The government’s decision to accept all the recommendations made in the bold Karen Carney‑led review of women’s football should be welcomed. Coming six days after Women’s Super League and Championship clubs agreed to proceed with an independent new company (NewCo) being launched to take over the running of the top two divisions from next season, the response comes at a critical juncture.
The government’s approval of the review serves as a reminder of the necessary components for a comprehensive approach to developing women’s sports. This is especially important when considering the potential risks brought about by conflicting interests, particularly those of clubs with Premier League men’s teams. The main point of contention that caused a delay in Championship clubs fully supporting the proposed launch of NewCo was the voting power of these clubs. Some were opposed to it, while others only offered conditional support.
The Football Association has created the Professional Game Working Group to form NewCo. They propose a 75% revenue allocation to the WSL and 25% to the Championship. This is significantly higher than the share given by the Premier League to the English Football League. WSL teams are advocating for a rule that would prevent Championship clubs from voting on commercial matters. This is mainly due to the fact that top-tier teams generate the majority of revenue for all leagues and the 25% allocation to the Championship is a demonstration of their dedication to maintaining a unified pyramid system.
The success and sustainability of WSL clubs is not a long-standing occurrence. It is a recent development and, although Championship clubs have varying levels of success, there is potential for them to achieve a relatively low level of commercial viability in the near future.
The NewCo board will have the responsibility of representing the interests of both leagues. This means they will have the authority to allow Championship clubs to vote on important matters that affect them. However, there are still some uncertainties, including the composition of the board and how the interests and pressures of Premier League-supported WSL clubs will be balanced with the greater good of the leagues.
Following a rebellion by several clubs in the Championship, all 24 teams in the two leagues have now agreed to the proposal, which involved removing certain issues from the vote. This put them in a difficult position, as one of the alternatives was for the Championship to be excluded from NewCo.
The government’s reaction to the review led by Carney agrees with the Championship clubs in this conversation. It states that the suggestion for a single governing board among the leagues should be a top priority and allow for equal representation of all clubs. It also emphasizes that having independent decision-making is not only important for good governance, but it is essential to prevent personal agendas from leading the game in directions that are not beneficial for everyone. NewCo has the chance to adopt this approach in its establishment, and we urge them not to overlook this opportunity.
The government supports the review’s recommendation to not have an independent regulator for women’s football at this time. NewCo has the opportunity to implement financial regulations and planning from the beginning. This serves as a reminder of the significance of democratic decision-making among clubs at this point.
The review also suggests that all WSL and Championship players should be fully unionized by the Professional Footballers Association. However, this has been a contentious topic as the PFA does not receive dedicated funding for WSL player membership, but still covers their representation while advocating for funding. On the other hand, the PFA claims it cannot provide the same support for Championship players as they are not considered a fully professional league, despite the FA stating otherwise in response to the government’s feedback. The issues highlighted in the Carney-led review highlight the urgent need for players to have proper representation and a resolution must be reached to address this stalemate and ensure players feel comfortable speaking out when minimum standards are not being met.
The Carney-led review has achieved another significant accomplishment with the government’s backing of lifting the Saturday 3pm broadcast blackout for women’s football. In a crowded football schedule, the women’s game is in need of a dedicated time slot. This has had a positive impact on attendance and viewership in other leagues, such as the successful Mexican women’s league, which has its own Monday night slot. The government’s response to the review also acknowledges the need to compensate the women’s game for potential lost revenue if a dedicated slot cannot be found, recognizing the historical lack of support and undervaluation of women’s football.
NewCo has a lot of decisions to make and a lot of work to do in not a huge amount of time. The government response to the review can, hopefully, help to reground the discussions.