On Friday, the Premier League and EFL reiterated their determination to finish their respective seasons in spite of the coronavirus epidemic, no matter how long it takes — with some saying it could go into June. Women’s football in England is in the same situation, with a new report in the Guardian saying that the Women’s Super League and FA Women’s Championships are also operating under the assumption that their seasons will be completed in full, even with a long delay.
However, unlike in the men’s game, women’s football clubs operate on massively smaller financial budgets, and consequently many smaller clubs operate on much finer financial margins. There has already been concern expressed that a significant delay could put several clubs in the top tier into dire financial straits, possibly even causing some of them to fold.
Those (unnamed) clubs now also know shouldn’t expect any help from the Football Association. The same Guardian article announced that the top two tiers of English women’s football have been instructed to keep paying their players and staff until football resumes, with absolutely no financial assistance whatsoever from the FA.
The FA was notified of clubs’ estimated losses for March, April and May during the week and there was a sense of disbelief from some at the lack of financial support alongside the extension to the season stretching into the foreseeable future. However, there is also a feeling that the governing body may have viewed the losses as too big a gap to plug and the FA is now trying to protect the existing budget for the women’s game.
Clubs must prepare to keep paying players until a decision is reached on continuation or cancellation. With the tight finances of teams not backed by a Premier League club and the season stretching far beyond what the other clubs have budgeted for, it is increasingly likely some clubs will go to the wall – a possibility hinted at in advance of the meeting when the FA told clubs they may need to reopen licensing to maintain numbers in the Women’s Championship.
— The Guardian
This is a hugely frustrating decision from the FA. Women’s football in England was starting to break out this season after the Lionesses’ run to the World Cup semifinals last summer, and while it’s still nowhere near the popularity of the men’s game it was setting all sorts of attendance records and drawing significantly more interest from fans of all types.
The finances are so far below that of the men’s side that it would take an almost trivial amount of money for the FA to step in and make sure that all players and staff in the top two divisions of the sport are paid during the shutdown, especially as they appear to be so keen on making sure that the season is fully played out. If the timeline is similar to what has been mooted in the men’s game, the WSL and FAWC might not restart until June. That’s nearly four months of no football, and no income.
The struggling clubs aren’t known, but the financial implication of this stretch with no gate receipts and no income are likely to hit the clubs who are either unaffiliated with a men’s club or whose parent clubs are not in the Premier League, and consequently have smaller overall incomes. Those clubs are possibly less likely to be able to expect a bailout from their parent organizations.
It would take an almost absurdly small amount of cash to keep women’s clubs in a dangerous financial situation solvent until football resumes, if it does. Women’s football is still a fledgling thing in the UK, and something like this has the potential to seriously curtail, or even kill, what was just starting to emerge. The fact that the FA can’t even find change in its couch cushions to help prop up the women’s game in England is a pretty worrying indication of the FA’s support for women’s football in general, and the development of the sport.