The Rise of The WSL
In 2018, WSL became a professional league for the first time and expanded to 11 full-time teams
One of the biggest signs that women’s football was on the rise came during the 2019 World Cup in France, when an estimated 1 billion people tuned in to watch the tournament. In England, the Women’s Super League (WSL) has also grown in popularity recently. There has been growing interest in women’s football from fans, broadcasters and players, which has helped to move it forward.
Now, some of the greatest female football players in the world represent teams in the WSL and it is quickly becoming one of the most watched women’s leagues in football. But how did the WSL get to this point? Why is there more interest in the league? And what is the future of the WSL?
What is the WSL?
In April 2011, the WSL began as an eight team tournament, largely made up of semi-professional teams and players, and it replaced the previous FA Women’s Premier League National Division. But, in 2018, the WSL became a professional league for the first time and expanded to 11 full-time teams. Since then, the WSL has kept its professional status.
As a result clubs must allow players to have at least 16 hours on their contract each week and every club must have an academy to help develop young, talented players. The key features of the WSL, which were brought in at the beginning of the 2018/19 season, are:
- The team that finishes first wins the WSL.
- The team that finishes bottom are relegated to the Women’s Championship (second tier).
- The top three teams qualify for the next season’s European competition, the Women’s Champions League.
- All teams from the WSL and Women’s Championship also enter two domestic cup competitions, the Continental Cup and Women’s FA Cup, alongside the league competitions.
The ability to offer full-time contracts to players has helped teams attract more talented players into the league
In September 2020, the Premier League, the top division of men’s football, expressed an interest in buying rights to the WSL
How has it become so popular?
Since becoming a professional league in 2018, the WSL has attracted some of the biggest names in professional women’s football.
The ability to offer full-time contracts to players has helped teams attract more talented players into the league. Top international players like Vivienne Miedema and Magdalena Errikson have stayed to play in the WSL. In the past, top players like this have often transferred to teams in the US league, the NWSL.
In the 2020/21 season, this trend has continued and many top players from the US joined English teams. Alex Morgan joined Tottenham, Christen Press joined Manchester United and Sam Mewis joined Manchester City. Further top players, like two time UEFA Player of the Year Pernille Harder (Chelsea), have also joined the WSL, which has increased interest in the WSL.
This, combined with a free-to-view match service, the FA Player, has led to more fan participation with women’s football.
The Future of the WSL
Although the WSL has become a popular, high-level platform for elite women’s football in recent years, the future of the league is uncertain. As top-level women’s football grows its audience across the world, the opportunities for broadcasters and investors is growing too.
More TV companies and sponsors are interested in purchasing rights to the league.In September 2020, the Premier League, the top division of men’s football, expressed an interest in buying rights to the WSL. Other broadcasters, such as, BT Sport, BBC, Sky Sports, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 may also try to purchase the league’s rights in the coming years.
If a large corporation decides to buy the rights to the WSL in the future, there will be more investment and more chances to show top level women’s football online and on TV, which could grow the WSL’s audience even further in the coming years.