The Football Association’s Kelly Simmons is confident that the buzz around the women’s game during the World Cup will be built upon in the new Barclays FA Women’s Super League season.
The 2019-20 top-flight campaign gets under way in two weeks, with the weekend of September 7 and 8 including Manchester City facing Manchester United at the Etihad Stadium and Chelsea taking on Tottenham at Stamford Bridge.
It comes after a World Cup in France in which England finished fourth and their semi-final against the United States was watched by a peak television audience of 11.7million – a UK record figure for women’s football.
Simmons, the FA’s director of the women’s professional game, told the PA news agency: “I think the World Cup was incredibly special, record viewing figures, the semi-final being the most-watched television programme this year.
“Our job now is to try to pull through that interest into the Women’s Super League.
“We have what is three great years for the women’s game – the World Cup, the Olympics (in Tokyo next summer, which is set to feature a Great Britain team), and then the Euros on home soil.
“It is a fantastic time for women’s football and the challenge for us, for the league and the clubs, is to capitalise on that and pull more people through, both watching and attending Women’s Super League games, and I’m really confident we can do that.
“I think it’s a really exciting year for the league.”
Simmons added: “The fact we have a number of games in men’s stadia will really help take the club game to new audiences and get more people interested.
“We have some big games to really help kick off the season, but we’ll see that follow through all the way through the year.
“I think most clubs will put at least one game in the men’s stadium, and I think if it’s successful, you might see more. We know some are in the pipeline that haven’t been announced yet.
“I think we’ll see more of those, particularly in the FIFA men’s windows when there is no Premier League football. That is where we’ve put our biggest fixtures, to give ourselves the best chance.”
This will be the first season the league has a title sponsor, with Barclays having signed a three-year deal.
And thanks to that partnership, it has its first prize fund – £500,000 per season, with the champions set to receive £100,000.
Another first is that it will be possible to watch all WSL games for free via a new streaming platform being launched by the FA.
Asked about the possibility of the ‘FA Player’ having a negative impact on attendances, Simmons said: “From the research we’ve done, the most important thing is we build audience and interest in the women’s game, and from that funnel, it will engage more people, more people will start to watch the games and more people will come to the games.
“The research we’ve done, we’ve not seen any drop in attendances – the EFL, they show every game, some of the women’s leagues across the world show every game, and we’ve not seen that impact on their attendances.
“In fact, if you take something like the Lionesses and the Women’s World Cup coverage, we’ve come out of that and sold 60,000 tickets already (for the friendly at Wembley against Germany on November 9), even though that game is on television – the reason being we’ve exposed the Lionesses to millions more people and that’s seen more ticket sales.
“So very much, in developing FA Player, we are really mindful that it is an opportunity to grow attendances.”
It emerged last month that the Premier League had started to explore if it should take control of the WSL.
And on that matter, Simmons said: “The FA is open-minded about who runs the top-flight in the women’s game long-term.
“The Premier League at the moment is conducting a feasibility study to look at the Women’s Super League and the Championship, and then we’ll sit down with them and discuss a way forward.
“I think if it happens, it is more sort of medium-term.
“We have this new, fantastic board set up, with very much a collaborative approach to decision-making with the clubs. We together are really committed to driving the development of those two leagues, so that is our focus.”
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