As the popularity of women’s football has grown, its finances are an increasingly hot topic of conversation.
Last year, the 26th edition of the Deloitte Football Money League (DFML) — the annual profile of the highest revenue-generating clubs in world football — analysed the revenue attributed to the affiliated women’s teams of DFML clubs for the first time.
This year, the DFML covers 15 of the richest women’s clubs in Europe for the financial year covering the 2022-23 season.
There is a catch.
Deloitte’s ranking is focused on clubs in European leagues including England, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Portugal, who made information available. The revenue of clubs in countries such as Australia, Japan, Norway, Sweden and the United States was not handed over to Deloitte. Clubs from these countries might have made the top 15 had the information been available.
We can gain some information for comparison purposes from the 2023 FIFA Women’s Football Benchmarking Report, which showed women’s clubs in the U.S. reported average revenues of $5million (£3.9m; €4.8m), and those in Australia and Sweden reported average revenues of roughly $3m and $5m for the 2021-22 season.
At the top of the DFML rankings are Barcelona, who remain at the summit of European women’s football, having won the last four Liga F titles and securing two of the last three Women’s Champions League trophies. They reported €13.4m in revenue for the women’s side in the 2022-23 season — a year-on-year increase of 74 per cent.
Manchester United, who finished second in last season’s Women’s Super League (WSL), also retained their spot with revenues of €8m driven by a strong commercial performance (€6m). Real Madrid have risen from 10th last year to third, reporting €7.4m in revenue — an increase of 416 per cent from the €1.4m they recorded in the 2021-22 season.
Manchester City (€5.3m) have dropped from third to fourth — with a year-on-year revenue increase of five per cent — making them one of only three clubs (alongside Paris Saint-Germain and Everton) in the top 15 to report less than double-digit revenue growth.
Arsenal complete the top five with revenue of €5.3m, a 138 per cent increase year-on-year.
These numbers all exclude revenue contributions from associated men’s clubs.
Amy Clarke, women’s sport lead in Deloitte’s Sports Business Group, said: “Significant levels of financial growth were recorded in the 2022-23 season across the top tiers of European women’s football. A rise in the number of women’s matches playing at clubs’ main stadiums boosted matchday revenues, and increased viewership and individual partnerships helped to accelerate the commercialisation of the game.”
The growth and opportunity for more are evident, but so are the gaps, the disparities and the diversity.
The Athletic assesses the key points of Deloitte’s findings.
Revenues are rising
The headline from the DFML is that revenues at European women’s clubs are on a steep incline. The average revenue generated by the top 15 highest revenue-generating clubs in 2022-23 stand at €4.3million — a 61 per cent increase on the average revenues of these clubs in 2021-22 (€2.6m).
That growth has been accelerated by the increased commercialisation of women’s clubs. Partnerships have leveraged the unique profile of the women’s teams, additional matches have been played at clubs’ main stadiums and increased viewership has led to an uptick in broadcast distributions.
On average, commercial revenue accounted for 58 per cent of 14 clubs’ total revenue, followed by matchday (22 per cent) and broadcast (20 per cent). It is worth noting that the matchday, broadcast and commercial split excludes PSG as the club did not provide these details.
A significant share of that commercial revenue is driven through combined central sponsorship agreements for men’s and women’s clubs, with a value apportioned or separately defined, while several women’s clubs have developed exclusive partnership options.
In the last year, Arsenal partnered with fashion designer Stella McCartney for bespoke women’s team kits and Chelsea Women struck deals with dairy brand Lindahls and car manufacturer Skoda. Barcelona partnered with skincare company Rilastil and City became one of the first clubs in women’s football to enter into a stadium naming rights agreement, with the Academy Stadium now taking the name of baby care brand Joie. These deals all demonstrated the ability of the women’s game to attract sponsors from industries not typically associated with football.
It is these partnerships, exclusively struck with women’s clubs, that are expected to drive significant growth in the future, as they leverage the distinct characteristics of women’s football.
Strength of the WSL
Seven of the clubs in the top 15 belong to the WSL (compared to two each from Liga F and Frauen Bundesliga, and one each from France’s Division 1 Feminine, Portugal’s Campeonato Nacional Feminino and Serie A).
