It’s been a stellar year for women’s football in England. Millions watched on as the Lionesses reached the Fifa Women’s World Cup semi-finals and England players became household names thanks to their performances in France.
The run to the semi-finals of the World Cup saw the popularity of women’s football grow to levels never seen before. And this was reflected with Barclays signing a deal to become the first ever title sponsor of The FA Women’s Super League (WSL).
Barclays’ three-year deal – reported to be worth £10m – has been described as a “landmark moment” for women’s football.
But even with a new title sponsor and interest levels at an all-time high, the new Barclays FA WSL season – starting this weekend – will be crucial for the future and growth of women’s football across England.
Bright: we have to push again
England star Millie Bright has urged the Football Association (FA) and the WSL clubs to capitalise on the interest generated by the World Cup.
Chelsea and Lionesses defender Bright told the Press Association: “We’ve started a new urge for young girls to get involved in football and for everyone to get on board.
“We’ve got new audiences supporting the game and wanting to come to games, but this is the most crucial part.
“Off the back of something so good, we have to push again and I think that’s every club taking responsibility and really pushing audiences and ticket sales and getting people involved. This is the time to do it.”
Major stadiums to host matches
The opening fixtures of the 2019-2020 Barclays FA WSL season take place on Saturday and Sunday (7-8 September).
Pick of the matches is a Manchester derby between City and United, which will be held on Saturday at the Etihad Stadium.
Then on Sunday Chelsea’s clash with Tottenham will take place at Stamford Bridge. The London derby is already a sell-out.
It is hoped that by playing WSL matches at major stadiums this will help grow the domestic game and introduce the teams to new audiences.
Speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live in July, Kelly Simmons, the FA’s director of women’s professional football, said: “Our job now is to make sure we capitalise on the momentum from the women’s World Cup and build audiences and build attendances.
“I think one of the things the World Cup has done has made our players household names, and now people can follow them back at their clubs.
“We know there’s a massive potential audience of fans coming across from the men’s game and the men’s clubs. We’re seeing very much this ‘one club ethos’.”
The FA Player: live streaming of matches
One major investment ahead of the new season will be The FA Player – a digital streaming platform recently launched by the English FA.
All 132 Barclays FA WSL and selected FA Women’s Championship matches will be live for free on The FA Player.
It’s not just in the UK where live coverage of the WSL will be shown. It has been announced that for the first time in its history the WSL will be broadcast overseas.
Starting from the 2019-20 season, a new three-year media rights deal with Sky Mexico and Scandinavian broadcaster NENT will see the WSL screened to viewers across Mexico, Central America, Dominican Republic, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark.
Game-changer for the WSL
Providing live and free coverage of WSL fixtures is a “game-changer” for women’s football in England, says Radio Times writer Michael Potts.
“Not only will The FA Player change the shape of the women’s football game, it’s going to shift fans’ expectations of how much live sport they should be allowed to enjoy without opening their wallet,” said Potts.
“The 2019 Women’s World Cup offered up further evidence to suggest there is an appetite for the game, fuelled by the BBC’s terrific emphasis on coverage. Free football, what’s not to enjoy?
“Multi-million TV audiences for the Lionesses have translated into more than 55,000 tickets snapped up for an England vs. Germany friendly at Wembley.
“Lucy Bronze, Steph Houghton, Ellen White are closer to becoming true household names than any female sports stars before them, if they’re not already there.”
Big stadiums, big crowds
Lionesses defender Bright agrees that the live streaming of matches and major stadiums hosting fixtures is huge for the WSL.
Bright will line up for Chelsea in the sold-out opening-day fixture against Spurs at Stamford Bridge on Sunday and she said: “I’m super excited. Obviously these are the games that you want to play in; big stadiums, big crowds.
“It’s an honour to play in front of these crowds and to be privileged enough to play at Stamford Bridge.
“We really appreciate the support and the fans – that’s what makes this happen and pushes the women’s game even further.”
Barclays FA WSL opening weekend fixtures
Watch on The FA Player
All 132 Barclays FA WSL and selected FA Women’s Championship matches will be live on the new FA Player. It’s free to sign up at FAPlayer.tv.
Saturday 7 September
- Manchester City vs. Manchester United (3pm; Etihad Stadium; live on BT Sport 1)
- Bristol City vs. Brighton & Hove Albion (3pm; Ashton Gate Stadium)