APL announce extended Liberty A-League season and 12th team for 2023/24

The Australian Professional Leagues (APL) have today announced that the Liberty A-League Women’s competition will become a 12-team competition, with a full home and away schedule of 22 rounds by the 2023-24 season.

This investment brings the professional game in Australia in line with global standards for match minutes, and is part of a broader strategy to ensure a lasting legacy for the game following the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia and New Zealand 2023TM.

Western United will officially join in season 2022-23 for a 20-round competition, and Central Coast Mariners have been given a provisional licence by APL and, subject to FA Board approval, will become the 12th team for 2023-24, taking the league to 22 rounds and a total of 132 matches.

A-Leagues CEO Danny Townsend said via press release:

“In the 18-months since we have been running the professional game in Australia, we will increase the number of regular season matches from 70 to 132, finally bringing Australia in line with global benchmarks and ensuring more opportunities for women to play at the highest level and for girls to benefit from the role models and expanded professional pathways this investment creates.”

“We are just 12-months out from the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, and we want to make sure that every girl and woman in Australia has the opportunity to build and grow a lasting relationship with football, the country’s most participated in sport.”

The changes to the Liberty A-League follow close consultation with players and Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) and will lead to the minimum salary in the competition increasing by more than 50% over the next two years.

Kate Gill, Co-Chief Executive of PFA, said via press release:

“Today represents a significant step forward for women’s football in Australia that not only brings to life the players’ vision for a full home and away competition, but indicates the APL’s intent and belief in growing the women’s game.”

“Thanks to the genuine partnership with the APL, the players have played a central role in helping to design a competition that delivers meaningful employment, a professional career path and a strong and sustainable league that will develop the next generation of Australian talent.”

Liberty Chief Executive Officer James Boyle added the expansion of the Liberty A-League competition was welcome news that Liberty was proud to celebrate as naming rights sponsor.

“We’re passionate about championing women in sport and the growth of the Liberty A-League helps to elevate the profile of women’s football. The more women role models in the professional sporting arena, such as the A-Leagues, the richer the opportunities for future generations. APL shares our pioneering spirit and culture of diversity as it continues to take strides towards creating a more inclusive sport. We are proud to share with the A-Leagues our passion – and action – for fostering gender equality on and off the field.”

Chief Operating Officer of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup Jane Fernandez said via press release:

“Huge congratulations to APL for this growth, and it really does follow the growth trajectory of women’s football right around the world.

“This is a once in a generation opportunity. We are heading towards Qatar, where the Socceroos have just qualified to play. Then we move towards the expanded Liberty A-League, with the Grand Final to be held right on the eve of the expanded FIFA Women’s World Cup with, for the first time, 32 teams playing in the competition.

“The benefits and the opportunities are huge, and it’s not just for the players, there are benefits also for those who want to volunteer, to coach and to be leaders in our game.”

This is the second expansion announcement in twelve months, following the addition of Wellington Phoenix’s women’s team in 2021. APL also signed an historic 5-year CBA last year, and launched the Club Championship trophy, designed to encourage better fan engagement with women’s football.

The expanded and extended 2022/23 Liberty A-League season kicks off on 18th November 2022 and all matches will be broadcast live on Network 10 and Paramount+, the Australian home of football.

Western United home games on the move

Western United Regional Football Facility

Western United will stage home games in Tarneit, as the long-awaited move to the West of Melbourne takes shape.

Wyndham City Council said on Tuesday that construction of the Regional Football Facility in Tarneit is nearly finished, allowing Western United to move in and begin preparations for the first home games.

Western United fans have supported the club throughout its history and will be able to see the country’s top footballers in their own neighbourhood in 2024.

The Liberty A-League Women’s home game against the Newcastle Jets on Sunday, March 17 is scheduled to be the first match, followed by the NPL Victoria and Isuzu UTE A-League Men fixtures.

Western United and Western Melbourne Group (WMG) Chairman Jason Sourasis described this as a turning point for the club, stating that everyone will be working tirelessly to be ready to host games as soon as possible.

“This is a momentous milestone for everyone involved in the project. It allows us to move into our permanent home, playing out of only the second rectangular stadium in the state of Victoria that is approved to play A-League Men and A-League Women games,” he stated via press release.

“The next phase of growth for Western United Football Club will be underpinned by a community and fan-first philosophy as we entrench our football club into the Wyndham community and grow our own brand empathy within the fastest-growing municipality in Australia.

“I thank everyone that has been on this journey for their unwavering belief, effort, support and patience.”

Western United Liberty A-League Women Head Coach Kat Smith expressed her excitement about playing in front of the Green and Black crowd in the first match at Tarneit.

