So here’s a great suggestion for women’s footie

The announcement that viewing figures for the Women’s World Cup hit 1.12 billion is hugely impressive and raises vital questions about how we measure the success of the women’s game versus the men’s.

If you put to one side the massive exception of the USA women’s national team generating more income than their male counterparts yet being paid less (which hints at this being more ideological than financial), then the argument against equal World Cup prize money and funding is that, generally, the men’s game generates more income that the women’s. Except this is never quantified. Because sponsorship rights and broadcast rights (which make up the majority of money generated) for both the men’s and women’s premier competitions are bundled and sold together, it is impossible.

The assumption is that these big-money deals are sold overwhelmingly on the basis of the men’s World Cup. But this can only ever be an assumption when rights are bundled together. (Uefa, meanwhile, has unbundled the rights for its women’s competitions – the European Championship and Champions League.)

However, if you look at the $30m (£23m) prize pot for the 2019 Women’s World Cup (double what it was for the 2015 edition) and the $400m prize pot for the 2018 men’s World Cup, it is clear that we are putting separate values on the two competitions. Somewhere it has been decided that the women’s tournament is worth 7.5% of the men’s.

Why begin with the 1.12 billion viewers of the Women’s World Cup in this context? Because it offers a concrete measurement of the interest in the women’s competition that we can compare to the men’s. The 2018 men’s World Cup pulled in a huge 3.572 billion viewers. The figure for the Women’s World Cup is 31% of the number that watched the men’s.

So, in the absence of unbundled rights, why do we not use that figure to determine the women’s share? Why do we instead get another token “doubling” of the prize pot or investments when the numbers are so low?

Hey, we’re all for quantification around here. So, let’s unbundle the rights and see what they sell for. We then have what amount of money the women’s game actually creates and that can be used to pay for the women’s game.

As a guide, well, what is the price difference between the men’s and women’s UEFA broadcasting rights?

21 thoughts on “So here’s a great suggestion for women’s footie”

  1. Bloke in North Dorset

    I think you published it on Conts, but there was research recently about how the women took their money and it was different to men. IIRC the women went more for a salary based remuneration where the men went for big bonuses. In the end it turned out the women were paid more than men.

  2. Except this is never quantified. Because sponsorship rights and broadcast rights (which make up the majority of money generated) for both the men’s and women’s premier competitions are bundled and sold together, it is impossible.

    Well, how much was it before womens’ football was televised? That should give us some idea of how to quantify the impact of the womens’ game.

  3. Each viewer of the lezza world cup is worth far less because the networks showing it have effectively paid nothing for the rights. I bet no viewer paid to watch it.

    Unbundle away; we’ll soon see the value of the women’s game. I’d bet on rising but still tiny. Having said that, the marketing departments of many large businesses seem to hate their customers so will lap up the chance to sponsor something largely unwanted.

  4. Would I want to watch even toothsome lady footballers involved in a contact sport?

    Well I can see it might be a little like mud-wrestling, but that does little for me, so no.

  5. This is a great example of pleading the special case as general. The USA is unique in that football is mostly a women’s game, and its women’s national team is spectacularly successful. The men’s league is where old celebrity footballers go to hobble around on zimmer frames to pay off their gambling debts, and the US men’s national team not very good. This is the opposite of most of the rest of the world, probably driven by the US having lots of its own men’s sports that few other countries take seriously.

  6. They’d have to split the retail sales too, in order for it to be meaningful. Right now I can only opt-in to all sports; I can’t ask for only Sky Sports Women or Sky Sports Men.

  7. Honey, if the pay isn’t good enough, go do something else.

    Note this is third parties arguing.

    “Employers pay what they have to pay to attract and retain people who can do what they want done.” – GC

    The teams are getting all the players they can use at current rates; why should they pay more?

    “The boss is making money, so I should get more!”

    Not a real argument.

  8. It’d be interesting to know if the Japanese or Cuban women’s national baseball teams get paid as much as the men.

    In Cuba, actually, probably do.

  9. This is like the whole thing of how many people go and watch the women’s FA cup final. And well, yeah, they get a reasonable crowd. But it’s about £5-10 a ticket. And it’s still not as full as a 2nd division playoff game at Wembley.

    Also what BiG said about the men’s league. They get people like Beckham when he’s long in the tooth. And even then, the women’s league isn’t pro. They couldn’t make it profitable.

  10. West Ham United v Man U, typical ticket price £65, attendance 55,000.

    West Ham women’s team v Spurs women’s team, ticket price £5, attendance 749.
    (Figures from the WHU website.)

  11. In terms of the cash numbers; tricky one to answer. Most decent sources appear to be secured behind paywalls. Match attendances and ticket prices for the major tournaments might be an adequate proxy.

