A ground-breaking sponsorship deal for women’s football could mark the start of “three huge years” in the development of the sport, according to the Football Association’s Kelly Simmons.
The FA’s director of the women’s professional game was speaking after Barclays was announced as the first title sponsor of the Women’s Super League.
The three-year partnership, which Press Association Sport understands to be worth in excess of £10million, has been described by the FA as “the biggest ever investment in UK women’s sport by a brand”.
It will see the top tier of women’s football renamed the Barclays FA Women’s Super League from the start of the 2019-20 season.
Securing sponsorship for the WSL was among Simmons’ main priorities on assuming her FA role in September.
With that objective now achieved, she feels this summer’s World Cup in France, next year’s Olympics and a European Championships on home soil in 2021 provide major opportunities to further increase the stature of the sport.
“It does feel a really special moment. It’s not just the investment, it’s the power and the reach of that brand can take women’s football to new audiences,” Simmons told Press Association Sport.
“In terms of building the profile, building the fan base, building that awareness of the quality of women’s football, we’ve got potentially three huge years.
“Of course, we’ve got the World Cup – I think it’s probably going to be the biggest women’s team sport spectacle ever, globally and domestically.
“And then the GB Olympic team, all the spotlight will be on the Olympics – it will be a great opportunity if we can be part of that. And then Euros on home soil, which is incredible, in 2021.
“I think if an England team could win a major tournament it would definitely capture the imagination and attention of the nation. Those players will become household names and that will again transfer into club football.”
The multi-million pound deal, which includes the introduction of an annual £500,000 prize fund, comes three days after a record crowd for women’s club football was set at Atletico Madrid’s match with Barcelona.
England international Toni Duggan scored Barca’s second goal in a 2-0 win at Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano stadium in front of 60,739 fans.
The largest attendance for a WSL game in England is 5,052, while a bumper crowd of 45,423 at Wembley last May saw Chelsea defeat Arsenal in the FA Cup final.
Simmons says the turnout for the Spanish match demonstrates the increasing interest in the women’s game.
“It’s phenomenal – I was a bit jealous,” said Simmons.
“It shows that women’s football is massively on the rise, I think it shows what can be done.
“With the Women’s Super League, it’s brilliant that it’s gone professional – I think our next job is to try and make that secure and sustainable over a period of time.
“What we really want to focus on is how we get more and more fans through those turnstiles because I think that’s a hugely important step in terms of professional women’s football.”