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Arsenal CEO: ‘Financial sustainability the next major step for women’s soccer’

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  • Venkatesham recently confirmed Arsenal want all women’s team games staged at the Emirates
  • Next WSL TV rights deal expected to net significantly larger fee than UK£15m for current contract

Vinai Venkatesham, chief executive of English soccer giants Arsenal, says the next big step to grow the domestic women’s game is to establish “financial sustainability” across the sport.

England’s Uefa Women’s Euro 2022 triumph has increased financial expectations among stakeholders, with the surge in interest in the sport leading to record TV ratings and attendances for the Women’s Super League (WSL) domestic top-flight.

Although the WSL is currently run by the governing Football Association (FA), teams are keen for the competition to be run independently. WSL chair Dawn Airey recently spoke about profitability being a key target for the league, although she wants that to go hand-in-hand with the national pyramid getting the monetary support needed to be run sustainably.

Speaking to The Telegraph, Venkatesham said revenue growth should be the priority for stakeholders in the sport. “Where I would like the game to go within [the next ten years] is for it to become more financially sustainable, so we need to find a way to grow revenues and get revenues closer to costs,” he said.

“After Covid, football clubs have been put in more challenging financial situations. At the moment, women’s football is a pretty significant investment, and by that I mean people are paying much more in costs than they’re able to recoup, and that is something that will put people off.

“So we need to find a way to demonstrate that we’re on the path to sustainability, because then it will encourage more people to invest and to get involved.”

The WSL’s current domestic TV rights deal with the BBC and Sky Sports, which expires following the 2023/24 campaign, is reportedly worth UK£15 million (US$16.2 million) per season, with a significantly larger fee expected for the next agreement.

Barclays, the WSL’s title sponsor, expanded its deal with the FA in December last year, pledging to commit UK£30 million (US$36.2 million) in the women’s and girls’ game into 2025, having originally signed a deal worth in excess of UK £15 million (US$19.8 million) in 2019.

While backing from partners will be key, part of achieving financial sustainability will be increased club revenues. Venkatesham recently confirmed that Arsenal wanted the Emirates Stadium to be the permanent home of the women’s side going forward. This would mark a step towards increasing the team’s matchday income, which he describes as a competition-wide priority to ensure a more competitive league.

He added: “You can already see more clubs investing in their training facilities, in their squads, so I think it’s coming. You’re seeing more and more clubs taking women’s football as seriously as we think they should be.

“Long-term, I’m really excited about the future of women’s football. I think there’s a huge opportunity ahead. The WSL is on the right journey, getting more and more competitive, but we want to get to a point where lots of teams are investing heavily in women’s football and then you’ll have a very vibrant WSL.

“The reason I’m so excited now is it feels like, for so long, we have been really trying to push women’s football and it feels like we’re reaching that tipping point where everything we’ve been hoping for, everything we’ ve wanted it to be, we can start seeing it.”

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