As the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup gets under way, Stephen Duval co-founder of 23 Capital shares his excitement and thoughts on the global development of women’s soccer.
The 2019’ Women’s World Cup is expected to gain a record television audience of around 1bn viewers worldwide, and it has already sold nearly a million match tickets. What do you think are the key factors that have led to the growth and popularity of women’s soccer?
Looking at the success of the women’s soccer industry today and the record audience figures expected for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, one would think the rise in popularity of the women’s game has been meteoric, but history tells a different story. In fact, it was back in 1920 that the Boxing Day crowd at Goodison Park reached capacity, when over fifty thousand people watched Dick Kerr's Ladies beat St Helen's Ladies 4-0, leaving thousands more fans locked outside the grounds, disappointed to miss the game.
When The FA banned women’s football from its clubs’ grounds in 1921, with the view that football was ‘quite unsuitable for females’ the progress of women’s soccer was firmly stopped in its tracks. Thankfully, the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup shines a spotlight on the progress the women’s game has made.
As with any industry success story, multiple developments have contributed to create a world class sport. From increased participation at grass roots level, UEFA estimates the total number of registered female players in Europe now numbers over 1.2 million, to an increase in the number of professional and semi-professional players in Europe to 2,853 in 2016/17, the knock-on effect for women’s soccer is clear to see. Fifty-two countries have a women's national league, and the number of national women’s teams in Europe, including youth teams, has risen to 233 in 2016/17.
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Increased participation has paved the way for increases in attendance figures. In Spain, Atletico Madrid and FC Barcelona set a world record for the highest attendance at a women's soccer club match, when a total of 60,000 people turned out at Atletico's Wanda Metropolitano Stadium to see the hosts lose 2-0 to Barcelona. Domestically, the 2018 Women’s FA Cup Final smashed previous attendance records with forty-five thousand fans witnessing Chelsea triumph over Arsenal at Wembley.
The proliferation of new broadcasting deals for women’s soccer has provided a huge boost to the commercial potential and future success of the sport. BT Sport has committed to a three-year deal to broadcast FA’s Women’s Super League, helping to meet the FA’s desire to double women’s football fanbase in England by 2020. Meanwhile Channel 4 secured the rights for the Women’s European Championships in 2017 and the BBC are broadcasting FIFA’s 2019 Women’s World Cup.
As easy as it is to dissect industry trends, it’s important not to forget the beautiful game itself! The Lionesses delivered a sterling performance at the 2015 Women’s World Cup, finishing in third place, further enhancing viewers appetite for quality performances on the pitch. The Scottish Women’s team has qualified for the first time for this years’ tournament, creating an increased buzz around their national team. Passion, dedication and a desire to win for your country, sets international sport apart and I’m looking forward to watching the 2019 FIFA’s Women’s World Cup with my daughters.
Does the success of the women’s domestic and international teams have the ability to impact on the financial success of their male counterparts?
Whilst the popularity and commercial appeal of women’s soccer has increased in recent years, seen through high-profile sponsorship deals including Barclays’ £10 million commitment to the Women’s Super League and Visa’s seven-year sponsorship agreement with UEFA’s women’s events, it’s unlikely to have a detrimental effect on the male soccer industry. As with many emerging sports, such as e-sports, new revenue opportunities are being created that don’t detract from traditional sports, which in turn creates a more diverse sporting landscape for fans to enjoy.
What do you predict will be the knock-on effect of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup tournament on women’s football as a whole? Will this have wider ramifications for other women’s sports such as cricket?
There is no doubt the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup will have significant impact on women’s football as a whole, with many describing it as a watershed moment for the sport. However, there remains a significant distance to travel before the women’s game reaches its full potential. Investment from sporting organisations such as The FA, UEFA and FIFA will go some-way to increasing the popularity and commercial success of the sport, but I expect this progress to take time.
The good news is 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup demonstrates the wider opportunities that women’s sport represents. 23 Capital is proud to have sponsored Fairbreak Womens’ Cricket Team and I look forward to seeing an increase in opportunities surrounding women’s sport.
As one of the leading cross boarder lenders in European Football, does 23 Capital believe that the women’s player transfer market could have the same potential as the men’s player transfer market?
I don’t expect the women’s player transfer market to reach the dizzying heights of their male counterparts any time soon, although I do anticipate an increase in the volume and value of female players traded. It’s certainly something I will be keeping a close eye on, as the sport develops further.
Image credit Getty Images Nikita Parris
As an Australian living in the UK, which team are you supporting and who do you think their stand out players are?
England and Nikita Parris and Australia and Sam Kerr
Which team will be lifting the trophy in 4 weeks’ time?
From a personal perspective I sincerely hope its England’s Lionesses or Australia’s Matildas. However, with the strength and depth of squad, I would have to back the Lionesses.