A young female football team.
A young female football team.

Women’s Football: the new player in the sport industry

Women’s football is becoming profitable and attracting new fans and investors

We are living in a period characterized by significant financial changes in the field of women’s football and some others will continue to come.

Women’s Football as new driver of success in the sport industry 

The football industry has always been characterized by a significant gap between males and females’ competitions. A difference that is evident in the level of competitiveness, growth and revenue. On the other hand, this distance is going to narrow over the years, especially in Europe.

Indeed, women’s football is gradually finding more and more space and recognition – as it should be – in terms not only of media and stadium visibility, but above all on the economic and financial level. A striking example of this new course is the UEFA Champions League. Since the 2021-2022 season, the competition has introduced a new format that establishes a higher number of matches and, as a result, it increased and guaranteed higher revenues for the teams involved.

According to the trade and audio-visual agreements signed by UEFA, the new Women’s UEFA Champions League guarantees 24 million euros to be redistributed in favor of European women’s football: four times the previous figure. The most important aspect is the idea of using 23% of the prize money as “solidarity payments” to clubs that do not take part in the competition but that are registered in the Women’s Champions League. This is a very high figure, considering that in the first ten years of the event there was not any prize money guaranteed. 

United States as frontrunner in equalizing World Cup Prize Money 

The growth of this movement, especially in terms of revenues (broadcasting, OTT platforms and business partners), visibility and social and economic recognition for the footballers is clear in the case of the United States; a country that has always been a frontrunner in the sport industry.

In the early 2022, United States Soccer Federation (USSF), the United States Women’s National Team Players Association (USWNTPA) and the United States National Soccer Team Players Association (USNSTPA) signed an equal pay agreement based on the idea that the men and women’s teams split all World Cup earnings. In this way, US Soccer became “the first Federation in the world to equalize FIFA World Cup prize money” awarded to the teams for participating in World Cups. An agreement that has the potential to inspire and change the game and also the business around women’s football all over the world. This deal puts pressure on FIFA – that has always treated the women’s World Cup as an afterthought – to invest (more) in women’s football not only following a principle of solidarity. The reason is that the lack of resources given to the women can directly impact the men’s football business and it means that women’s soccer is revealing itself as a real money-maker in this field.

The men’s World Cup in Qatar was the richest in the history of football: the prize for the winner was over 14 times as much as the women’s edition of the tournament. On the other hand, the Women’s World Cup is still growing a lot: FIFA decided to expand the Women’s World Cup from 24 to 32 teams in the upcoming event in summer 2023 and double the prize money, which is rising-  according to the last forecasts – maybe to $100 million.

The UEFA Women’s Euro benefit program 

In general, as in men’s soccer, women’s competitions involving national teams are generally more profitable than club competitions. Indeed, the last European Championship held in England in the summer of 2022 has set new standards for women’s competitions not only by providing for a doubled prize pool compared to the previous edition (UEFA Women’s Euro 2017 in the Netherlands predicted 8 million), but also ensuring for the first time in women’s football history a benefit program for clubs.

It consists of 4,5 million euros to be divided among the 16 participating European clubs to ensure the participation of the players involved in the final phase of the European Championship. In other words clubs are able to cover the expenses related to the days of preparation and participation in the tournaments of their players: a tool that does not exist in male’s competitions. Moreover, there is also a prize pool of €16 million distributed for 60% equally among the participating clubs and 40% in relation to the performance in the tournament. In other words, each national team won 600.000 euros (double compared to the 2017 edition) regardless of their performance in the final stage of the tournament. 

Women’s Football seen as new business case 

The continental event has a significant impact in the development of the female football movement: the first step of a project that aims to attract and involve an increasing number of investments.

Considering the attractive previsions of growth of the movement, UEFA has drawn up – for the first time in history – The Business Case for Women’s Football | UEFA.com. It is a document that analyses the potential and the all-round challenges of the women’s football movement currently and in ten years’ time.

The focus immediately falls on the turnover produced by the transfer market, that had reached the threshold of 2 million euros in the season 2021-2022. It is such an impressive figure if we consider that more than 95% of transfers in women’s football so far, took place without actual movement of money. However, the situation is changing and getting closer to the reality of men’s soccer: in 2021, there were 1,304 transfers made in professional women’s soccer (+87% compared to 2018).

The report of UEFA also revealed some important and interesting figures, especially for investors and sponsors (the stakeholders of the sports industry), about the real potential of this movement. The Women’s EURO 2022 tournament attracted 574,000 spectators, while the UEFA Women’s Champions League final alone attracted 91,648 spectators and viewers, a world record in spectatorship of women’s football. The estimates predict 328 million fans of women’s football in 2033 and, as a result, the revenues generated could rise to a figure between 552 and 686 million, an increase of +427.5% compared to the current 69 million.

 FIFA Report benchmarks elites Women’s Football

Women’s football is seeing growing revenues globally from sponsorships, broadcast deals and merchandising, while also seeing greater interest from fans, according to the second edition of Setting the Pace: the leading benchmarking report published by FIFA. The report reveals the changes and developments that have occurred in elite women’s football since the first edition of it (published in May 2021). It is important to underline the impact of sponsors that show higher interest in this sport: the FIFA report reveals that 77% of leagues had a title sponsor, up from 11% in 2021. Investing in this sport is becoming more and more profitable: an opportunity to involve and catch new segments of fans and increase revenues also for companies of other fields (sponsors, broadcasters). There is an unprecedented interest in the game, as the friendly match between the United States and England at Wembley (nearly 78,000 fans and sold out within 24 hours) and the UEFA Champions League quarter-final match at Camp Nou (91,000 fans) demonstrate.

Conclusions and new horizons

We are living in a period characterized by significant financial changes in the field of women’s football and some others will continue to come. In other words, it seems that it is time to capitalize on the strong foundation that was built up to now to ensure the growth of a football movement in the launch pad. Finding the right balance from the economic point of view will not be simple, considering how it seems utopian to build and preserve a system in which wealth is distributed in a fairer way. Avoiding the creation of economic imbalances is the key to guarantee competitiveness. 

Nonetheless , it is relevant to say that women’s football aims to promote the important principles – especially of fair play– that have made the sport attractive and interesting from the start. Also to those that initially underestimated its impact.  Meanwhile the messages of positive growth, inclusiveness and gender equality continue to be the core values of women’s football.  

Thinking points:

How should women players deal with sponsorships (like from Saudi Arabia’s Tourist authority during the ‘23 Women’s World Cup) that on the one hand help financially grow their business, but on the other hand are at odds with their values like fair play, equality, inclusion and positive growth?

Find out more: 

In the following articles you can find more information and data about the growing status of Women’s Elite- Football  

Equal payment agreements helps Women Soccer increase their revenues 

FIFA produces second edition of benchmarking study into women’s football 

Women’s soccer growth ‘unlike any other sport’ – FIFA report

The Business Case for Women’s Football | UEFA.com

FIFA sets the pace with release of second study into elite women’s league and club football

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