Interest in women’s football has grown steadily in recent years. Increased media and broadcast coverage is helping to attract a burgeoning fan base, higher attendances at matches and increased commercial opportunities for many clubs which operate a women’s team in English football.
The 2018/2019 season marks a new era for women’s football in England with ‘The FA Women’s Super League’ (‘WSL’) now operating on a professional basis with WSL clubs required to employ their players on full-time professional contracts.
This restructure comes as part of The FA’s strategy ‘Game Plan for Growth 2017-2020’ which is aimed at transforming the future of women’s football in England. According to its strategy, The FA’s priorities include: building a sustainable and successful high performance system within women’s football; increasing participation at all levels from grass roots to elite level; and improving commercial prospects in women’s football.
Women’s football has also become a key focus for UEFA and FIFA. The UEFA ‘Women’s European Championship 2017’ saw record attendances and TV audiences. UEFA has recently pledged its commitment to growing the women’s game by increasing funding in its ‘Women’s Football Development Programme’ and the UEFA ‘Women’s Champions League’ continues to be the pinnacle for many clubs.
Ahead of the FIFA ‘Women’s World Cup 2019’, FIFA has recently launched its first ever global strategy for women’s football which sets out how FIFA will work with confederations, member associations, clubs and players, the media, fans and other stakeholders “to realise the full potential that exists within the women’s game”.
Undoubtedly, there appears to be a fresh approach to women’s football. Centrefield has set out below some key areas to consider for English clubs which operate a women’s team:
#Regulatory framework – Women’s football operates under the framework of The FA’s rules and regulations which must be adhered to by players and clubs. This includes areas such as misconduct, disciplinary matters, treatment of match officials and the resolution of disputes etc. However, as women’s football continues to evolve, it is clear that the regulatory framework in England in certain areas is not yet sufficiently developed. For example, there is currently no regulatory structure in place for clubs in the women’s game to receive training compensation for amateur players who move clubs. This means that for clubs investing significant time and resources in developing young female players, there is no formal structure for training compensation if these players move to other clubs. If this is not addressed, it is likely to limit the growth of women’s football.
#Player Status – The FA rules provide that any player (male or female) may sign a professional playing contract at seventeen (unless he/she is in full time education). In addition, the WSL and The FA Women’s Championship ‘Competition Rules’, set out that a female player must be either a ‘Contract Player’ or a ‘Non Contract Player’ and that a ‘Non Contract Player’ is not entitled to any payment in relation to her playing services for a club (other than expenses). This suggests that in women’s football in England there is as yet no formal structure in place for young female players under seventeen to be paid or ‘employed’ by clubs. This is in contrast to the well-established structure in the Premier League ‘Youth Development Rules’ whereby players are registered under a Scholarship Agreement and a ‘capped’ scholarship allowance may be paid monthly to male ‘scholars’. Given the desire for clubs operating a women’s team to ensure they can attract the best young talent, it is hoped that this regulatory ‘gap’ will shortly be addressed.
#Transfers – The WSL’s standard transfer forms must be used by clubs when transferring players, however, it is worth considering putting in place a more detailed agreement to document the terms agreed between clubs whether it is for a domestic purchase/sale or an international purchase/sale of a female player. A transfer agreement should cover areas such as clear and comprehensive payment terms and whether any conditions precedent must be satisfied (e.g. the player passing a medical). Also it is now mandatory for clubs to use FIFA’s ‘Transfer Matching System’ for international transfers in women’s football.
#Anti-doping compliance – The FA’s anti-doping rules largely apply to women’s football in the same way they do to men’s football (e.g. players can be tested at any time and at any place, including after a match, at training and at home), however, there are some key differences. Although clubs with a women’s team must submit weekly training schedules to The FA, female players in the WLS and The FA Women’s Championship are not required to provide an alternative sixty minute time slot for testing if a player is absent from training. This means there are currently no ‘individual whereabouts’ obligations for female players playing in England. However, as The FA embarks on promoting a new era of professionalism in women’s football, it is likely that submitting whereabouts information will become a requirement for female players and their clubs in the future.
#Commercial opportunities – Women’s football offers fresh opportunities for clubs to engage with new partners, stakeholders and a different fan base through a range of platforms, including social media. Commercial opportunities are likely to arise for clubs with a women’s team through various revenue streams such as sponsorship, merchandising, broadcasting and ticket sales. From a sponsorship perspective, men’s football is often perceived as prohibitively expensive and a crowded market for certain types of brands whereas women’s football offers an emerging market for clubs and brands to develop new partnerships across potentially different product/service sectors. For example, clubs may engage with different partners for their men’s and women’s teams or may opt to leverage partnership rights on a collective basis. In any event sponsorship agreements should be carefully drafted to ensure that a club operating a women’s team is maximising its partnership rights across its teams.
If you would like more information on any of the points raised above or require any advice in connection with any matters in women’s football, please contact:
Deirdre McCarthy (Associate) – DeirdreMcCarthy@centrefield.law or call 0161 672 5450.
Please note the information contained in this article is intended as a general review of the subject featured and is not intended as specific legal advice.