Recently, the topic of women in sport – which is currently very present in the media – came up in a round of talks. More precisely: women’s football. The question discussed was whether women’s football is real football at all. Male traditionalists met feminist sports fans. And I was there too – as a fan of women’s football.
Is women’s football real football?
Yes, it is – but not men’s football. Those who have understood that have understood a lot. Of course they don’t play men’s football. Women play women’s football. Those who measure women against men and vice versa will lead a life of misunderstanding. But that’s another topic. In sport, it is only football that has to undergo this comparison. That’s because men still believe that football belongs to them. Just like the impact drill or the place at the barbecue. Or would anyone think of smiling ignorantly at the reigning Olympic 100m champion Elaine Thompson because she would lose a sprint to Usain Bolt? Footballers, on the other hand, still passionately express the conviction that the women’s national team would not even stand up to a male county league team.
Different, but wonderful …
I too have to come out: sometimes I miss the dynamism and shooting power of men’s football when I watch a women’s match. Women can’t shoot as hard as men. Sprints, moves – the game is slower. But anyone who was even occasionally present in biology class should not really be surprised by one fact: Men and women simply have different physical conditions. The word different comes in bold letters because we are not talking about better or worse preconditions, but only about different ones.
This ‚different‘ is tangible, for example, when you read articles about, among others, the Chelsea women’s team, which has started to adapt its training to the female cycle under coach Emma Hayes. Or follow the track and field athlete Ruth Sophia Spelmeyer-Preuß (https://www.instagram.com/400mruth/?hl=de) on Instagram, who is doing a wonderful job of promoting the removal of the taboo surrounding female menstruation in sport. Many men may smile at this or even consider it a taboo subject, but from a sports science point of view, dealing with such gender-specific topics is of course indispensable. Periods have been shown to affect muscle building and breaking down, weight changes, water retention and inflammation levels. So why on earth should women’s training follow men’s training schedules? But that is another topic.
Women’s football is different from men’s football – and that’s a good thing. Let me exaggerate: female footballers can keep their bodily fluids to themselves on the pitch. Female footballers don’t fall over theatrically at the slightest physical contact. And the usual pack formations of men’s football are rarely found among women. In short: the focus is on the sport and not on self-dramatisation.
The future of football is female
In 2007, FIFA President Sepp Blatter declared in full: „The future of football is female“. Well, the man was not exactly an unqualified popular figure, but the basic attitude behind the statement is spot on. Of course, football is still a male domain in 2021 and women’s football is often still a marginal note. Perhaps this is also due to the fact that FIFA needed another 11 (!) years after the Blatter statement to draw up a strategy paper on the promotion of women’s football. Among other things, FIFA has set itself the goal of breaking the mark of 60 million organised female footballers by 2026. It is good that the world governing body has set itself a clear target. Perhaps such signals will also contribute to the growing professionalisation and media presence of women’s football.
Big clubs as the engine of women’s football
In terms of professionalisation, it can be observed that the biggest and best-known clubs from men’s football are increasingly investing in women’s teams. Looking at the quarter-finals of the UEFA Women’s Champions League from the current 2020/21 season, one thing stands out: only club names that mean something even to the women’s football layman. Chelsea FC, FC Barcelona, VfL Wolfsburg, Olympique Lyon, Bayern Munich, Manchester City and Paris Saint-German. Teams that (with the exception of Wolfsburg) also play an important role in the men’s Champions League. Only the eighth club in the bunch – the Swedish record champions FC Rosengard – is (probably) an unknown name to the male observer.
VfL Wolfsburg ahead of the 2018 UEFA Women’s Champions League Final against Olympique Lyon (Source: Shutterstock)
By the way, Real Madrid was the last club from the top tier of European men’s football to take over a Spanish first division club, CD Tacon, in 2020 and invest into women’s football. Of course, not without investing immediately and signing numerous world-class players.
The women’s Bundesliga paints a similar picture. At the turn of the millennium, clubs like FCR Duisburg, SC 07 Bad Neuenahr or FFC Heike Rheine were regulars in the league, but they were successively replaced by well-known men’s clubs like Werder Bremen, Bayer 04 Leverkusen or TSG Hoffenheim. And at the latest with the merger of the 1st FFC Frankfurt with Eintracht Frankfurt, it became clear: without the infrastructure and financial power of the established clubs from men’s football, there will hardly be any realistic chances of winning the title in the future.
I think it’s wonderful that the interaction of top-class men’s and women’s teams in top clubs is further professionalising women’s football. Of course, it is a pity that village clubs can no longer maintain the level of sporting performance. But the fact that the charisma of the big club brands is also transferred to the women’s teams is a great thing. In this way, women’s football almost automatically receives more attention.
