Extra Time: Growth in the WSL

Aoife Mannion, Manchester City

The Lionesses drew record-breaking TV figures during their World Cup campaign last summer. As the Women’s Super League (WSL) sign a three-year sponsorship deal with Barclays this season, it’s an exciting time to be involved in the women’s game. Heightened interest in the sport and much-needed investment is allowing the game to flourish, and for Manchester City Defender Aoife Mannion, this is very welcome news. We caught up with Aoife to find out more about what this renewed focus on the women’s game could mean. 

Hi Aoife, how has this new sponsorship affected the WSL?

Over the last few years, there’s been a real feeling that the women’s game is growing; however, what each individual sponsorship means to the players remains to be seen. I think in years to come, players will start to feel the benefits of increased media exposure, improved contracts, and all the other opportunities that come with that. I know that I’m definitely feeling the benefits of these things, and the benefits of the foundations laid by the female footballers who came before me. 

Have people been paying more attention to women’s football after the World Cup?

Definitely. When the Lionesses played Germany last November, it was almost a sell-out at Wembley, which was fantastic, and those sorts of numbers speak for themselves. With every tournament the national team goes to, there is a surge in interest, and people then become more and more interested in the women’s game. When I think about how many spectators we had at games even just 5 years ago, the change has been incredible. 

How important are improved facilities for growth in the game?

Access to facilities and resources in terms of staff and coaches is a part of the game that professionalises players. It allows us to be better. It also allows for the game to become more exciting and fast-paced, which means spectators enjoy watching it more. There’s no beating around the bush that Manchester City have some of the best resources and facilities on offer, if not the best in the league. I think that it’s now up to other teams to keep pushing their standards to catch up, so we can keep pushing the game forward.

How do you hope the game will continue to grow?

The bulk of investment comes from the men’s game in terms of the top clubs in the league. I think how they take the women’s teams under their wing will really determine their growth. We share facilities at Manchester City for example, so it’s not so much about someone making up a sponsorship or investment; it’s more about joining up with the men’s side and creating a one-club vibe such as ours. We also have to remember that football is a form of entertainment, and so the more entertaining the games and players are, the more the interest will grow. From my view I would like to see players have bigger personal media profiles because if you look at other sports such as basketball and the UFC, you’ll see people tune in to watch particular competitors not just for the sport.

What’s the best part of your job?

Just being a footballer! It was a dream move when I signed for Manchester City. Although I’m out with injury at the moment, the goal is to come back fit so I can start playing again and enjoy my football. I want to win trophies - I’ve never been shy to say that, and I want to get back so I can help my team win the WSL and FA Cup. Whether this was a professional job for me or not, I still would’ve done it. I’ve just been very fortunate that I was able to reach this level. For any girls who might be wondering if they could have a career as a professional footballer, I would say don't let negativity pull you back. There are so many people who are very supportive, and there’s a lot of good energy around. Try to invest in that and follow the path that you love.