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Bridgepoint ‘eyes investment’ in Women’s Super League

Maren Mjelde of Chelsea celebrating her team's goal during the WSL match against West Ham United (by Jacques Feeney/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

London-headquartered private equity company Bridgepoint, a major shareholder in MotoGP commercial rights-holder Dorna Sports, has approached the English Football Association (FA) about investing in the Women’s Super League (WSL) club competition, it has been reported.

Bridgepoint is said to have made contact with the FA with an offer to acquire a large minority stake in a new company that would own the WSL’s commercial rights, according to Sky News. The WSL’s 12 member clubs, which would own stakes in the company along with the FA, are said to have been briefed on the proposal.

The FA said that “as the WSL continues to grow and thrive there is considerable commercial interest from a variety of sectors”.

Bridgepoint’s interest comes after it was reported last week that the majority of clubs in the WSL are against a potential takeover by the Premier League, preferring that they operate independently from the men’s competition.

The newly-formed WSL board, which includes representatives from Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Aston Villa and Durham, will ultimately make the decision on how the league will be run. The FA established the board to oversee the future strategy and policy of the women’s game in England and recommend the best way forward to the FA board.

Bridgepoint already has a significant presence in the sports industry through its interest in Dorna Sports. Bridgepoint bought Dorna in 2006 in a deal valuing the company at around €500m ($572.5m). Bridgepoint then sold a 39-per-cent stake to Canadian pension fund investment group CPP in 2012.

Bridgepoint also previously owned the Infront agency. The company sold its majority shareholding to Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda five years ago, for around €1.05bn.

The UK media rights for the WSL from the 2021-22 season are currently on the market with the FA having appointed, Women’s Sports Group as its exclusive consultant on the sale. Women’s Sports Group was launched last year to increase the profile of women’s sport and is led by Dame Heather Rabbatts, chair of strategic communications agency Vero Communications, and media-rights consultant David Kogan.

Pay-television broadcaster BT Sport is the main domestic rights-holder to the league in a three-season deal running from 2018-19 to 2020-21.

BT had been due to show at least 30 live matches last season from the WSL, FA Women’s Continental League Cup and the Women’s FA Cup. Public-service broadcaster the BBC also holds rights to show one live match per week on BBC iPlayer, the ‘Red Button’ and streamed online.

The FA last month announced that 82 of its employees stand to lose their jobs amid cost-cutting measures to tackle potential losses of around £300m (€329.4m/$377.3m) due to Covid-19. The FA owns Wembley Stadium, and the events calendar for English football’s national stadium has been severely impacted by the global pandemic.

The FA said it now had a greater understanding of the “long-term and irreversible effect” of Covid-19 on its finances, adding that it expects many of its future revenue streams to be impacted for a “considerable time”.