Ahead of the start of the 2020/21 Barclays FAWSL season, we spoke with the FA’s Director of the Women’s Professional, Kelly Simmons, and Head of League Operations, Lauren O’Sullivan. Here are some quotes from key issues that arose:
On the success of the Community Shield:
KS: “I thought it was a great game; a fascinating contest between two technically excellent teams. Obviously, we were delighted it was put on BBC One because you can’t get a better slot in terms of potential audience numbers. And we’re obviously really pleased about the joint highlights show because I think last year for the men’s Community Shield, it had an audience of about 2.5 million.
On the return of the game:
KS: “[The way the league ended] was disappointing. But the momentum that had been built by the clubs, the investment that the clubs and the FA had made, the amount of work that the media have done to push the game – there’s so much momentum there that I don’t see why, when we come back, we can’t continue that growth and development. Hopefully we’re going to see that in a new, exciting TV deal.”
KS: “There were days when we were trying to work out with Covid how and when we can come back. At that point, we were literally taking it day-by-day – how do we get the players back to training; how do we get the clubs to meet those protocols; how do we tackle pre-season games. It was all about just building blocks back. I don’t think we ever dreamt that we’d be sitting here chatting about some global superstars. It’s fantastic. It’s going to make it so interesting and so exciting.”
KS: “I can’t tell you how much work has gone into clubs meeting the training protocols, the behind closed doors protocols, and obviously moving ahead, the return of fans and all of the work they’ve done.”
On the return of fans
KS: “We’re desperate to get the fans back. Obviously, the priority is to get the fans back, working with the government – but in first part of the season, the focus is about building audiences. So, getting people to watch games on the FA Player, BT Sport and the BBC. Putting our best games in the best slots will be about trying to deliver the best TV audiences to get more and more eyeballs on the game. And then, as fans come back, we’ll go back to the work that we were doing last season, where we went from an average of around 900-something [fans per game] to over 3,000 and keep building on that.”
On keeping fans engaged
KS: “I think a big part of the last week was to give the media and broadcast partners lots of access to players so that we can keep getting content out there, engaging content for the fans, whilst we’re getting the game back. The clubs are really mindful of it.”
LO’S: “We’ve also been working with the Football Supporters Association because there’s a growing number of fan groups that are being established across the clubs. We’re working with those key partners as well in terms of tactics and to support with fan engagement over the coming weeks.”
On TV Rights
BT Sport will air a record number of games this season – a minimum of 22 FAWSL matches. The FA are currently out to tender for domestic TV rights and expect it will be “competitive”.
Yesterday, further overseas rights were announced, with the USA, Germany and Italy joining Australia, Scandinavia and South America:
KS: “The mission is to be the best women’s sports league in the world, and we want to be the best women’s soccer league in the world. Therefore, part of that is taking the league globally. There’s been huge global interest, as we know, in the Premier League and there’s no reason why there won’t be the same in the WSL. That’s our ambition and it’s an opportunity to bring new audiences in and to bring new revenue. Because ultimately, we want the league to be sustainable.”
On salary cap & homegrown quotas
KS: “The salary cap hasn’t changed. It’s on the list to look at this year so it’s still 40 per cent of turnover.”
KS: “We have an agreement with the clubs and the board that from 2021-22, we’ll bring in homegrown quotas that will be the same as the men’s game. So, of your squad, eight will have to be homegrown [maximum squad is 25 players].”
KS: “Last year, we had our first year of partnership with PGMOL. A part of that was that we, alongside the Premier League, were using Ref360, which analyses every single decision made or not made by the referee team on the day. For the FAWSL games across last season, we were on 98.5% of all decisions were correct. Now obviously, we want to keep building on that work. We’ve reduced the pool of referees this season based on performance and various other factors and we will continue to work with PGMOL to make sure we give them the very, very best support and development to be the best that they can be.”
On a minute’s applause and support for Black Lives Matter
KS: “The clubs agreed that they wanted to do a minute’s applause in the opening game to recognise the tremendous work of the NHS and those on the frontline, and as a symbol of all those we’ve lost through Covid or who have been affected by Covid”
All clubs will be taking the knee for Black Lives Matter with “unanimous support from the clubs”.