Football: the business case for the women’s game | FT Scoreboard

The FT visits Lewes, a small fan-owned football team in the south of England, which pays female players the same wages as the men’s team; and Arsenal, which has a long-established women’s team. As English Premier League clubs start to invest in the women’s game, we examine whether women’s football should replicate the structure and feel of the men’s game or establish an identity of its own

This is the story of opportunity women’s football depends on men’s football because it was never allowed to develop on its own our foundations are fragile all women support it would be lovely to get the big figures and to get just enough money to live off at times the world is designed by men for men the top players don’t have access to basic and fundamental

Equipment the battles that we fought to get onto the field are now being fought to get into the boardroom and into the management team you can’t say you value something and then give it away for free if we can continue to give the opportunities to improve the product that will awaken our companies to want a piece of the sport over the next few years we’re going

To really see whether or not the women’s game can capture that opportunity the history of the women’s game in england goes back over a century it was particularly popular towards the late 19th century they were getting crowd numbers that were in the tens of thousands 53 000 was the famous record from liverpool in 1920. but then in 1921 the english football

Association the national governing body banned women’s football saying it wasn’t suitable for females when i began playing for the national team there was no fifa tournament there was no olympic tournament we weren’t paid we once had to sew our own national crest onto the track onto our tracksuits we wanted to train in a car park and whether it was the kits

That looked amateur to the times of training which were eight to ten twice a week you’re just trying to manage your working life with your passion which is your footballing life it took until the 1960s for that band to be lifted for the women’s game to be more organized two or three years ago you see players who are playing the game but who are also paramedics

Or teachers or nurses and who are having to hold down two or three jobs just to play some of the players i’ve spoken to who were at the olympics and at the world cup were homeless at points and living out their cars because they’re just not making enough money women’s footballers had no choice but to grow up within the structures and the institutions that were

Created by men to service the men’s game they didn’t have access to fields or referees or coaching courses broadcast revenues it’s taken a long time for governing bodies to really understand that there’s an opportunity the fa founded the women’s super league and now big broadcasters and sponsors are coming on board now you give the opportunity for players to play

Professionally the standards obviously have improved and that’s very much what’s happened in this country with the wsl there has been football played here at the dripping pan since 1885. the club was the beating heart of a community it’s a small town lewis is just 17 000 people 10 12 years ago the club nearly went bust it was felt from a small group of people that

Came together that it was too important to fail they took the club into community ownership in 2017 the club took the decision to split revenue equally between the men’s side and the women’s side the first club in the world to do it and in fact still the only club to do it in the world and it isn’t just about pay parity it’s about equal decision making across the

Club the women’s team and the men’s team are level pegging and considered the same we have the same marketing budget we play in the same ground the women’s team with that additional support and investment and backing um now sits in the second tier in england we play in the same league as liverpool and crystal palace punching above our weight we are a club now

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That has two revenue generating teams on the women’s side alone our attendance is quadrupled within three seasons we charge the same amount of money to come to a men’s game in a women’s game one of the most expensive women’s teams to to watch in the country we had to put the prices up we had to go out and tell people this is important you can’t do that if you’re

Giving tickets away for free and you can’t do that if you’re giving them away for just three pounds rian cleverley center back number three and louis fc club captain so i had a really good year in the hack and lahar france unfortunately got released a low point in my career you can get released from your contract and and it can mean um obviously your job’s gone

At that point my house was gone i was in france so i didn’t really know where to live in the men’s game if you the equivalent and you get released there’s probably another opportunity with the same sort of money and and from from there that’s not always the case in women’s football you can get released and then you need to find a full-time job if you speak

To anyone in the women’s game they’ve been through something like that or unfortunately they will at some point we play more for the love of the game guys this this right here is our captain as women we kind of just get used to it being rubbish which is it sounds awful and then you come to a place like louis and they do things a little bit differently they treat

You a little bit differently and you’re like actually no we should be treated a little bit better maggie one of her friends has a women’s football boot they design boots specifically for women given us free boots and they’ve tried it out they’re great women tend to have narrow heels so we’ve narrowed the heel cup women tend to have a different toe box so different

Width here so we’ve changed the shape of that so you don’t get black toes when you’re playing women tend to have hips that are slightly further apart so where we pressure load is different and so we’ve really focused on designing a boot that really works for the different surfaces and specifically for female biomechanics i find it incredibly frustrating that the

Top players don’t have access to basic and fundamental equipment for the game we’re still seeing a range of injuries in the game that potentially are preventable there’s a long way to go when people are running off to work straight from training and are they eating right are they recovering right but um i think that’s where we can progress in the women’s game and

There’s not enough research on women yet the world is designed by men for men the drugs that we receive in hospital if we have a heart attack they’ve been tested on men there’s very little medical research that’s done on women car design and crash test dummies and seat belts none of that is tested on women with the balance 50 years behind there’s a there’s a long

There’s a long way to go that we need to catch up on to be even close to equal to the to the men’s game we don’t have a big men’s club backing us so every pound we make we have to make ourselves somehow so we have to do that through sponsorship or through match day attendances or other things we have a license if we don’t adhere to the license requirements we won’t

Be able to play in the league regardless of how good our results are that can be a challenge in terms of we look good and we’re attracted sponsors it’s very hard for some of the small clubs to keep up the women’s game is completely unrecognizable to what it was 20 years ago in fact it’s unrecognizable to what it was even five years ago arsenal have been pioneers

