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Restructure could see ladies' game take off this year

LOW TURNOUT: Manchester City’s Tessa Wullaert, right, in
action against Leicester City Women Maddy Cusack during
the Continental Tyres Cup at the Academy Stadium


The brand spanking top two tiers in England start their campaigns this weekend.

Back in April 2011, The FA launched the Women’s Super League (WSL) following plans to develop the women’s game from grassroots to elite level.

Today, there is a new criterion for teams wishing to play in the revamped WSL and FA Women’s Champion - ship (FA WC), formerly known as WSL 2.

The WSL is at the top of the pyramid, containing 11 professional teams for the first time after an extensive application process.

West Ham Ladies join from the third tier and Brighton from the old WSL 2. Those in WSL will be full-time professionals, with 16 hours of contact per week, plus matches.

And something else: each club must prove to The FA it can raise funding and sponsorship to run next season.

Second in the pyramid is the Championship with part time teams – with one notable and high-profile exception. Manchester United Women are fielding a professional women’s team, ending their 13-year absence from senior level.

The teams joining United are Aston Villa, Charlton Athletic, Durham, Leicester City, Lewes FC, London Bees, Millwall Lionesses, Sheffield FC Ladies and Tottenham Hotspur.

The new women’s football season kicked off with two rounds of the League competition: the Continental Tyres Cup, followed by another first round of league cup fixtures, plus an international break. But, league table campaigns start September 8-9.

Attendances are a conundrum. There was low turnout watching Liverpool Ladies v Manchester United Women Continental Cup opening fixture. Yet 4,835 fans turned up for United play Reading FC Women in the following round. Crucially, promotion – or lack thereof – sits at the heart of the debate. Heavily invested promotion is needed to get supporters to games. Fans are the key to keep the league going.

The Women’s Football Show TV viewing figures pale into comparison to Match of the Day. Social media, printed match reports and TV coverages helps, but few teams average around 1,000 per game.

Perhaps there are mitigating factors involved: the good old British weather, men’s matches clashing, and lesser known opposing teams.

Still, the restructure presents an opportunity for brands to get involved in the WSL and Championship.

It would seem there is a real need to market domestic women’s football differently in 2018/19. The question is how?

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