By Christian Radnedge
LONDON (Reuters) - England's Women's Super League is confident of becoming the first billion pound ($1.24 billion) women's soccer league in the world within 10 years, the chair of the WSL's board said ahead of the new season that begins next month.
The top flight WSL and second-tier Women's Championship are both run by The Football Association but there is an ongoing process to make the leagues independent and run by the clubs, under the umbrella 'NewCo'.
The 12-team WSL signed its first commercial broadcast deal in 2021, worth around eight million pounds a season according to media reports, with a new deal to come after this campaign, which begins on Oct. 1, and expected to be a lot more.
With interest in the women's game surging thanks to the Lionesses winning the Euros last year and reaching the World Cup final in August, chair Dawn Airey is sure the WSL, in partnership with the Championship, can become the most lucrative in the world.
"One of the stated goals that we have is to make this league the first billion pound women's league in the world, that is league revenue and club revenue and there's no reason why we shouldn't do it," Airey told reporters at a launch day for the new WSL season in north west London.
"That's our goal, at every level to get more finances in this business, as well as ... developing a pathway and the investment that is required at every level."
Airey added that they were still working on the new governance structure of 'NewCo', with some select CEOs from WSL and Championship clubs included in the leadership, so that the semi-pro second tier can also thrive from new investment.
Airey also said they wanted a close relationship with the lower leagues and to avoid a revenue-governance split like the one between the men's Premier League and the lower tiers of the English Football League.
The plan is to hand over governance of the leagues to the clubs for the 2024-25 season.
More immediately, the WSL will need a new domestic broadcast deal from next year as the one with the BBC and Sky Sports will end after this season.
The WSL will negotiate a new deal once the Premier League has agreed its new TV rights package, to avoid clashing publicity, Airey said.
"We will be going to market, I would like to think before the end of the year. The Premier League go to market in the middle of October. It would be daft to put our rights into the market when they're in because that's going to get the primary attention. We will go in after," she said.
"It's always interesting to see who responds to the tender but there's no reason why it can't be quite speedy. You know who the players are. In terms of who's interested, everybody is, as they should be. It's just a question of assessing the tenders."
Alongside Airey was the FA's Director of Women's Football, Sue Campbell, who said that while it was the aim to have VAR introduced into the WSL, it would take time because of the investment needed to make sure all clubs had the proper setup.
"The reality is the infrastructure isn't there in many of the women's games, so you're talking about a huge investment. But I do think, at the end of the day, it has to come in," she said.
"So, we've just got to find a way through it. And that's why this commercial investment that Dawn is talking about, it's so critical to grow the game in the right way. So yeah, it will happen. But gosh, I can't give you a timescale."
Campbell also said the FA would be extra vigilant on the type of investment partners that come into the league, after world governing body FIFA was criticised earlier this year for considering 'Visit Saudi' as a sponsor of the Women's World Cup.
Women’s rights are restricted in Saudi Arabia while same-sex relationships are illegal in the country. FIFA's discussions with Visit Saudi did not lead to a contract.
"We will be very careful of who our commercial partners are going forward for the women's game I can guarantee you that," Campbell said.
($1 = 0.8066 pounds)
(Reporting by Christian Radnedge; Editing by Ken Ferris)