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16 February 2022 - 4:04 PM

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Warning from top consultant: Executives in Women’s Football shouldn’t waste unique possibility to innovate - often they stress too hard towards break-even

  • Portas Consulting projects a massive rise in the commercial value of the women’s game in the next decade. They identify some smaller leagues with the potential to become a global force.
  • “When you look at who’s actually doing things differently, there's quite a big gap between who's saying it and who's doing it”, says partner in Portas Consulting Patrick Massey.
  • Why it matters: A balanced and competitive leagues ecosystem will benefit the entire industry in the long run.
  • The perspective: A lot of women’s leagues and clubs are in a hurry to break even, but don’t think long-term.

After examining the ecosystem of women’s football leagues around the world, Portas Consulting Partner Patrick Massey believes there is very high growth potential for the women’s domestic game.

He believes that the commercial value of women’s football leagues could more than quintuple over the next decade.

Yet, even if Portas Consulting’s view of strong commercial growth materializes, is there a danger that England’s Women’s Super League (WSL) and America’s National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), the flagship leagues at present, will cannibalize the future landscape and mirror the skewed balance of power in the men’s game where the Big Five, spearheaded by the Premier League, dominate?

Massey is not a fortune-teller but believes the women’s leagues are well-positioned to develop a strong ecosystem with a more competitive balance.

He points to the Norwegian domestic scene as an example of an ecosystem and league that can grow, challenge the established order and eventually perhaps even redraw it.

“Norway has a similar number of registered female players as England,” says Massey.

“They have strong communities, talented young players, and a very competitive league. The Norwegian league’s aspiration is to be one of the big six leagues in Europe. There is the real opportunity for them to connect with their communities and drive growth sustainably.”

An avid Arsenal fan, Massey is a Partner at Portas Consulting. He leads the consultancy’s work in women’s football. Thinking aloud, Massey says:

“Sweden, Norway and Denmark have very strong links, what would happen if you put together a Scandinavian league rather than just three domestic national leagues?”

It’s an Achilles heel Massey identifies in the women’s football industry. Too few stakeholders dare to truly act differently, even if the sport is still young and offers a perfect platform for innovation.

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PR | Partner of Portas Consulting, Patrick Massey

“There’s definitely a big opportunity to challenge leagues and clubs on that question of what really are you doing differently?,” asks Massey.

“When you look at who’s actually doing things differently, there's quite a big gap between who's saying it and who's doing it.”

Shirt sponsorship figures

He points at Angel City in the NWSL as both successful and innovative.

Massey says: “Why not open up to an Angel City, for example, in England?  Why not open to investors for new clubs? Angel City is leading the way at a club level in the US. Their shirt sponsorship figures are equal or greater than some MLS teams.

“They achieved this by developing a differentiated and powerful proposition that builds on what is uniquely valuable about women’s football. They changed their pitch from simply size of audience and eyeballs to a narrative that explains how brands that support women’s sports have a differentiated and powerful story to tell.”

He highlights the Barclays deal with the WSL, the bank committing to invest more than £30 million in women's and girls' football from 2022 to 2025 in England, as ground-breaking in the sense that it’s not a classic eyeball proposition, saying that it

Sweden, Norway and Denmark have very strong links, what would happen if you put together a Scandinavian league

“does not revolve just around the number of people who watch the WSL, but Barclays is investing into wanting to show a purpose around transforming women and girls opportunities, in sports and more widely.  So that's what they're investing into.”

Massey and his colleague Elise Kossaifi conducted a Portas study to develop a Women’s Football League Index 

The Index assesses how 12 global women’s top-tier football leagues perform across key areas of the game, based on publicly available data and reports for the 2018-19 season. The objective of the index is to help bridge the data gap in women’s football leagues and create new insights that can help grow the game.

Strong fanbase

Unsurprisingly, the English and American top-flight leagues lead the way in the commercial pillar, broken down across three KPI’s - sponsorship, broadcasting and club financials.

Last year, Barclays extended their title sponsorship of the WSL and the NWSL secured new partnerships like Mastercard to add to its long list of sponsors including Nike, Budweiser and Verizon among others.

Mexico’s Liga MX Femenil with a strong fanbase, a league structure connected to the men’s game and exponential growth since its inception in 2017, is also a top performer across all metrics as well as Spain’s topflight.

“With the recent professionalization of the Spanish league, there is an opportunity for a much better competitive balance, and more professional environments for the players and workforce which will help raise standards, on and off the pitch,” explains Massey.

“Spanish clubs are capitalizing well on the fans following the men's teams to get attendances and drive audiences in the stadiums,” adds Kossaifi.

Leagues under pressure

Germany often underperformed in Portas Consulting’s rankings.

The Frauen-Bundesliga boasts a formidable social media audience and sealed a new annual title sponsorship of $2 million with FlyerAlarm, but needs to improve the quality of the product and the impact of its marketing.

For example, there is an opportunity to improve the league’s competitive balance “with a goal margin per game is at 2.64, the highest among the twelve leagues studied”.

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Alamy | Flyeralarm Frauen Bundesliga match between SC Freiburg and FC Bayern Munich

“Most leagues are under pressure to try and make women's football sustainable because there's been this pressure around for a long time,” says Massey.

“Women’s football was historically a cost item and now that there is increasing revenue in the game, many people are kind of rushing to put enhanced leagues and competitions in place, often rushing to do things so they can get to break-even, rather than thinking more long-term about how they can truly realise the huge future potential of the women’s game."

“The leagues and clubs that succeed in fulfilling this potential will be the ones that have well developed strategies, that work together, that invest and that innovate."