    That said; TF1 & Canal Plus appear to have paid, wait for it, €13m for the rights to Euro 2021, being over 2x the rate for Euro 2017. The BBC appears to have paid 10x the rate for 2021 that Channel 4 paid for 2017, but numbers are hard to find.

    For Euro 2016, the men’s tournament, UEFA secured €1.05b in broadcast rights, across 46 European broadcasters, notionally just shy of €23m per market. Unfortunately, those 46 countries include such giants as Macedonia, Malta and Moldova, and only 32 teams competed in the tournament (which was up from the previous 24, helpfully), it seems more likely that the average is somewhat north of €33m per market. I’ve decided to completely ignore non-European broadcast markets.

    What’s slightly tricky here is that although this appears to be about 6~7x the rate for the equivalent women’s tournament, there are free-to-air constraints, where UEFA probably trades off higher broadcast fees for larger audiences, presumably hoping make up the difference via sponsorships.

    In terms of growth rates, the 10x increase apparently from the BBC is 5x that of the French, so individual markets can behave (wildly) differently. The 2016 men’s tournament saw total revenues to UEFA increase by ~34% from 2012, but mainly driven by the increase in the number of teams competing (32 from 24 – a third); so underlying broadcast revenue growth is likely much, much smaller – picking a number, call it 10%. Compared to the multiples in the women’s rights, this would be horrible, but only really demonstrates that the women’s game is growing from a substantially lower base.

    As far as the US goes, BiG is correct. What appears to have happened is that USA ’94 kicked off massive (yuge) growth in domestic US soccer amongst younger girls and boys, as the options for competitive team sports for young girls are basically zero, and for younger boys, there were safety concerns about injuries compared to American football and baseball. As the boys age, they transition to traditional US sports, and drop soccer, whereas the girls stick with it.

    There also appears to be an interaction with the US education system with regard to the two national soccer teams. Given the prevalence of college (American) football, it seems the system is very good at developing the strength and stamina required for that game. Also given that American football is highly structured in a way the soccer is not, the US teams are fairly rigidly disciplined in playing style compared to the rest of the world.

    For the US men, this creates a situation where they are highly effective against lower rank opposition, approximately equivalent to the Norwegian team of the “Maggie Thatcher, Winston Churchill, your boys took one hell of a beating” era, and the Danish & Greek Euro winning sides, but lack the creativity that would enable them to threaten higher ranking (about FIFA rank 15 and upwards) consistently. A weak qualifying group doesn’t help.

    For the US women, they can out-play many women’s sides, as they are simply able to distribute the ball over longer ranges, making better use of the space on the pitch. Their playing style is much closer to that of many men’s sides, compared to other women’s. They are stronger and fitter.

    The recent Women’s World Cup demonstrated a few things; in terms of technique and fitness, it’s improved tremendously over only about a generation and a half of players. Comparing the playing styles between men and women is like comparing Premier League games to La Liga or Serie A games; same rules, but different game. It’s played a different way. From what I saw, many of the games spent periods with play confined to relatively small areas of the pitch – a feature arising from lacking the strength to distribute the ball effectively out of those areas, over distance. Again, the general relative lack of stamina resulted in games tending to peter out from the 70~80 minute mark.

    And I didn’t see much, to be honest. Although the competition was plastered all over the BBC, only one person – a man – mentioned it. Which gives the development of the women’s game a bit of a problem.

    For audiences and revenues, the women’s game is likely to be highly dependent upon how men view it as an acceptable substitute for the men’s game. Outside of tennis – which in the UK, basically means Wimbledon – the number of women who pay the type of attention that is remotely comparable to men’s to any form of sport is basically negligible. This will produce very high early growth rates, but likely to result in a hard upper bound on the potential (female) audience. Additionally, I suspect that that audience will be dominated by a particular age group, being younger, probably topping out at about age 23~25, and that the turnover rates within the audience will be high. At a guess, tournament and superstar effects will produce leagues that are relatively weak, looking very much like the Scottish, Welsh or French leagues rather than the Premier or Bundesliga.

    Where men are likely to see women’s football as a viable alternative is likely to be limited to the international tournaments when no other football is available, every other summer. The resulting cash-flows are going to have interesting effects; unlike the Premier League, individual clubs are likely to be cash poor, with national and regional associations relatively cash rich on a two year cycle, with total revenues utterly dominated by broadcast rights. Women’s teams currently enjoy something of an advantage here; they are able to re-use existing men’s infrastructure. But if attendances are relatively low, and costs rise, then their continued existence is somewhat conditional upon being subsided by revenues from the men’s game or from the associations. And the associations are going to be reluctant to give cash to organisations that are already coining it in from the Premier and Champions League.

