APL confirms plan to expand W-League to '12, potentially 13' teams

Australian Professional Leagues commissioner Greg O'Rourke has said that the organisation intends to expand the W-League to "12, potentially 13 clubs," possibly in time for the 2021-22 season.

At present, eight of the 12 clubs in the A-League field sides in the W-League, with Western United, Macarthur FC, Central Coast Mariners and New Zealand-based Wellington Phoenix the four without representation.

W-League side Canberra United, conversely, operates without an A-League equivalent, although Australia's capital has long been mooted as a potential site for expansion of the men's competition in coming years.

The four A-League sides without a professional women's team, according to O'Rourke, will provide the backbone for the W-League's coming rounds of expansion, which will also play a key part of its push for more games.

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"There are four A-League teams that really desperately want a W-League side," he said. "They're desperate to have those.

"And with expansion comes more games -- more home and away matches. But there's also a want to get towards [a full] home and away [season] as well -- it'll come down to investment and timing.

"The APL strategy is for every A-League club to have a W-League club. That will then see us have 12, potentially 13 clubs."

This process, the APL's commissioner says, will likely begin in the coming months.

"We haven't made that decision, but there is intent that next year you'll see more than nine W-League teams," he told ESPN.

Entering the A-League as an expansion side in 2019-20, Western United have not hidden their desire to field a team in the W-League as soon as possible.

The West Melbourne club formally launched a push to join the competition last December, as well as securing a partnership with NPLW Victoria powerhouse Calder United to create a potential one-club, Miniroos to professional pathway.

Calder's senior team -- who have worn Western United kits in a number of exhibition matches during their preseason -- will accompany Mark Rudan's side to Tasmania next week as part of the A-League club's visit to the Apple Isle for games against Central Coast and Wellington.

The moves have the club feeling sanguine about their prospects.

"Our plan is to work through the process with the APL and Football Australia to ensure that we secure a licence for next season," Western United CEO Chris Pehlivanis told ESPN.

"We're going through the process of solidifying our business plan and ensuring that we meet all the criteria -- which we're confident that we will.

"Yes [Western are confident they will field a W-League side in 2021-22]. That's our intention and we will not leave any stone unturned to do so."

Another potential entrant to the league is the Phoenix.

The Kiwi club's push to join the W-League for 2020-21, which was first revealed by ESPN, was stymied by Football Australia's reluctance to alter the W-League's foreign player rules surrounding New Zealand players.

"We would [still] love to get a team in the league," New Zealand women's national team boss Tom Sermanni said in March. "Obviously, we tried this season but it was all very late and became difficult.

"It's one of the things that we have on the agenda to bring a team into the W-League from New Zealand."

Beyond expansion, the APL, who is presently in the final stages of securing a new broadcasting deal, has also signalled it will be pushing for universal minimum standards of coverage between the A-League and W-League in the years ahead.

Existing broadcast partner Fox Sports' coverage of the latter has been beset by technical problems this campaign, most recently in the Premiership-deciding regular-season meeting between Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory.

"As we look at the new content rights negotiations and partnership that we want to strike, the approach that we're taking is that we are doing a deal to further football - both men's and women's," APL chief commercial officer Ant Hearne said.

"The quality that we expect will be the same for men's and women's.

"There will be times when we put more resources into games, but at the fore, there should be a minimum quality and that's what we'll expect out of the next deal."

Investigations are also taking place about the institution of a club championship that would acknowledge the most outstanding performer across both the A-League and W-League.

"[The 2023 Women's World Cup] is an amazing thing for our country, not only for women's football but for football in general and women's sport," APL managing director and Sydney FC CEO Danny Townsend said.

"[But] I'm a big believer in ensuring that we don't want to leave our eggs in that one basket. The W-League is the elite women's football league in this country, it's been around for a long time.

"We're a sport that's generational, it's one of our great strengths. And it's what we do over the next two years that will ensure that when the Women's World Cup comes and goes that women's football is in a better place.

"We're looking at how we address expansion. We're looking at things like a club championship -- we want to engage fans to support the W-League team as much as they support the men.

"We want three points in the W-League to be worth just as much as three points in the men's league and if we can do that and build a club championship where we crown the best club in Australian football that's something the APL is really passionate about."