Our eight-point plan to grow women’s football in England

An in-depth review of women’s football and how it can generate sustainable growth “to achieve greater parity with the men’s game” will be launched by the government this summer.

The results are expected to be published by the end of 2022, but what could they reveal? Here is Olx Praca Sport’s own assessment of the major changes needed in the English women’s game.

Table of Contents

1. Expand major leagues

Leagues with 12 teams currently lack matches during the domestic season, reducing broadcast reach and matchmaking revenue opportunities, and leaving fans wanting more.

The WSL and Championship should be increased to at least 14 or 16 teams as there are currently more clubs looking to go full time than there are league spots to do so.

Similarly, the one win, one loss promotion and relegation system needs to be amended to allow more teams to move between divisions, especially between the third and second tiers. Only one team (Southampton or Wolverhampton) will be promoted from the third tier this summer, and the restriction creates a bottleneck for talent stuck in the lower leagues.

2. Equal access to football in schools and in the field.

As of last year, less than two-thirds (only 63 per cent) of all schools in England offered girls equal access to football in PE classes, and the FA has set a target to increase this to 75 per cent by 2024 with help from Barclays. The numbers are even lower for those who organize after-school clubs.

The FA is making a significant effort to convince more schools to offer football to girls, but in reality the figure should already be 100 percent. Too many schools continue to follow the “boys learn rugby, football and cricket and girls learn netball, hockey and rounders” ideology that is outdated and holding back growth.

On top of that, too many grassroots facilities are in poor condition and many teams report lack of access to essential facilities such as dressing rooms.

One solution would be to require Premier League clubs to invest a minimum percentage of their seismic revenues in public facilities, specifically to help women’s and women’s sides, as part of their license to compete at the top. Another option is to ensure that all local councils guarantee a minimum number of hours per week that women’s teams are given space.

3. Stop the start of matches at 11:30.

The WSL introduced a Saturday morning kick-off slot this season following the start of a new broadcast deal with Sky Sports and the BBC, and the goal was simple: avoid clashing with big men’s matches on Saturday afternoons.

However, the early start slot is not a hit with fans who go to the match, especially away fans, and also seems to be at odds with many kids football slots. For these reasons, the experiment should be discontinued in order to increase attendance.

The Sunday night slot was much more successful, with Sky Sports Head of Football Gary Hughes revealing on Tuesday that they are averaging around 125,000 viewers per WSL live match – 170% more than former rights holders BT Sport – and that their highest audience this semester was 550,000 spectators at Manchester City’s match against Tottenham starting at 6:45 pm on Sunday 12 September.

A league-record 1.1 million people watched the October Manchester derby on BBC One, which began on Saturday at 13:30.

4. Expand access to modern stadiums

Barcelona’s recent off-field success, with two separate 91,000-plus crowds at the Camp Nou twice breaking women’s football attendance records within a month, showed what can be achieved with successful marketing.

However, what should not be underestimated is the opportunity to host the women’s team in the club’s main stadium, and not in some of the scattered, gray, park areas where most have to play.

The fan experience at many of the women’s teams’ grounds leaves a lot to be desired, with fans typically exposed to the elements, often roofless, or using toilets in portable buildings at halftime.

To make matters worse, these places are rarely easily accessible by public transport, making access even more difficult for families. The poor equipment of the stadium also affects the media, for example due to the lack of access to ISDN lines for radio broadcasting, which means that some clubs do not receive the necessary coverage on the air. A higher proportion of games played at the men’s regular home would be a big step towards parity.