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The creation of a new company to manage England’s top women’s football leagues has sparked new hope that clubs can capitalize on the game’s growing popularity to support investment and growth.
The overhaul means the Women’s Super League and Second Division Championship will be owned by the clubs, ending their integration with the English Football Association. The creation of a separate entity aims to accelerate the professionalization of the game.
Former Nike executive Nikki Doucet has been named chief executive of NewCo, which will seek to close the gap between the top two women’s divisions, ‘mandate’ elite training facilities and help players to pursue new careers when they leave the professional career. soccer.
The introduction of a private entity to manage the leagues is one of several recommendations from an independent review of women’s football by former England player Karen Carney to boost investment and pave the way for commercial and contract deals. larger diffusion. The British government supported his report.
The move provides a “good opportunity” for leagues and clubs to work together to increase revenue, said Zarah Al-Kudcy, Chelsea Women’s commercial director, and comes as they prepare to restructure the game ahead of the 2024-25 season. .
Al-Kudcy added that until now, national teams have contributed to the popularity of women’s football, but clubs are increasingly demonstrating their ability to attract a large audience.
“People are fans of the Lionesses or Matildas first, then they become fans of the club,” she said. “I think a number of players are perhaps doing better than clubs in terms of commercial income or sponsorship income at the moment.”
The profile of women’s football in Britain has been boosted by the England Lionesses, who followed up their Euro 2022 victory by finishing second to Spain at last year’s World Cup. England goalkeeper Mary Earps was also voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2023, the second Lioness in a row to win the award.
Although the WSL was established in 2011, it did not become fully professional until 2017–18 and decades of underfunding from men’s teams who typically owned women’s clubs left football in a position of weakness.
As the audience grew, investors began to show interest in women’s football. Late last year, American businesswoman Michele Kang acquired the London City Lionesses, currently in the Championship. Given that most women’s teams are controlled by well-known men’s clubs, this was a rare opportunity that will test Kang’s ability to compete with the deep pockets of Arsenal and Chelsea, who can exploit the resources of their male counterparts belonging to the Premier League.
Financial details of the deal have not been disclosed, but the acquisition of Kang is the latest in a series of steps that are fueling hopes that women’s club football is beginning to capitalize on the progress made in recent years. years.
“We need more investment focused solely on women’s football so that resources are not compromised,” Kang said when announcing the purchase.
Attendances are increasing at women’s club matches, with Chelsea – winners of the WSL for the past four seasons – playing a record-breaking clash at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium in December which attracted more than 59,000 spectators, a new record for the competition.
But increasing commercial revenue as well as match day revenue is essential to enable clubs to invest in training facilities and youth development.
Unlike the previous approach of bundling women’s teams together to complement deals led by men’s clubs, more and more clubs, leagues and competition organizers are ‘unbundling’ women’s sponsorship.
Chelsea have recruited a series of partners exclusively for the women’s team, whose official sponsors include Danish toy company Lego and protein dairy brand Lindahl.
But sponsorship starts from very low. Ayelet Mavor, head of impact at Minute Media, a digital publisher whose titles include The Players’ Tribune and 90Min.com, said brands should be “everywhere” in women’s soccer to reach new audiences, including mothers, Generation Z and young women.
“It’s very early for your money to go much further,” Mavor said. “You are making a statement by supporting the sport in its infancy. For me, it’s obvious.
However, she admitted that brands needed to set aside “the traditional short-term view” for a “different risk-reward model” based on long-term gain.
“Brands should say that they are participating in the same way as athletes, even if they are not paid like their future colleagues will be,” she added.
However, revenues from women’s football are only a tiny fraction of those from men’s football. According to consulting firm Deloitte, the world’s top 15 women’s clubs generated revenue of €63.3 million in 2022-23 season; the top 20 men’s clubs generated more than 10 billion euros.