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Is the pandemic a true existential threat to women’s football?

Like any product at a growing stage, it needs investment and patience. A long-term commitment with the aim of shaping the sport and society, providing the prestigious tag of “pioneer” to the ones that believed and persevered.

If not so long ago, women’s sport received only 4% of the total media coverage and 0.4% of the global sports sponsorship and made it through today, should it be really a scary moment?

The truth is that financials of clubs and competitions in women’s football, which are used to register millions of euros in losses, have been significantly affected by the health crisis. Before COVID-19, the global loss for the current twelve Barclays FA Women’s Super League clubs in 2018/19 season was £8.7 million. To support with testing protocols expenses, the Premier League announced a contribution of £1 million for the first and second division in England, and, FIFA, additional grants of $500,000 specifically to women’s football to each member association.

It is also true that the new tournament NWSL Challenge Cup attracted the investment of new partners such as P&G, Secret, Google and Verizon. Also, amidst the pandemic, FC Schalke 04 confirmed the creation of a women’s football team. Strategic decisions designed to play a meaningful role in sport and beyond.

So, are brave investment and patience the answer?

The impact in Europe

The latest ECA’s analysis of the financial impact of COVID-19 on European clubs, despite 70% of the leagues returning to play, predicts a total of €4 billion in lost revenues in the top leagues. For the 2020/21 season, €20.7 million or €23.1 million are the estimated losses if the pandemic continues or not, respectively. The most impacted revenue stream will be matchday income, with a potential drop of 38.5% if COVID-19 keeps affecting sports.

Certainly, in English women’s football, matchday revenues like ticketing will barely affect clubs’ revenues as last season this category accounted for less than 3% of the total income. However, it will surely represent a real challenge to attract sponsors who seek for live and experiential interactions in events like the Women’s Football Weekend.

The FA’s momentum

With September 5th as the provisional date for the start of the new season, The FA published the final review and report of the Strategy for Women’s and Girls’ Football 2017/20. While main objectives of doubling participation and fans and consistent success on the world stage have been successfully met, the commercial and marketing areas have also surpassed expectations.

Barclays’ partnership became the biggest ever investment in UK women’s sport by a brand with the title sponsorship, valued more than £10 million over the three seasons, according to the Guardian. Thirteen brands sponsor now The FA, including Nike, Continental, Deliveroo, Disney, Head & Shoulders, Lucozade and PayPal. Social media followers for Lionesses experienced a +400k increase.

English clubs financials

According to Swiss Ramble’s Twitter thread, 2018/19 numbers show how only West Ham, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur didn’t register operating losses, noting that the last two were playing in the FA Women’s Championship division. Big clubs like Arsenal and Chelsea lost £2.8 million and £1.6 million, respectively.

Most revenues were presumed to be generated through commercial and sponsorship streams, mainly from the parent club. BT Sport and the BBC own the league’s broadcast rights, which mainly cover costs rather than providing income.

Creativity and society

Data clearly illustrates how clubs are expected to continue struggling financially as the pandemic will threat divisions’ financials even more. However, given the progressive professionalisation of the sport, commercial and marketing efforts will be essential to revert the predictions for English women’s football like the NWSL did.

It seems clear that clubs, especially those competing in the Premier League and with a women’s team, will keep revenue generation a clear priority to sort out the pandemic and to cover high men’s players’ wages, an expenditure estimated to account for 70.1% of the income. How much strategic women’s football is for clubs will determine if they will continue to support their women’s teams and how much.

Considering this scenario, women’s football will have the opportunity to keep positioning itself as a unique product. Connecting with creative entertainment, empathising with society to empower women and leveraging players’ digital engagement through stories in order to raise investment from brave stakeholders.

Experience, technology and storytelling.

The consulted sources are: ECA’s COVID-19 – Financial Impacts Analysis, The FA – Final Review and Report, Barclays FA WSL – Clubs’ Financials

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