Author Topic: Are we ready for the next step?  (Read 385 times)

Offline buzzbee

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Are we ready for the next step?
« on: February 22, 2018, 10:45:56 AM »
I am loving the WSL1 right now and enjoying how the women’s game is growing, but with the plans from next season, I am just a little concerned that we may be running before we can walk and not letting the game grow naturally.

Why do think this? Well, it’s all worryingly familiar to me!

My other big sporting love is Ice hockey! For those who do not live in a hockey area, you may be surprised to learn that it is the largest indoor spectator sport in the country, pulling in thousands of fans every week.

Hockey went through a boom in the late 80’s and early 90’s. My own team (Bracknell Bees) would see crowds in excess of 2,000, while playing in the third tier for instance

With the game growing and growing, everything suddenly exploded into life, when a group of owners decided to form a new league called the Superleague

We went from a league that mixed full-time professionals with part time players to a fully professional league. Teams had to apply to join and meet certain criteria and also make commitments for the future, one of which was that they all had to have a 5,000 seat arena by the fifth year (In the WSL1 case, I believe there is a commitment regarding crowd sizes)

So, what happened?

Well, for a few years, we were treated to some great hockey! My own team managed to win it in the year 2000 and I will never forget how great the hockey was!

However, it came at a cost!

Looking at the teams who played in that league…
  • Ayr – Won a title, never got their 5,000 seat arena and went bust, 7 years after the start of the Superleague
  • Basingstoke – Never got their 5,000 seat arena, dropped out of the Superleague after 2 seasons and now play in the second tier
  • Bracknell – Won a title, never got their 5,000 seat arena and are now a mid-table second tier team
  • Cardiff – Won a title, never got their 5,000 seat arena and folded 5 years after the start of the Superleague. They were re-formed in the second tier and are now back at the top level
  • Manchester – Played in the 16,000 seat MEN Arena from the start, Folded 7 years after the start of the Superleague
  • Newcastle – Played in a 6,000 seat arena from the start. Their owner (Sir John  Hall, who also owned Newcastle United FC at the time) was the main player in forming the league. Folded 2 years after the start of the Superleague. A new team took their place and folded after 2 years. Another new team lasted 1 year
  • Nottingham – The only team to move to a new 5,000 seat arena. Still playing at the top level
  • Sheffield – Played in a 9,000 seat arena from the start. Still playing at the top level
  • London – Formed in 1998 in the now demolished London Arena in Docklands, folded in 2001
  • Belfast – Formed in 2,000 in a 10,000 seat arena. Still at the top level
So, of the 10 teams that took part, only 4 (One after folding and re-forming) are still at the top level. Only 2 others still exist. The other 4 folded within 7 years. With all teams committing to having a 5,000 seat arena, only one actually got one!

The impact on the game as a whole was very negative. British Ice Hockey below Superleague level became very fragmented and has never really recovered! The current top level has gone through a period of relative sustainability, but with a real split between the haves (Teams in big arenas with big budgets) and have-nots (Teams in small rinks). After 46 games, there are 62 points (2 for a win) between top and bottom. That’s not competitive! Last year’s second tier league imploded, after 2 teams folded and 2 others chose to drop to the third tier. Established teams seem to be folding every year!

So why did this happen? The Superleague was a great league to watch and seemed like a good idea at the time, but British Ice Hockey just wasn’t yet ready for it!

Is English women’s football ready to go down the same road?

If at first you don't succeed... cheat!