How women’s football can avoid corruption when more money comes in

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The England’s success at the Women’s Euro increased interest in women’s football to unprecedented levels, with records visualization and attendance figures and an increase in the Women’s Super League (WSL) sale of season tickets. But, as is all too evident in women’s football, success comes from investment at both national and club level.

The national teams that dominated the Euros had invested in both player contracts and available resources. They were also filled with professional players from clubs who have invested in their women’s teams, such as eight-time Champions League winners Olympique Lyonnais and Barcelona.

With greater success, of course, we also see more investment, as companies are more likely to want to be associated with proven “products”. And with more money, there are more demands on players and teams.

What the fans have appreciated so much about women’s football is its authenticity, which is reflected in the emotional reactions of the players as well as in the way they play and in their close relationship with the fans. But that’s something that money can change. So how can women’s football retain its authenticity when more money inevitably comes into play?

Where is the money currently coming from?

Most women’s teams depend on the financial support of their club’s entire group (for example, Arsenal Holdings PLC is the group that owns both the men’s and women’s teams). In the case of the WSL, the money comes mainly from the affiliated men’s teams.

So while there has been an increase in broadcast revenue for WSL teams this year following the historic event Sky and BBC agree over £8m deal per season, there is always the question of the influence of predominantly male councils and men’s teams subsidize women’s football.

Other revenue for women’s teams comes from ticket sales for matches (matchday revenue) which, given the average attendance for the last pre-COVID period The WSL season (2019-20) was 3,072, is not a large number. Overall, 90% of Arsenal Women’s Earnings for the 2020-21 season affected by COVID (the last season for which available accounts exist) came from the owning group, followed by 6% from broadcasting, 4% from advertising and only 0.2% from matchday (c was 17% of pre-COVID 2018-19 season revenue).

These female teams, like the men, who play in UEFA competitions or do well in national competitions also get a look and cash prize.

Where could more money come from?

Of course, increasing attendance would help revenue and investment (more money coming in means more money to spend). However, men’s teams at the highest level, such as the Premier League, make most of their money from broadcasting, followed by commercial or sponsorship opportunities (shirt sponsorship, commercial partners), with the smallest proportion of matchday attendance. This changes as you go down the male leagues with a (very high) reliance on ticket sales in the lower leagues.

Women’s teams in recent years have shown that they can draw crowds, particularly at present men’s field eventsalthough there is still reluctance from the teams to welcome them, as shown by the number of teams not applying to host the Women’s Euro in their stadiums.

So what is the problem?

The greatest investment potential comes from growing broadcast, advertising and sponsorship opportunities. This is the area where we are already seeing increased interest and investment in women’s sport.

Broadcast interest can affect things like the time matches are played, and therefore both the number and types of crowds – which can, in turn, affect the family atmosphere for which the WSL is famous.

Additionally, there is a debate around financial distribution – money going to the most successful clubs tends to create an established elite. This can then cause a problem of competitive balance – where a few selected clubs are so much stronger than the rest can’t even hope to compete, so the winner (or top two) is known from the start of the league or tournament, making it less exciting.

Across Europe, the competitive balance in men’s football has decreased over the years. Women’s clubs have a chance to prevent themselves from following a similar path by ensuring a fairer financial distribution from the start.

Sponsorship is also a potential landmine, as it raises ethical questions and can affect emotional authenticity. Football has been criticized for sports wash (where money is invested heavily in clubs or leagues, often by regimes with poor human rights records to improve their external image) and for its betting harmful links. These are things women’s clubs should consider before recruiting sponsors.

Despite the temptation to take all the money paid to them, a more nuanced approach may be needed. Development funds are needed to develop rangelands and strengthen current player salariesbut clubs must ensure that this does not make the game unrecognizable.

It’s also worth wondering if they can continue to attract ever-increasing numbers of fans while maintaining their identity.

To some extent, since the attractiveness of female footballers is linked to their fan interactions both via social media and on the pitch, it may be possible to do so – especially with the former. However, crowds of tens of thousands are different from crowds of a few thousand. Much larger crowds limit players’ ability to interact with fans.

Including more women on women’s club boards and overall, engaging with women’s football fan groups and carefully vetting sponsors and contract terms are all key to building the women’s game while retaining the authenticity and atmosphere that make it special. We want the game to grow, players to be rewarded, and development paths to exist for future players. But we also want the game to stay true to its roots in a way that maybe the men’s game doesn’t.

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