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Deloitte: women’s football sees average club revenue soar

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 20 Jan 2023

With record income and ever-increasing viewing figures, women’s football is kicking it out of the park. But as the business moves into its growth phase, can it avoid falling foul of the excesses of the men’s game?

As England’s women players prepare for the FIFA World Cup in Australia and New Zealand this summer, exiting in the quarter-final is not the only aspect of the men’s game they don’t want to repeat. 

Fifty million viewers around the globe watched the final of the UEFA Women’s Championship last year as England took on Germany for the title and won. In Spain, Barcelona’s women’s side completely sold out the 99,354-seat Camp Nou stadium for their match against Real Madrid.

The sport as a whole is revelling in a long-awaited boom, yet many clubs already struggle to balance wage costs against revenue – an all-too-familiar scenario from the men’s game.

According to a report by Deloitte’s Sports Business Group, women's football teams from the top 20 revenue-generating clubs in the world reported an average revenue of €2.4m (£2.1m) in the 2021/22 season.

FC Barcelona’s women's team, FC Barcelona Femení, generated the highest revenue at €7.7m. The team, which won the 2021 UEFA Women's Champions League and was finalists in 2022, was followed by Manchester United’s women’s team with €6.0m, Manchester City with €3.6m, Paris Saint-Germain with €3.6m, Arsenal with €2.2m and Tottenham Hotspur with €2.1m.

Despite the impressive figures, Tim Bridge, lead partner for Deloitte’s Sports Business Group, notes that many clubs are still operating at a loss, with wage costs surpassing total revenues. “Although losses are to be expected for any business in its nascent phase, the challenge now for the women’s game is to develop an appropriate strategy for growth, which may not simply follow the template of the men’s game. In fact, that approach may well limit growth potential.”

The report also found that clubs are looking to differentiate the commercial proposition of their men’s and women’s teams. Around half (47%) of the top-tier Money League clubs currently negotiate shirt sponsorship of their women’s teams separately from their men’s teams. More than half also reported a profit from player sales attributed to the women's teams.

Women’s football is in the “start-up phase”

Football finance fanatic, co-host of viral podcast ‘The Price of Football’ and ACA-qualified Chartered Accountant Kieran Maguire says the women’s game at present is similar to that of a start-up industry.

“Money needs to be invested – losses are likely to be incurred as the industry has to be properly marketed and find an appropriate audience and revenue streams,” he says. “The government is keen to ensure that some of the failings and excesses of the mens' game are not repeated, and have asked former player Karen Carney to chair a review into women's football so that the game will be competitive and attractive to fans, broadcasters and sponsors.”

A notable example of failings in the men’s game was Bury FC’s expulsion from the English Football League after 125 years of membership due to unpaid debts back in November 2020. And Sheffield Wednesday was relegated in the 2017/18 season after a points deduction for the way it accounted for an asset disposal.

Clubs take a gamble in the hope of promotion to a higher league, putting the club administration at risk through an expensive player roster that outweighs revenue.

“The finances of clubs with poor cost control and casino-style management are worrying,” Maguire says. “Club executives are effectively putting everything on red, and sometimes red doesn't come up.”

Maguire adds that record crowds have been generated for international games as well as some Women’s Super League (WSL) matches – such as Arsenal vs Spurs at the Emirates Stadium. “But there is still a long way to go, with school and grassroots football opportunities for girls and women to play the game sometimes lacking,” he noted. 

Diversify boards to improve business

Off the pitch, Deloitte's report into the highest revenue-generating clubs in world football (its ‘Money League’) also highlights that female representation on club boards has stagnated. Among the 19 clubs to provide information, just one in 10 board seats are filled by women, the same proportion reported in the 2022 edition of the report. Eight Money League club boards have no women.

Bridge concludes that improving female representation on club boards will not only benefit the women’s game but will also improve diversity of thought and visible leadership across the entire industry. He emphasises that gender equality should continue to be a key priority for clubs to ensure they are building financially sustainable businesses for the long term.

Zoe Burton, director in Deloitte’s Sports Business Group, says the future growth of the women’s game will rely on resilient strategies that include details on the value clubs and leagues are looking to drive from brand partnerships, both individually and as a collective, and the structure of commercial rights.

“Drawing new revenues into the women’s game will propel a virtuous circle, generating investment to fund club infrastructure, player wages, grassroot initiatives and more, that will support growth in the women’s game for years to come.”

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