“It’s such a privilege for myself, the players and all the fans who’ve joined our journey of building a football club to share this significant milestone of moving into our new headquarters and playing a home match for the very first time,” she added via press release.

“I’m extremely impressed with the facility, the equality in its design shows the respect the Club and our partners have for our A-League women and how invested they are in building an amazing future for female football.

“The girls will be absolutely buzzing to be playing in this historic opening match in Tarneit, we can’t wait.”

Wyndham City Council remains a key backer of Western United, with plans to build a cutting-edge stadium that will serve as a football home for cities throughout the West.

Western United and Wyndham City will provide as many updates as possible on confirmed matchdays, activities, and ticketing information for the Regional Football Facility. 

“Women’s Football Transformed” – NewCo ready to propel women’s professional football in the UK

Last November, the English Football Association (FA) revealed it would no longer be running the English Women’s Super League (WSL) and English Women’s Championship, handing the reins to a newly-formed independent organisation, NewCo.

Relatively unknown and tipped for a name-change, NewCo is led by Canadian-born CEO Nikki Doucet, a former General Manager for Nike UK/Ireland who is well versed in the world of finance and sport.

Slowly but surely, the football world is learning more about the company, its CEO, and its plans to propel the WSL and Championship to new heights.

In a statement outlining NewCo’s vision, CEO Nikki Doucet stated the company “will be a revenue-generating, for profit, standalone entity with a professional and dedicated management team.”

The 24 member clubs of the WSL and Championship will be recognised as shareholders of the organisation.

Further to this, Doucet expressed her gratitude for the FA’s role in building professional football for women, and NewCo’s intent for the future.

“They [the FA] have belief in the women’s game and have funded the proof of concept for women’s football in this country and now we’re at a stage where it’s set up to be a standalone entity to capitalise on the growth and opportunity in front of us,” she explained via the FA website.

The WSL’s primary sponsor, Barclays, is halfway through its £30 million ($58 million AUD) investment deal in women’s football that will end in 2025.

Whilst it is NewCo’s desire to maintain relationships with existing sponsors like Barclays, there is an expectation to attract new investment

Media speculation suggests that the Premier League has approved a loan of £20 million ($38 million AUD), that will be repayable once NewCo records £100 million in annual revenue ($193 million AUD).

Speaking to Sky News, Premier League Chief Richard Masters stated that if approved, the loan would symbolise an important relationship between the top tiers of men’s and women’s football in the UK.

The loan will also breathe confidence into clubs, of which some have called for league restructuring to alleviate financial pressure.

NewCo shut down speculation over the potential for the WSL to become a closed league in January, re-stating its “100%” commitment to promotion and relegation between the top two tiers.

Talks over broadcasting rights for the WSL and Championship are also underway, with existing deals between Sky Sports and the BBC concluding at the end of the 23/24 season.

At the conclusion of the 22/23 WSL season, research driven by the Women’s Sport Trust (WST) showed a 36% season–on–season increase in match viewership in the UK.

Given this major increase in viewership, and popularity of women’s football generally, one expects that Sky Sports and the BBC will renegotiate a new deal.

Likely competitors will be TNT (formerly BT Sport), and streaming service Amazon Prime, who have dipped their toes in the water with Premier League coverage in the past two seasons.

Whether a new deal will affect international viewership, particularly in Australia via streaming platform Optus Sport, remains to be known. However, Doucet has made it clear that increasing its audience network is a key goal.

“Reach and revenue is the thing that we’re trying to figure out,” she told reporters.

“I think, more than anything, it should just be as easy as possible for fans to be able to watch the league or the team or the player that they want to watch. How we can do that is what we’re exploring.”

League breakaways, particularly those in favour of profit-driven, independently-run entities, are often fraught with controversy across football’s many sub-sectors.

However, in keeping with the transparent and widely forward-thinking approach of women’s football, NewCo’s takeover of the WSL and Championship could take the development of professional women’s football to the next level.

Women’s football transformed is the tagline underpinning NewCo’s vision for the WSL and Championship, and Doucet offers no shortage in imagination for what it hopes to achieve.

“In 10 years from now, I hope you’re asking me questions around things like how do I get off the waiting list for tickets to WSL games, so we’ll have stadiums at top capacity, all the top players wanting to come here,” she proclaimed.

“I want to be answering questions around elite female athlete health and how that has transformed ‘high street’ physiotherapy. I want you to look at an all-female team and the first thing that goes through your head is “wow, that’s a high performing team’ with no hesitation.”

Further announcements about NewCo’s plans will be eagerly anticipated, as the current WSL and Championship seasons’ near their conclusion.

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