Have the A-League Women managed to capitalize on the 2023 World Cup?

<span>Sydney FC lifts the trophy at the end of a memorable 2023-24 ALW season.</span><span>Photo: Daniel Pockett/AAP</span>” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/GQ6fWFmpPduOuDOh2wak9A–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/theguardian_763/9849c5be1729eedb69658ce eae1a2443″ data-src= “https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/GQ6fWFmpPduOuDOh2wak9A–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/theguardian_763/9849c5be1729eedb69658ceeae1a 2443″/></div>
<p><figcaption class=Sydney FC lifts the trophy at the end of a memorable 2023-2024 ALW season.Photo: Daniel Pockett/AAP

Was the 2023/24 A-League Women (ALW) season the best in the competition’s history? Possibly. There were certainly enough standout games, players, stories and intrigue to provide enough fuel for a long cafe debate. What can be said with more certainty, however, is that the campaign that has just concluded, which saw Sydney FC overtake Melbourne City to win a record fifth title, was one of, if not the, most consequential since the competition’s inception.

Generally you only get one post-World Cup season to take advantage and after the 2023 tournament, this was the year for the ALW. And the ground was fertile. Apart from their historic achievements on the field, what the Matildas achieved during that tournament was unprecedented. They put a stranglehold on the hearts and minds of the country and changed what was considered feasible, not only in the women’s football, soccer or sports context, but also in the field of women’s football. cultural level itself.

It was up to the ALW to capture some of this lightning in a bottle. It was impossible to replicate what the Matildas had done – the team now occupies a plane of existence in the Australian zeitgeist closer to Taylor Swift than a football team – but even a little bit of that magic would make a huge difference. No pressure.

And fortunately the competition did not rest on its laurels. With the reintroduction of Central Coast it grew to twelve teams and hosted a full home and away season in 2023–2024, becoming the first of all Australian football codes to do so. In the first round, Sydney Derby set a new record for the largest ever single crowd for a domestic women’s match in Australia after 11,471 supporters attended. Towards the end of the season, the Australian Professional Leagues (APL), the competition administrators, touted the most attended season of any women’s sporting competition in Australian history. Although the APL does not provide figures, it claims that in 2023-2024 there was a 611% growth in season tickets, a 133% increase in TV hours and a 108% increase in audience.

On the pitch: Since the 2020 demographic shift that saw Sam Kerr, Steph Catley and others head to Europe, young talent has been in the spotlight in the ALW, breaking the outgoing transfer record three times this season. However, few young talents have emerged as strikingly as 17-year-old Melbourne City sensation Daniela Galic. The teenager was named this season’s young footballer of the year and earned her train-on place with the Matildas in February and although her club are resigned to losing her at some point – it is understood that foreign clubs have already are in the area – they hope to get one season of her before she goes. She is a special talent.

Grand finalists Sydney and City, meanwhile, reiterated their status as the two ALW standard-bearers. The two clubs have consistently invested the necessary time and capital in growing and maintaining their women’s programs, but, crucially, this investment is fiscal in nature. And intellectually – not just putting money into the women’s side, but developing good pathways and capabilities for identifying talent, nurturing coherent philosophies, and, especially by Sydney, engaging in good succession planning. Their continued success challenges potential enemies to not only spend more, but to spend consistently and well.

Anyway, as always in these matters, the issue is not just whether progress has been made – as it undoubtedly has – but how much? Say what you want about the gift of horses and mouths, but a once-in-a-lifetime World Cup at home is a gift to cherish. Could more have been done?

“If you look at stats, memberships and all that, it’s been a very successful year,” Matilda and Sydney forward Cortnee Vine reflected. “I still feel like we could have done a lot more; more investments, more professionalism. There are coaches who are still not full-time. [Players are] technically not full-time.”

The most pressing issue facing the ALW going forward remains increasing full-time, year-round professional opportunities for players and the coaching staff that support them. While the APL plans to grow the ALW into Asia’s premier domestic league and become a global destination, three in five of the league’s current player base work in a second job and, all but a select few , only a contract for 35 weeks per year.

What’s next? Ultimately, most challenges or handbrakes in the ALW come down to one thing: money. The Women’s World Cup was a boon for the organisers, but as a private, for-profit company, separate from Football Australia, the APL didn’t see a dollar. Since taking control of the league in 2021, the APL has demonstrated a genuine commitment and ambition to grow the ALW, but a series of strategic missteps by the organization means the organization’s perilous financial state and the resulting austerity measures loom, which may prevent it from building on what it has done in 2021. it has created or forced progress to be pushed back.

For example, the futures of both Newcastle and Canberra came under existential threat this season after warnings from the APL that it could not keep teams afloat amid the struggle to find buyers for their licenses (the future of both teams at the short term now seems safe). At a time of heightened interest but, paradoxically, limited coverage in the mainstream media, competition-produced broadcasts remain streaming-only, often use only one or two cameras and are limited to no content before, during halftime or after the match. The league’s magazine-style DubZone show fell victim to cost-cutting.

“I think it will grow,” Vine thought. “But I think the post-World Cup was the perfect time for people to say, ‘I’m going to invest in women’s football and see where we go.’ I hope for that in the coming years.”

Discussion points

Cross-border cooperation: FC Rosengård (Sweden) and FC Copenhagen (Denmark) have announced “close sporting and social cooperation” to strengthen each other in the women’s football sector. FC Copenhagen has just launched its women’s team and will learn from thirteen-time Swedish champions when it comes to the elite side of the operation, while Rosengård aims to learn from their neighbors when it comes to youth development.

Mertens decisive: Lieke Mertens scored the only goal of the match as PSG won the French League Cup against FC Fleury 91. It was the team’s fourth Coupe de France victory, following those in 2010, 2018 and 2022.

Quote of the day

The last two times [Bayern won the title] I only played two to three games and then got injured. This time I managed to stay fit throughout the season and [the title win] there was an emotional rollercoaster for me. Now I know what it feels like to be a good part of winning the title.” – Giulia Gwinn after Bayern secured the Frauen-Bundesliga title with a 2-1 win over Bayer Leverkusen.

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