We had a chat with the FA WSL's Katie Brazier about the change of format to a winter league, starting in Autumn 2017.
There had been whispers that built into rumours but today the full plans of the FA WSL’s new format going into 2017 were revealed at a media briefing at Wembley Stadium, where Kelly Simmons (FA Football Participation & Development Director), Baroness Sue Campbell (FA Head of Women’s Football), Mark Sampson (England Women’s Head Coach) and Katie Brazier (FA Head of Women’s Leagues & Competitions) met journalists and broadcasters to discuss the bold changes.
See theNEWS STORYfor the full details of the Spring Series and new league, plus the FAQs about why the league will undergo this transition and some of the issues that reverting to a winter format will look to resolve.
Some of us (traditionalists, realists or just dinosaurs?) in the game were sceptical of the move to the summer in the first instance, so it’s interesting to see some of the outcry on social media about this switch back being such a bad idea. There are plenty of supporting reasons why these decisions have been made, with a look to the future and broader objectives than simply when might be best for you personally, to go to a game (though that’s important too). We hope to cover them in a series of blogs/interviews – but we also want your opinions too. Please tweet, email or pop over to Facebook to comment.
We had a chat with some of the people behind the new strategy. First up is the woman that effectively runs the FA WSL, Katie Brazier.
SK: Fans will wonder, was the summer league 'experiment’ as might cheekily refer to it, a success?
KB: It definitely served the job, so when the league was originally set up it had never played in a traditional window. So we wanted to put it on the map and make it stand out. Playing at a different time of the year certainly did that and when we talked to potential broadcast partners they said yes, create something that stands out and we think we will have broadcast air time that we can use outside of the men’s season. It’s definitely put us on the map and I think the league has got to a stage where it can stand up and we can transition it back because there are lots of challenges with where it is. And if player welfare is going to be at the centre of what we do and helping our England team and the clubs win, this is the best way to do it to transition it back to playing September to May.
That decision [to make WSL a summer league] was made for all of the right reasons at the time. Now that it’s established, we’re ready for Phase 2 and we think that this is the best format for it going forward.
SK: Is there a concern that the winter weather will make it harder to attract fans and particularly the family groups to games?
KB: I think it’s certainly a challenge but when you look at the calendar where we play games at the moment it’s actually very similar because we end up with a break in May for pitch maintenance, then we might have a break in June or July for a major tournament, so actually we play very few fixtures in the summer. And surprisingly, when we analysed the attendance figures they drop a little in the summer holidays so actually the perception is not quite the same as the reality.
The beginning of this season games were called off for flooded pitches and it’s raining here now at our media briefing, in mid-July, we can’t rely on the British weather quite in the way that we used to.
SK: Is the winter break partly inspired by what they do in the Frauen Bundesliga?
KB: It’s making sure the players get a good rest after the Euros, so they have a rest before going into pre-season and it seems a good time to break. The men’s side of the game keep saying they want to put something in in December and have never got around to it and we have the flexibility to try some of these things in the women’s game. We will see how it goes. With all of these things you’re never going to get everything that’s absolutely perfect and keep everybody happy. We’ve done our absolute utmost to speak to as many stakeholders as possible and that we’ve got a good plan going forward but that’s not to say that we won’t continue to review it and improve it because we want to make things better all of the time.
SK: Will it perhaps mean that more games get played on grass?
KB: Possibly? At the end of the day that’s down to the clubs and a lot down to the grounds that the clubs are using. We have got some clubs in the WSL at the moment that have artificial turf pitches and that’s within the licence criteria, they can do that. Ultimately where we want to get to is for all of our WSL clubs to have their own grounds, bit like Man City have built their Academy stadium for their U21s and the women, there are a number of clubs moving in that direction and have big plans. So again that will help make fixture planning much easier because we’ve got more control over ground availability.
SK: What if the Spring Series is so successful, people think you should keep it like that? *Joking*
KB: Well let’s see! We have to ensure that we always maintain the integrity of the competition and that the players are at the heart of everything but we’re always open to doing things a little bit differently. I know there’s been discussion around doing a Super Sunday or weekend or something like that at the end of the season and that’s one of the things that we are definitely exploring, like double headers for FA Cup semi-finals, for example, is something that we’re looking at, at the moment.
SK: You must be pretty excited then, that it is finally happening and public now?
KB: I am because it’s not just about WSL in isolation, this is all about the new FA strategy, of which we now have two of those key objectives at the top level. Making sure we do everything possible for England women to be ready to win in 2023 and doubling the participation and fan-base. So, it’s not just being done in isolation, all these plans are part of the bigger picture and that strategy for the women’s game. So yeah it’s really exciting because it’s part of a bigger plan. If every cog does not work we won’t get where we want to be, which is every young girl getting the opportunity to play and watch their heroines play on a regular basis.
Neither are workable or likely at present but hypothetically, would you prefer a more strict salary cap in the FA WSL OR should centrally contracted England players (that receive salaries from The FA) be allocated more evenly around WSL1 clubs?