When Chelsea co-owner Todd Boehly suggested the idea of a Premier League all-star game during a recent media appearance, it was received with a wide range of reactions, many of them negative. Bar interest from a select few, including Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard, it didn’t take long for a consensus to form that an all-star game doesn’t fit in the Premier League. But, it got me thinking, could it instead work in the Women’s Super League (WSL)?
Women’s football is different from the men’s game and the two should not be compared — therefore, what is right in the Premier League does not have to also be right for the WSL. With a different format and structure, less fixtures to clog up the calendar and a platform that is growing at an increasing rate, an all-star game in the WSL could add yet another boost to women’s football in England.
Boehly, who is also a co-owner of Major League Baseball’s Los Angeles Dodgers, took ownership of Chelsea as head of a consortium alongside investment firm Clearlake Capital earlier this year, and argued that a north vs. south game could be used to generate funds to benefit all levels football in England.
“Ultimately I hope that the Premier League takes a little bit of a lesson from American sports and really starts to figure out why wouldn’t we do a tournament with the bottom four teams, why isn’t there an all-star game?” Boehly said during an appearance at the SALT Conference, a global thought leadership and networking forum, in September in New York.
“People are talking about more money for the pyramid — MLB did their All-Star Game in L.A. this year, and we made $200 million from a Monday and a Tuesday. You could do a north vs. south all-star game for the Premier League to fund whatever the pyramid needed very easily.”
So, how would an all-star game work in the WSL?
All skepticism aside, Boehly reasonably noted that all-star games in other sports have generated heavy sums and given fans another forum in which to watch their favourite players compete. In spite of that, there are very few all-star games currently happening in women’s sport leagues.
One example of success in this area is the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) all-star game, which has been taking place since 1999. There remain stark differences in salaries between the WNBA and the National Basketball Association (NBA), and the WNBA does not release their overall revenue figures, but the exposure and media attention that the all-star game generates year on year has helped to raise the profile of the league.
The publicity generated by such an event cannot be underestimated — particularly for women’s sport — and could arguably be more important than the potential revenue generated. Of course, the income would still be a significant element with funds raised from ticket sales, broadcast, sponsorship and merchandise sold at an all-star game, money that could benefit the growth of the WSL and all tiers of women’s football in England.
While other women’s football leagues such as the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) have discussed the possibility of an all-star game in the future, no event like it is currently in place. Yet the WSL is in a unique position after the record-breaking 2022 Euros, where England beat Germany 2-1 in the final, and must continue to capitalise off the success, embracing new ways to engage with fans.
There have already been big strides forward in the women’s game in England since this summer’s competition. The WSL attendance record was smashed at the recent north London derby when Arsenal beat Tottenham Hotspur in front of 47,367 at the Emirates Stadium. Friday’s friendly between England and the United States at Wembley is also sold out.
The Lionesses match against the USWNT will undoubtedly be another record-breaking match, with some of the best players in the world on one pitch. Surely creating another event to showcase that talent, in a different format, would drum up similar interest for the game?
Many fans were exposed to women’s football for the first time — or followed closely for the first time — during the Euros hosted in England this summer. A lot of fans without existing affiliation to men’s clubs, and even some who already follow a club (men’s or women’s) will understandably have taken up interest in their favourite players from the event. An all-star game would give fans the opportunity to get behind those players without club ties and a platform on which to celebrate them, as they did during a tournament watched by over 365 million people worldwide.
While the men’s football calendar is jam packed, the women’s schedule has more breathing room in which to arrange a game. With the WSL being a 24-match season, there would be space to find a weekend or weeknight between fixtures in which to schedule the event.
The introduction of such a game, bringing in the top stars from around the WSL together, would further continue the momentum. Women’s footballers are known to be more accessible to their fan base and the atmosphere is more family-friendly, making an all-star game an excellent place to bring together kids and long-standing football fans alike for an exhibit of elite fun and entertainment. Maybe Boehly wasn’t so off-base after all.
ESPN FC’s Sophie Lawson joins Mark Donaldson after Arsenal’s 4-0 win over Tottenham in front of record WSL crowd of 47,367 at the Emirates.
If the WSL tried north vs. south, how would the teams be built and who would make the squads?
With only 12 teams in the league compared to the 20 in the Premier League, it’s easier to split the clubs, with a maximum of two players per club making the all-star squad. The split would be Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Leicester City, Everton and Aston Villa in the north, with Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham, Brighton & Hove Albion, West Ham United and Reading making up the south.
Here is how I would assemble a team based in the north, while my ESPN colleague Sophie Lawson has selected a team for the south:
North XI (by Becky Thompson), 4-3-3 formation
GK: Hannah Hampton, Aston Villa
RB: Rachel Daly, Aston Villa
CB: Katrine Veje, Everton
CB: Niamh Fahey, Liverpool
LB: Leila Ouahabi, Manchester City
MF: Izzy Christiansen, Everton
MF: Ella Toone, Manchester United
MF: Shannon O’Brien, Leicester
FW: Alessia Russo, Manchester United
FW: Chloe Kelly, Manchester City
ST: Katie Stengel, Liverpool
Manager: Carla Ward, Aston Villa
South XI (by Sophie Lawson), 3-5-2 formation
GK: Jackie Burns, Reading
DF: Magda Eriksson, Chelsea
DF: Victoria Williams, Brighton
DF: Gemma Evans, Reading
MF (wingback): Lisa Evans, West Ham
MF: Kit Graham, Tottenham
MF: Kim Little, Arsenal
MF: Honoka Hayashi, West Ham
MF (wingback): Ashleigh Neville, Tottenham
FW: Sam Kerr, Chelsea
FW: Viv Miedema, Arsenal
Manager: Rehanne Skinner, Tottenham
Both teams are undeniably stacked with talent, with some glaring omissions due to only allowing ourselves to select two players per team. So, if an all-star game did happen in the WSL, who would come out on top?
The forwards for the South team are not only two of the best players in the WSL, but the best in the world. Whereas the North squad arguably has more depth and a stronger defensive line. Calling who comes out on top feels like an impossible task, but there is no doubt in my mind that these teams would go toe-to-toe in exciting fashion.