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In the game it wasn’t tokenism it was something they genuinely believed was right to give opportunities clubs like arsenal have been relatively early in investing in their in their teams and when you speak to their executives i think they’re pretty upfront with the idea that the women’s teams that they run are essentially unprofitable i do think we’re some way off

Just because of the rate of increase of the salaries the intention yes is to be much more sustainable than what we are being at the moment some of the top players could probably earn in excess of 150 000 pounds a year we could see salaries hitting half a million within the next couple of years which is quite frightening because the issue is at the moment where are

Those revenues coming from to offset the extra cost the growing cost we don’t want to stop the spend if we can help it we want to bring the revenues up to offset that spend if you invest now from a low base into the women’s game as it builds as it grows over time they will get to reap the rewards they will have profitable women’s teams and they will be amongst the

Biggest teams both in england and in europe and that is the opportunity for them the traditionally strong men’s clubs especially in traditionally strong football markets have enormous clout an enormous ability to leverage those synergies into the women’s game you can get off a plane anywhere in the world and people have heard of chelsea they’ve heard of arsenal

So you know a bit like hollywood takes ghostbusters and takes out the male characters and puts in female characters creates a spin-off that’s worth a lot what we could find is that a successful women’s game with more and more money flowing to the top of the game could actually be bad for small clubs like lewis the danger is that it ironically becomes necessary to

Be attached to a men’s club for women’s football to succeed we’ve got our own um personal um sponsor for arsenal women in mastercard so that was a first three years ago the recent broadcast cycle by bbc and sky sports he’s brought some revenue into the league this deal with sky and bbc worth about 24 million pounds for the women’s super league compare that to just

The premier league the top tier of men’s football that’s worth over nine billion pounds and that’s not even take into account the fact that most of these clubs have full big stadiums massive sponsorship deals as well the case for the women’s game really is is it worth investing in so that over years and decades it can grow to similar levels if we can continue to

Give the opportunities to improve the product then i think that will awaken our companies to want a piece of the sport we’re not about to become sustainable anytime soon i don’t think we just we just need more commercial partners what we’ve seen with sport and the interest of sport around around the world that if you really do power up that interest you make the

Game exciting you improve standards people will watch that you can have good businesses behind that if you look at tennis or if you look at golf the top top earners in those sports they are millionaires they do earn wages akin to the best male players in their sports so that is where football will want to go into the future this is a chance to invest in something

Akin to a startup it’s something that if you get in on at the ground level now you can reap the rewards later we’re in a world in a society that understands professional football as men’s football men’s stadiums are quite forbidding experiences to go through you go through tight turn styles very tribal there’s a debate at the moment about whether women’s

Football teams should have a home and an away section there’s a different vibe at women’s games we don’t need segregation in crowds so far it’s not the kind of same aggression or swearing or violence i don’t think women’s football wants to lose that because that is such a key part of the the match day experience and being part of this community that is supportive

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And allows especially little girls to dream bigger football in this country has changed at the top level so it used to be small community clubs representing their local areas and these have developed into massive global businesses owned by billionaires there’s been a disconnection from the community there is a different journey that the women’s game is on compared

To the men’s and i think that that can be maximized through the engagement with the players as well you can get really close to the women’s players they spend a lot of time with the fans they kind of get to know each other young girls can relate to them the question for the women’s game going forward is whether or not it has to be incubated into the structures

That the men’s game have already produced what we’ve seen in the women’s game with the clubs is is quite two different models emerging one in the uk where the the women’s clubs are tied to the men’s clubs and one in the us where the women’s clubs are more standalone quite a number of them are women-only clubs they don’t have a men’s team of any sort la city angels

Is owned by serena williams natalie portman washington spirit has chelsea clinton and jenna bush as investors there are a lot of challenges at the fa with the entire governance structure and whether it’s fit for purpose for for women’s football you see that in decisions that i made around allocation of fa cup prize money when we went out in the fourth round to

To arsenal a couple years back arsenal won three thousand pounds but if we were men we’d have won three hundred and sixty thousand pounds i can do a lot with three hundred and sixty thousand pounds but i can’t do that much with three 000 pounds equal up their fa cup prize money allow us to fight for it and allow us to win the money so that we can invest it back in

It’s the barriers that are put in place they’re kind of holding the game back at the moment so invest put the money in equal prize money pay the players as much as they should earn and then you’ll see the results the bet that broadcasters like sky and bbc are making is that if fans are much more able to just watch these games maybe they’ll get hooked maybe they’ll

Get a team this is a process that will take years and decades in 10 years time i would like to think that we are turning away commercial partners because there’s too many if you’re a corporate and you have a sports sponsorship budget and you’re spending nearly all of it on men’s sport you’re going to have shareholders show up at your annual general meeting

Wanting to know whether giving 90 of your sports sponsorship to male players is in line with the corporate values in recent years there’s been such a push to have a really glossy finished product that looks good on tv and is ready to sell because our foundations are fragile all women’s for it it’s really difficult to keep up with the pace of change that sometimes

Feels angled into short-term glossiness to to sell as opposed to longer-term investment into growing attendances into medical support for players into professionalisation into staff into coaching staff there’s so many foundations that are just not there we haven’t had the hundred plus years that men’s sport has had just imagine how much easier it’s gonna get

Once commercialism and better governance structures take over but we’re trying to leap and jump very fast and a club like guys can get swallowed up you take the most popular game in the world you take the half of the population that’s had so little access to it over the years you put some good focused management with expertise in the women’s game over the top of

It and you see it thrive you

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Football: the business case for the women's game | FT Scoreboard By Financial Times

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