Big stage instead of side court
Approaches such as better match-day scheduling, so that spectators do not have to choose between their favourite men’s and women’s teams, also contribute to this. And a growing willingness to move women’s matches to the club’s main stadium may also be key to growing crowds. When Chelsea FC took on Tottenham Hotspurs for their season opener at Stamford Bridge in September 2019 in front of a crowd of just under 24,000, it was simply something different from their normal matches at the 4,850-capacity Kingsmeadow. Other clubs also regularly offer their women’s teams the big stage: Olympique Lyon Féminin, for example, plays important home matches in the Groupama Stadium (capacity: 59,000 spectators). Of course, this also ensures a different atmosphere and attention than the everyday league life in the Groupama OL Training Centre with its 1,524 seats.
It may be doubted that women’s team can regularly fill stadiums of the 20,000 category or larger, but the signal is just right: we are taking women’s football from the sidelines to the main stage!
Interior view of Groupama Stadium (Source: Shutterstock)
Positive trend in the Flyeralarm Women’s Bundesliga
1.104 million EUR. This is the average amount that the Bundesliga clubs earned in the past 2019/20 season. This means that the previous high from the 2016/17 season (EUR 1.041 million) was broken. The main driving force behind these revenue figures is rising sponsorship income (EUR 586,000 on average). Only spectator numbers were at a manageable level in the 2019/20 season – even spectator leader VfL Wolfsburg did not even average 2,000 spectators per game. On the positive side, however, the media coverage is striking: a whole 78 hours of women’s Bundesliga on free TV – more than ever before.
But … wait a minute. Is the headline Flyeralarm Frauen-Bundesliga? Yes, because the Würzburg-based e-commerce company has been the name sponsor of the Bundesliga since summer 2019 (initially for four years). Flyeralarm has thus joined the group of sponsors who have recognised the added value of involvement in women’s football. First and foremost are Allianz, Commerzbank and Henkel. All of them are sponsors who take advantage of the favourable ratio of manageable sponsoring costs and an equally manageable density of sponsors. In contrast to men’s football, investments in the mid-six-figure range make one a premium partner of the women’s national team. Amounts that are only smiled at in men’s football. And yet, these sponsors manage to create a high level of attention through convincing activations (I refer to numerous Commerzbank spots with national team players).
Fittingly, Eurovision Sports called on its members to increase their coverage of women’s sport and not allow the COVID 19 pandemic to undo recent gains in the sector (https://www.sportbusiness.com/2021/03/eurovision-sport-urges-members-to-set-targets-for-womens-sports-coverage/). Another building block to make women’s football even more attractive not only for fans but also for sponsors.
Sponsorship potential is not even rudimentarily exploited
At the same time, however, Brand Finance concludes in its Brand Finance Football Annual (LINK) that globally about 1.2 billion US dollars in sponsorship potential is not being utilised by women’s football. This is mainly due to the fact that the sponsorship contracts of the men’s teams also include services in women’s football. So to speak, as a visual sprucing up of the service portfolio. But the sometimes inadequate professionalism in terms of marketing also plays a role. In fact, the players in women’s football will think about better marketing in the medium to long term.
UEFA is setting a good example by announcing in November that it intends to combine the sponsorship rights for UEFA Women’s EURO 2021, the UEFA Women’s Champions League from 2018 and the UEFA junior national team competitions in one package. This was the first time that a detachment from the men’s competitions took place. And just a few months later, VISA was presented as the very first UEFA sponsor for women’s football. The sponsorship is valid for seven years until 2025 and includes the Women’s Champions League, the Women’s EURO, the U19 and U17 European Championships and the Women’s Futsal EURO.
Long story short.
Of course, women’s football is real football. You don’t have to like it, but no one has the right to mock it. Especially not the sports comrades who can hardly receive a pass cleanly in the 4th division. I wish that women’s football would continue to emancipate itself from men’s football and not just be seen as a slower version of men’s football. It is an extremely exciting subject area, both in terms of training science and sports economics. If the people involved manage to further professionalise women’s football and exploit its economic potential, then the future of football will at least become more female. And that would be a good thing.
I agree 100% with the ‚Ode to Women’s Football‘ by ARD commentator Bernd Schmelzer, who has been following women’s football for more than 25 years. He tells us why he loves it so much here: https://www.volkswagen.de/de/marke-und-erlebnis/wedrivefootball/stories/auf-der-tribuene/eine-ode-an-den-frauenfussball.html.
By the way, the women’s national team would play a male team from the district league to the ground. Please bear this fate with dignity, dear football field heroes.