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FIFA publishes benchmark report on state of women’s soccer

Photo Copyright Daniela Porcelli for The Equalizer

FIFA on Wednesday published a detailed analysis on the state of global women’s soccer at the league and club levels, data which the international governing body says will shape future developments and professionalization of the sport.

Thirty leagues and 282 clubs participated in the self-reporting survey over the past eight months, voluntarily providing information about the 2018-19 seasons (before the COVID-19 pandemic). Sarai Bareman, FIFA’s chief women’s football officer, acknowledged in a press briefing that some of the findings of the survey are not revolutionary, but they are necessary to quantify because of the severe lack of real data in women’s soccer.

“You may look at some of these insights and see that they are quite obvious — the outcomes or the information is quite obvious,” Bareman said. “And, indeed, in some cases it is. But I think what’s important to note here is that for those of us that have been working in the game, we do know these things anecdotally, but now we actually have data and statistics to back up the knowledge that we have, which is very, very important when it comes to having discussions around key decisions that need to be made at club and league level. It’s also very important when we look to the future of the game and we are taking decisions that will impact on the future of the game, that we are able to have real data and statistics back up the things that we knew anecdotally before we had the data from this report.”

Among the key findings of the 52-page report — produced in conjunction with Deloitte — are that, in 65% of leagues surveyed, the teams with the highest qualified coaches outperformed other teams, underscoring the need for coaching education. Clubs with better facilities were also more likely to be league champions, reasserting that there can be return on investment. Commercially, the clubs with written strategies and with independently negotiated sponsorship deals (not bundling the women’s team with the men’s properties) on average generated greater revenues.

Among the opportunities identified by the report was a severe lack of broadcast rights fees, with only 18% of league revenue and 6% of club revenues coming from broadcasts, on average.

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All data was volunteered by leagues and clubs, meaning it was not independently verified. Japan reported the highest average revenue per club, at $1.6 million on average for Nadeshiko League teams. China followed with $1.1 million per club on average, and England’s FAWSL reported $996,000 average revenue per club. Notably, the National Women’s Soccer League declined to provide any financial data.

FIFA determined 25 of the 30 leagues in the study by objective parameters and then hand-selected the final five leagues “to balance geographical biases,” according to Bareman.

She added that the hope is for this report to become annual, and that the next one will be able to paint a more complete picture of the effect the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the women’s game by comparing it to pre-pandemic numbers. How this data might shape future club competitions remains to be seen.

FIFA announced last week plans to move forward with a feasibility study to hold the Men’s and Women’s World Cups every two years. The women’s club game remains in a growth stage and the international calendar is already crowded. Asked by The Equalizer about how this club and league report could influence that World Cup process, Bareman reiterated that they now have data to support their decisions rather than gut feelings.

“As it relates to those bigger decisions around things like the frequency of competitions, where do we introduce new competitions — it helps to paint the context,” she said. “Like, what is actually the women’s football landscape at the moment? We had a Women’s World Cup in France in 2019 that was a huge, milestone moment. It was a really exciting time for the women’s game, but that also set the expectations of people involved in the women’s game at a very, very high level.

“Now, we know what we saw on the playing fields in France is also a far cry from reality for many of the 211 member associations we have. So, what this report does is it actually helps us paint that context down to the club and the league level. So, I guess, the long and short answer is, it will help us to inform those discussions that are taking place.”


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