The Women’s Super League kicks off a new season on Saturday looking to build on the success of the summer’s World Cup and there is every indication it is on the right path.
Even before a ball has been kicked the signs are good. The 2019-20 campaign is the first with Barclays as the title sponsor, after they signed a three-year deal worth £10m in March, while the league has also sold its first overseas broadcast rights deal for a six-figure sum to Sky Mexico and Scandinavian broadcaster NENT.
With matches available for free elsewhere, via the newly-launched FA Player, it looks certain the WSL will benefit from its greatest ever exposure.
There may be some consternation among players around the short gap between this week’s friendly internationals and the first round of fixtures, but the overwhelming feeling is one of excitement. And with good reason.
Manchester United and Tottenham were promoted last season to form a 12-team division which is England’s largest full-time women’s league to date. They both start in style this weekend, with United travelling to the Etihad Stadium for a first ever women’s Manchester derby, while Spurs head to Stamford Bridge on Sunday to play rivals Chelsea in front of a full house of 42,000 fans.
The Manchester derby is live on BT Sport, with City moving from the 7,000-seater Academy Stadium to the Etihad for only the second time and the first since 2014.
Both City and Chelsea have given out free tickets to kick-start their seasons, but the ambition is there across the board, with Tottenham and West Ham also scheduling fixtures at the Tottenham Stadium and London Stadium respectively. As City’s Demi Stokes told The Guardian this week: “We want it to become the norm and not to be a surprise.”
As for the football itself, we should have a competitive, high-quality title race. Defending champions Arsenal are favourites after winning 18 of their 20 games to finish seven points clear of City last year, but the chasing pack looks strong.
City, who won the FA Cup and League Cup, have lost England winger Nikita Parris to European giants Lyon but have also added to their already deep ranks, while young stars Georgia Stanway and Lauren Hemp are expected to shine.
Emma Hayes’s Chelsea can challenge, while the addition of Casey Stoney’s United will add further difficulty to the mix.
The hope is that with better backing, greater exposure and a more professional, settled make-up the Women’s Super League make good on its clear potential this season.
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