know through the work we do at Football Trade Directory that it is an intensely tough marketplace. Football clubs from the top flight to grassroots are coming to us because they are struggling to get value for money on their commercial deals.
"If the women’s teams don’t get things right off the field then they simply will not survive."