The World Cup is back.
Since 2019, women’s football has proved its impressive trajectory and promising future with several sponsorship, attendance and viewership records.
Last year, the final of the CAF Women’s Africa Cup of Nations gathered 50,000 spectators, 91,000 attendees were at Camp Nou for El Clásico in the UEFA Women’s Champions League and the UEFA Women’s EURO final was witnessed by 87,000 fans.
Players established as entertainment platforms beyond football. Alexia Putellas featured on the new Amazon Prime documentary and Wendie Renard, Lucy Bronze, Asisat Oshoala, Carli Lloyd and Sam Kerr are the main stars of “Icons” on of FIFA+.
Great, but what about the money?
Club football, the heart of the women’s game, provides a good picture about its commercial value and profitability. Specially, between World Cups.
Before looking at the numbers, we must consider its maturity level in comparison to other sports, being one of the fastest-growing sports that requires investment and time towards financial sustainability.
Women’s football is a no-brainer, a product that delivers in excess and with an outstanding future ahead.
Observing the financials, we will note that most of leagues and clubs are in a loss-making state and half of them receive some form of subsidy, usual at this developing stage of the business.
The latest FIFA Benchmarking Report on Women’s Football offers a status on its progress and opportunities after having surveyed 30 elite leagues and 294 clubs.
Commercial drives clubs
Clubs business grows year by year, in all revenue lines and being the total income of 7% of them over US$ 1M. Excluding other income, commercial revenue is the primary source, accounting for 56% of the total and registered a year-on-year growth on 33%.
Despite the effects of the pandemic, sponsorship consolidated as a key driver for the business and matchday revenue rocketed by 260% between 2019/2020 and 2020/2021 with the return of fans to stadiums.
In relation to membership, only 35% of clubs commercialised a season ticket for the women’s team, and it allowed them to sell at higher prices than those who didn’t, reaching US$ 13 per match. Season tickets are an untapped opportunity for loyalty and business that only the biggest clubs are currently leveraging.
Curiously, stand-alone clubs tend to have higher number of average sponsors, 17 v. 6 for affiliated clubs, and a higher revenue, probably due to affiliate clubs’ bundled packages with men’s teams. Actually, 61% of top clubs negotiate main sponsors exclusively for the female team.
Regarding broadcasting, even though having increased an annual 22% to 66,000, it only accounts for an average 10% of the total income. It also represents a priceless opportunity for club income and fan base expansion, particularly at beginning stages when exposure is vital.
In the end, are clubs financially sustainable?
Not yet. According to FIFA’s Report, the average annual revenue, US$ 669,000, only covers 74% of the annual average costs of US$ 903,000. Despite the loss, the average annual income increased by 41% since 2019/2020.
At a cost level, it is great news that marketing and sponsorship activations investment grew by 74%, despite accounting for only 3% of the average total budget. Player wages, representing 41% of the expenditure, is still the most important cost for clubs.
Few leagues dominating
Domestic competitions are a faithful representation of the different rhythms at which women’s football develops. While fourteen leagues generate an annual income of less than US$ 1M, four leagues register over US$ 4M. The NWSL and the top European ones are part of this selected group.
This disparity can also be seen from a cost view. Three leagues report costs in excess of US$ 10M, while the expenditure of the rest was US$ 4.6M. Higher-revenue leagues have the double of full-time dedicated staff, 14 professionals, and a higher average number of sponsors, 7 in comparison to 3.
In terms of income, similarly to clubs, commercial revenues represent the main stream with 54%, followed by broadcasting with 16%. Financial services established as the largest industry with 40% of the total investment, leading 77% of leagues to count with a title sponsor.
With commercial revenues expanding at 24% growth rate, clubs are progressively taking more advantage from broadcast rights through exclusive packages for women’s leagues, reporting over US$ 415,000. Currently, ten leagues confirmed income of this kind of nature in 2020/2021.
Interestingly, it has been proved how investing in competitiveness impacts the business directly. Leagues with three different winners in the last three years averaged US$ 2.9M in commercial income, compared with US$ 1M for two winners and US$ 0.4M for one winner.
Entertainment = investment.
From a financial perspective, up to 60% of leagues receive subsidy, as their average annual income of US$ 2.5M only sustains 54% of the US$ 4.6M global budget. The numbers reflect the investment effort to build momentum.
On the other hand, staffing costs continued to be the most significant area with 22% of the overall spending. As in clubs, the marketing and sponsorship activation budget counted with more resources (+43%) in 2020/2021, with an average amount of US$ 395,000 per year.
This year, the biggest step
With all parts of the product growing at a record pace, commercial, broadcasting and matchday, women’s football has the beautiful chance of encouraging its professionalization across the globe with the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023.
Despite the disparity among clubs and leagues, the way forward is exactly the same. Mindset.
The right perception, culture and view will lead stakeholders to implement dedicated strategies, staff, infrastructure and promotion to the women’s game.
Broadcast rights and memberships can offer quick wins for decision-makers to untap new business and reduce the distance between elite and youth football.
Seeing better for a better change.