    Bear in mind that of the original founding members of the Premier League, only 12 are currently playing in the division, but only six clubs have never been relegated to the Football League since the Premier League’s inception. Of those six, two are not currently competing in the Champions League, and one has never made it into the group stage. The continued existence of a women’s team at a recently relegated Premier club would be highly doubtful. For La Liga or Serie A teams, the situation could be much worse, as the distribution of domestic TV money is more concentrated.

    Consequently, it’s probable that only a handful of women’s teams will dominate any UK, or any other, European league. Outside of a very few superstars, wages will be low, probably lower than those at men’s League One or Two clubs. Any US women’s league(s) are likely to suck in the top players from the European ones, if wages there are significantly higher.

    Thus the US is likely to dominate the women’s game for many years to come, occupying a position equivalent to the Brazilian and German national teams in the men’s game. It’s possible that for the women’s game, the traditional regional structures under FIFA could be bypassed. FIFA could operate a club competition similar to the Champions League directly, which would reduce their dependence on the four-year cycle of World Cup revenue.

    The odd thing here is China. Assumed US potential dominance in a global game should act as a red flag (with some yellow stars on it) to a bull. There’s no reason why the political leadership wouldn’t want to throw cash around via the SSEs.

  12. @BinD it was the US association itself, obviously fed up of being bad mouthed by their own players that published the information, it also included that revenue from men’s games was higher than from women’s despite the women’s team doing better.
    A small slice of a big pie being better than a big slice of a small pie it seems.
    Would be interesting to see what happened to a male player that ran down his own football association as blatantly as the US women’s captain did and continues to do.

  13. I’m not at all interested in football though if I was in the pub and the world cup (mens) was on I might occasionally glance at the screen (just before moving to another pub sans tv). I certainly wouldn’t take any interest in a womens football match. For my sins I know a couple of football fans who are also lefties but we try not not to mention politics (not always successfully) and despite their inexplicable fanaticism for the game, they’ve never mentioned womens football at all despite the Guardian ramming it down our throats. Hands up anybody who’s ever paid to watch a womens match. Any takers?

  14. BiND;
    Ta, there’s a few things missing from the projections tho’…

    WRT your first comment; I very much doubt I saw it via CT, but I probably read the same underlying research (possibly). IIRC (bit of a problem, that) women take lower cash wages now, but that includes deferred wages, from lower risk employers, whereas men take higher risk cash wages both now and deferred.

    Hate to think what’s been happening with low rates over the last decade… Looks like Japan all over again.

  15. unbundle the rights and see what they sell for. We then have what amount of money the women’s game actually creates and that can be used to pay for the women’s game.

    As a guide, well, what is the price difference between the men’s and women’s UEFA broadcasting rights?

    Correct. Formula E and W Series are good examples, I watch neither. However, Ginetta Junior is good to watch – best boy/girl wins.

  16. @Andrew M October 23, 2019 at 10:05 am


    @Ducky McDuckFace October 23, 2019 at 1:22 pm

    BBC paying silly money to support BBC agenda is a huge market distortion, but BBC don’t care as viewing figures irrelevant to income

    @moqifen October 23, 2019 at 6:19 pm

    Agree. I’m also not at all interested in football; or other ball games. If I had to chose one to watch: Rugby

  17. It’s a bit like the BBC not making it clear if a headline refers to men’s or women’s team then taking clicks as interest, bet most click off after seeing its about the women’s team.
    BBC has a definite agenda to promote women’s sport, in the ‘how to get into…’ for football and rugby that’s attached to articles on either sport the picture is of women players and during the group round of the RWC they still had women’s friendly soccer games as the sports headlines.

  18. ‘We then have what amount of money the women’s game actually creates and that can be used to pay for the women’s game.’

    GRRRR. That’s just wrong. They are employees of the team. The team will decide what to pay them. Not a damn thing to do with “amount of money the women’s game actually creates.” Employees are not entitled to a piece of the company’s action.

  19. PCar;

    The BBC may or may not have an agenda; as far as this goes, I don’t really care.

    However, the BBC may not have a direct commercial link between income and viewing figures, but it does have a political one. It needs to justify increases in the licence fee, and in particular, be able to argue against smaller increases in favour of larger ones. It needs to make that justification upwards to both the government and politicians, and downwards to as many viewers as possible. And the highest profile metric they have, is viewing figures.

    A simpler explanation for the reported increase is that for Euro 2017, Channel 4 got a bloody good deal. And the primary reason they bid in the first place, was because participation rates and attendances had already begun to increase sharply prior to that tournament.

    Channel 4 was explicitly founded with a mission, an agenda if you like, and was directly funded by the government to achieve that.

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