The FA has announced plans which will see a restructure and new criteria for the highest performance tiers of the women’s football pyramid.
Following the announcement, Katie Brazier, The FA’s head of women’s leagues and competitions, answered some key questions:
“It’s hugely exciting. The changes are resoundingly positive for women’s football both on and off the pitch. At tier 1, for the first time in history, we are creating a full-time, performance environment. Players will benefit from a minimum of 16 hours – rising to 20 hours – of daytime contact a week, plus matches.
“Tier 2 will remain a semi-professional environment that will guarantee of at least eight hours of weekly contact time, again plus matches. The clubs will receive an increase of funding from The FA at both tiers 1 and 2.
“Tiers 3 and 4, The FA Women's Premier League, will maintain a regional structure. The changes mean that from the 2018-19 season, promotion and relegation will be applicable across all levels of the pyramid, for the first time since The FA WSL was introduced.
“All aspects of the game have been considered. For example, to help facilitate female coaching development, head coaches in tier 1 will be full-time and clubs at tier 1 and 2 will be required to sign up to and deliver The FA’s female coach scholarship scheme.
“Fans will enjoy a more entertaining and competitive football league. In our quest to double the game’s fanbase, we have asked clubs at both levels to meet matchday experience and attendance targets.
"We have commissioned research into the naming of the leagues at tiers 1 to 4.
"We believe that the separation of the top two tiers of the game from a branding and positioning point of view will provide a stronger commercial proposition.
"The competition review identified a lack of understanding and, in some instances, confusion over the position of leagues within the pyramid structure due to their names. For example, the Premier League is the top of the men’s league structure yet in the women’s game it’s tier 3 and 4."
“This has been a lengthy process, which dates back to August 2016 and has focused around three key work streams.
“Firstly, The FA commissioned a detailed review of women’s and girls’ football competition structure.
“Secondly, David Faulkner, who began as The FA’s head of women’s performance earlier this year, has conducted a review to identify what is required to put in place to the high performance system in the women’s game.
“Finally, we have gone through a period of thorough consultation with all 20 FA Women’s Super League clubs. All of these recognised the need for change.”
“The changes are central to our ‘Gameplan for Growth’ strategy, which we’re confident will transform the future of women’s football in this country.
“One of the three objectives from the strategy is for England teams to achieve consistent success on the world stage. For that to happen, we need our top players to be playing week in, week out in a full-time, highly competitive league, and we believe this bold step is required now in order to maintain and continue to accelerate success for both the national team and clubs competing in the UEFA Women’s Champions League.
“In addition, at tier 2 it was important for us to maintain and build upon the standards put in place for FA WSL 2. In fact, the change from the previous licence to having full-time general managers and separate marketing officers has already been fully supported and implemented by the clubs this season. We have been clear to the clubs that tier 2 will be an important part of the whole system and we have committed to developing and delivering further support to ensure the gap between tier 1 and tier 2 doesn’t get too big and clubs making the jump up to tier 1 will be capable of achieving success.
“A new academy structure will be created at tier 1 to bridge the current gap in the talent pathway and ensure our most talented girls aged between 17 and 20 are given the best possible chance for success. By also developing a dual career approach linking tier 1 clubs and their Academy players to our women’s football high performance centres we hope to offer a viable alternative to the USA, where many of our younger, talented players are going.
“A full-time, competitive league will also mean better quality and unpredictability of results on the pitch. We believe this will drive interest and awareness and mean more fans through gates and more people tuning in on TV. Greater interest will also help attract more commercial investment and provide a stronger, more sustainable commercial model.”
“Existing FA WSL 1 and 2 clubs are invited to apply for a license to either tier 1 or tier 2 of the pyramid, with set licensing requirements outlined for both. Closing for the applications is 12.30pm on Friday 10 November.
“The applications will then be assessed by an FA panel consisting of myself, Lucy Wellings (FA women’s football club manager), David Faulkner (FA women’s head of performance) and technical experts from finance, facilities, marketing and coaching. The final decision – subject to appeal – will then be made by the FA Women’s Football Board in mid-December.
“Subject to availability, applications from clubs currently outside of The FA WSL will be welcomed in March. They would then be assessed in the same way, with clubs invited to present ahead of decision being made by the FA Women’s Football Board.
“The FA WSL season ends on 20 May and the new leagues will kick-off in September 2018.”
“If available, applications would be welcome from clubs with a girls’ or women’s team playing affiliated football this season and who can meet the requirements for either tier 1 or tier 2. Application packs are available now for clubs to review (see below).
“The FA will provide tier 1 clubs with up to a total of £120,000 per season and £61,500 to clubs in tier 2. The funding is designed to help support clubs in fulfilling their key minimum requirements and ensure investment in club infrastructure and playing staff.
“In the application packs we have provided all clubs with guidelines as to how the funding should be spent but we recognise the resources and facilities available to each club differs and clubs may request a bespoke funding arrangement provided they can demonstrate that the key minimum requirements will be met.”
“Tier 1 will have a maximum of 14 teams. Tier 2 will have a maximum of 12 teams.
"A decision on the licenses awarded and the vacant positions will be made in December 2017.”
“For this season only, relegation in FA WSL 1 and promotion and relegation in FA WSL 2 will be removed. In order to maintain an incentive for on-pitch performance during the 2017-2018 season, we are considering the introduction of prize money and will be consulting further with clubs before any decision is made.
“Last weekend’s opening fixtures showed what a good season we’ve got in store.”
“This season’s FA WPL champions have the right to promotion if they can meet the criteria for tier 2. We will continue with our well-established promotion-readiness process with our annual November workshop.
“From next season onwards, the current FA WPL (tiers 3 and 4), will maintain a regional structure with promotion and relegation applicable across both.
“We will also embark on a consultation process with FA WPL clubs at a meeting on Saturday 7 October. This will look at a number of areas including the size of divisions, player contracts and transfer windows to ensure the league and its clubs continue to develop within this exciting next chapter for the women’s game."