Women's football faces big changes after World Cup showing

Martha Kelner, sport correspondent

The Premier League is assessing the feasibility of taking over the Women's Super League in the next few years, Sky News understands.

The move could mean huge investment and visibility for the sport and it comes after the unexpected progress of the Women's World Cup team.

A source close to the FA said they believe the women's game would be best served by being nurtured under the charge of the governing body for a few years before the Premier League takes over.

The FA set up the WSL, Europe's only full-time professional competition, in 2011 and Premier League-affiliated clubs make up 13 of the 22 sides in the women's top two divisions.

As the England women's team made the journey to Nice on Wednesday ahead of the third-place playoff and coach Phil Neville signed autographs and took selfies with fans gathered outside the team hotel, there was evidence women's football is at a turning point.

England's agonising defeat to the USA was the most-watched TV event of the year, with 11.7 million people tuning in and pubs around the country packed with enthusiastic fans. This sort of interest in the women's game would have been unimaginable even as recently as eight years ago.

But the feverish excitement during France 2019 has prompted questions about legacy and how this surge in popularity can translate to long-term change.

The gulf in prize money on offer for the men's and women's World Cup is huge.

FIFA doubled the total prize pot for France 2019 to £24m, and the winners will take home £3.2m.

Meanwhile, at the men's World Cup in Russia last summer, the prize fund was £315m - with eventual champions France receiving £29m, more than the entire winnings for the women.

Former FIFA council member Moya Dodd supports the battle some players are waging for greater financial equality but points out other areas where women lag behind.

"Prize money is a big talking point because the players have made it so," she said. "I would never criticise anyone for demanding equality.

"If I was able to look at a large pot of money and spend it across football I would be looking at the creation of new competitions.

"I would love to see an international club competition on a global scale.

"In most of the world we don't see the best players playing for clubs. We don't see a globally watched Champions League in this game.

"If we are going to have these great peaks of TV ratings in between world cups then it's going to be club football and those big brands investing. There also needs to be further investment in coaching."

Maggie Murphy is the co-founder of Equal Playing Field, an organisation which aims to empower women around the world through football.

She said: "It's fantastic to see female players on TV, it's fantastic to see them in their shirts specially made for them, not ones that are down by their knees and football boots which fit them.

"It might seem small but it's so important for the next generation coming through. I want five-year-olds to watch it and for this to be the norm."