Expansion of the Women’s Super League is ‘inevitable’ in the ‘medium term’, says Kelly Simmons, the FA's director of the women's professional game, with the Championship set to have an extra club next season.
Simmons confirmed the news on Monday, speaking to reporters on the eve of the WSL’s 10th anniversary. The league began in 2011 with just eight teams and over time has since grown to 12, becoming one of the best in the world in the process.
Rumours had circulated to suggest that number may grow as soon as next season, but Simmons dismissed the idea for the time being, though confirmed the Championship will have two new clubs in 2021-22.
What has been said?
Asked about the WSL rumours, Simmons said she had “no idea” where they had come from, though added that she thinks “it's inevitable that the leagues will grow because there will be 12 and 12 next year”, referring to the numbers in the WSL and the Championship.
“What we've got to do is make sure that it grows without diluting the quality of the product, that we've got enough, in the top tier, fully professional teams with the right support and the right amount of revenue,” she said.
“Obviously, the more teams we have, the more it dilutes central revenues that are being distributed to support them. With Covid as well, it's really hard, we don't know what the true impacts of Covid are in any industry yet. I think it would be high risk to expand too early. I think it's inevitable in the medium term that it will expand.”
Asked what else she envisions for the next 10 years of the league, Simmons added: “I think the big change for me will be that the women's game should be able to generate enough revenue to stand on its own two feet.
“At the moment it's growing revenue. You've seen a lot of brands come in at club level. Obviously, [the FA has] seen Barclays, we've seen the multi-million pound TV rights announcement we made a couple of weeks ago, but it's not yet sustainable. It can't survive without money made through men's football.
“I think over 10 years, we'll see that change, revenues will grow and ultimately, we should be looking at a sustainable professional league in its own right and that will be a big shift.”
Who will play in the Championship?
The National League divisions were not completed this season due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, so the two clubs that will join the Championship next season will do so through an application process. London Bees’ relegation from the division was confirmed last week.
Derby County have applied for a licence in the second division, the club's chief executive Duncan Gibb told the Athletic. Huddersfield Town were top of the National League North when the season was suspended due to another lockdown in England, but have announced they will not apply for promotion.
“I think it’s really important to go to 12 and 12,” Simmons said. “We don’t want another season - assuming we can get two clubs that can meet the criteria - with an odd number of teams in the Championship.”
There have been 11 clubs in the second-tier for the last two seasons, having been 10 in 2017-18, when the league was then known as WSL 2.
Doncaster Rovers Belles, Sheffield FC, Oxford United and Watford all dropped down to the National League following its rebranding. Manchester United, Lewes, Leicester City, Sheffield United, Charlton Athletic and Crystal Palace all joined.
The Red Devils won the division in 2018-19 to win promotion to the WSL, while Leicester were crowned champions earlier this month to secure their place in the top-flight for next season.