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Disclaimer: This article is written by Amwene Etiang. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the writers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of the team editor nor any entities they represent.
It was only in 1971 that the FA lifted the ban on women’s professional football. In 1921, following a successful football match the previous Boxing Day between Dick, Ferr FC and St Helen’s Ladies in Goodison Park, Liverpool, one that attracted 53,000 fans, the FA banned women from playing on official football pitches. Similar bans existed in France and Germany. From being banned to becoming fast-growing sport and business, women’s football is definitely something worth paying attention to. It is an even more promising business to invest in. But why?
What is the problem?
An independent review into women’s football chaired by Karen Carney concluded that in 10 years time women’s football could be a billion-pound industry, but increased minimum standards and investment is needed to get it to that point. According to a report by Victoria University, barriers to women’s full and equal participation in sport are inadequate facilities and infrastructure, inadequate funding and negative stereotypes amongst others. Consider players’ salaries, the maximum salary in the FA Women’s Super League is £210,000 whereas the average salary in the English Premier League (EPL) is £3,090,200. In 2017, the average salary of a female footballer was $600, according to a report by FIFPro. 50% of players do not have an employment contract and 30% have to work a second job to supplement their income. This has an impact on the quality of the game, especially in the leagues that are not fully professionalized. Furthermore, the first time the FA Women’s Super League became fully professionalised was in 2018-2019. The review by Karen Carney recommended a fully professionalised environment in the top two tiers of the women’s game, as well as the introduction of a minimum salary in the Women’s Super League by 2025-2026. Much investment is needed to professionalize women’s football.
For years fans of women’s football have been saying that women’s sport is not boring. The widely held perception that women’s football is not as interesting as men’s football negatively affected the amount of people watching the sport. The famous Orange World Cup advert broadcast this July disproves the notion that women’s football is boring. In the advert the faces of the French women’s national team, Les Bleues were initially concealed by the faces of the French men’s national team, Les Bleus. Later it was revealed that it was the Les Bleues who viewers were watching all along. An increasing number of people are becoming fans of women’s football. Research by Nielsen Sports showed that 36% of football supporters surveyed across 24 markets that they were fans of women’s football. That is an audience of around 314 million people. Furthermore, on 22 April 2022 91,648 fans watched Barcelona compete against Vfl Wolfsburg, breaking the record, which was set just a month earlier, for the most fans watching a women’s match. In addition to the 3.6 million people who watched the match on broadcasting platforms. This demonstrates how fast growing interest in women’s football is.
This growing audience presents an opportunity for sponsors of women’s football to build brand awareness amongst an increasing population. It also means that broadcasters will see more people tuning into their channels. With greater investment into women’s football, more sponsorships and better broadcasting deals, the sport will be able to grow from a “start-up business” in the words of Carney, to a billion-dollar business.
Furthermore, football’s governing bodies are committed to investing in the game. FIFA is committed to doubling women’s participation in football to 60 million by 2026. In addition, UEFA also committed to delivering 50% more funding to the sport from 2020. Large corporations are also invested in the game. Barclays invested £15 million in England’s Women’s Super League including a title sponsorship and being head partner of the FA Girls’ Football School Partnerships, representing the biggest single investment in British women’s sport by a business. Furthermore, between 2013 and 2017, sponsorship deals in women’s sports grew by 37%. Not only is the time right for big sponsors and businesses to invest in the game, but also parents and smaller businesses. To sustain a professional sport, grassroots programmes and participation is essential.
Women’s football, far from being boring, is an exciting opportunity for investors to access a different kind of sports fan as well as a growing audience. Not only will this provide returns to investors but also benefit the sport itself, with clubs, players and investors all being part of an epoch in the history of sport. There is a sound business case for investment into women’s football, but with all investments it comes with a risk. Women’s football has been described as a start up business. One with a high chance of growing into a very profitable one. But this is only possible if the opportunity is seized now to invest in the future of women’s sport.