Big change coming for Sam Kerr & Co. in England as WSL prepares to break away

The Women’s Super League (WSL) and Championship are preparing to break free from the Football Association after the top two tiers unanimously agreed to be governed by a new, independent body from next season.

Former Nike and Citigroup executive Nikki Doucet has been appointed to lead the organisation, NewCo, effective immediately, and will oversee plans for all 24 clubs to move into the new governance structure ahead of the 2024-25 campaign.

Each club who participates in the WSL and Championship will act as shareholders under the NewCo model, which has long been in the works and is seen as an important step in growing what an independent review concluded this summer has potential to become a billion-pound domestic women’s football industry within 10 years.

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Superstar Matildas captain Sam Kerr currently plays for reigning WSL champions Chelsea and she is among a strong contingent of Australians in the top tier – Steph Catley, Caitlin Foord and Kyra Cooney-Cross (all Arsenal), Mary Fowler and Alanna Kennedy (Manchester City), Mackenzie Arnold (West Ham), Charlie Rule and Mackenzie Hawkesby (Brighton and Hove Albion), Remy Siemsen and Courtney Nevin (Leicester City), Teagan Micah (Liverpool), Clare Wheeler (Everton) and Milly Boughton (Tottenham).

Baroness Sue Campbell, the FA’s director of women’s football, said: “The women’s professional game is in the strongest place that it has ever been thanks to the hard work of everybody involved in its development so far, but we firmly believe that the NewCo will take it to another level entirely.

“Each of our 24 clubs and the league itself wants the Barclays Women’s Super League and Barclays Women’s Championship to be setting the standards for women’s football around the world, and this venture into a new governing body is the next step in us achieving that ambition.

“This is a historical moment for the women’s professional game in this country, and it is a move that will see our clubs and players make even bigger strides both on and off the pitch.”

Former England international Karen Carney led the independent review into the women’s game, commissioned by the government in 2022, concluding in July that “women’s football is a start-up business.”

“If you’re starting something you have to have an influx of money. In 10 years’ time I really do believe this sport could be a billion-pound industry,” she said.

NewCo, a restructure of power similar to the Premier League’s 20-club governance model, is viewed by many as a critical next phase in the commercial growth of the English women’s game.

A working group chaired by Arsenal CEO Vinai Venkatesham, with Doucet serving as an independent consultant, led on developing the proposal for NewCo and involved 10 representatives from WSL and Championship clubs including Crystal Palace chair Steve Parish and Patrick Stewart, who earlier this month was appointed interim chief at Manchester United.

Venkatesham added: “This is a pivotal moment in the history of the women’s professional game, as we look to work together to build the most distinctive, competitive and entertaining women’s football club competition in the world.

“Setting up NewCo provides the opportunity to accelerate the sustainable growth of the women’s game and will not only support the development of the Barclays Women’s Super League and Barclays Women’s Championship, but the entirety of the women’s football pyramid.

Premier League meeting

“It has been a constructive and collective effort to get to this stage, and Nikki’s appointment encapsulates the ambition we have for NewCo. With her vision for women’s football, the future is incredibly bright.”

Asked for her thoughts on the news, England forward Beth Mead told a press conference: “We want the game to move to a new level and keep pushing it forward and I think although the FA has done an amazing job over so many years, it was time to let go of those stabilisers and let somebody else take over.

“Hopefully in the long run that can help us push the game and the leagues to the next level and ultimately that’s what we want to keep doing. I think the sky’s the limit and we have to keep pushing it there.”