It’s a promising sign before NewCo’s takeover of the elite women’s game in England from next season, when it is expected to place a renewed focus on the commercialisation of the WSL, and before the new broadcast rights deal, which should see an increase.
One aspect to consider is the support offered to WSL clubs by their respective men’s sides. The majority of sponsorship deals are bundled together with the men’s teams. In the WSL accounts, the men’s clubs have to sign an undertaking confirming their commitment to the women’s club for the foreseeable future.
Clarke told The Athletic, “We’re showing some good promise in terms of revenue figures (for the WSL). We can’t forget the investment from the men’s side as well. Hopefully, that will wean away as we see the clubs becoming more financially sustainable in their own right and having their own commercial contracts dedicated to the women’s team.”
No one-size-fits-all revenue model
There is significant diversity in the way that clubs generate revenue, even within the same league. Last season, United generated 74 per cent of its revenue through commercial partnerships, whereas Arsenal achieved the highest matchday revenue among the 15 clubs (€3.1m, 58 per cent of its total revenue), having hosted three WSL games in 2022-23 at the Emirates Stadium. Each drew attendances of more than 40,000, then there was the record-breaking crowd of more than 60,000 for the Champions League semi-final against Wolfsburg.
A third of Chelsea’s revenue came from matchday sources, with the club holding three Champions League games at Stamford Bridge, attracting more than 38,000 fans to their WSL match against Tottenham Hotspur. But Chelsea also reported the highest broadcast revenue among English clubs (€1.9m), over half of which is attributed to participation and the success in reaching the Champions League semi-finals.
There’s also a difference in broadcast revenues between leagues that contributes to the variability in revenue generation. The WSL and Liga F’s annual broadcast rights values were around €8m in 2022-23, approximately eight times that of Serie A, which became fully professional from the 2022-23 season.
Clarke points out that on the men’s side at many clubs, commercial revenue has overtaken broadcast, acting as a reminder that women’s football shouldn’t simply be copying the men’s business model.
“We often talk about women’s football as a startup model so we have to think about it differently,” Clarke says. “The huge attraction point of women’s football is that untapped fanbase, and we’re starting to see that being more understood, with more partners wanting to work with women’s football, which is driving commercial revenue growth.”
Huge disparity between haves and have-nots
There is a sizeable difference in revenue generated by those in the upper echelons of the top 15, and those towards the bottom.
The combined revenue of the five women’s clubs ranked in 11th to 15th position in the DFML (€7.3m) is just over half of Barcelona’s total revenue, a similar split as in the previous year.
If that is the gap within these top 15 revenue-generating clubs, how fast does the money drop off just outside of these rankings? It’s something that needs to be kept in mind, to encourage financial and competitive balance across all competitions.
Clubs still chasing profitability
Data made available to Deloitte by the 15 clubs (but not reported in its publication) shows that no clubs were profitable in 2022-23.
Allied with this, the average wages/revenue ratio stood at 106 per cent (the comparative figure for the top 20 men’s clubs is 59 per cent).
Deloitte reports that typically, women’s teams have received contributions from their associated men’s clubs to help bridge the funding shortfall, with the 15 clubs receiving average revenue contributions of €1.5m.
Although revenues are growing, they are still playing catch up with the money being spent on maintaining competitiveness and growing the game.
Clarke says that gap “is to be expected” given we are still in the “nascent phase of women’s football”.
“But we need to recognise that we need financial sustainability and good governance,” she continues. “The introduction of more financial regulation in the women’s game is going to be important to shaping financial sustainability going forward. That’s got to be tailored to the women’s game; ensuring that clubs are reinvesting in infrastructure and the talent pathway to make sure this is sustainable.”
Football set to dominate women’s sport
Deloitte predicts that football will be the most valuable and dominant women’s sport in 2024, with revenue of more than €500m expected to be generated worldwide and football clubs and leagues globally accounting for as much as 26 per cent of the total elite women’s sports market in 2024.
What’s this based on?
Largely, there is an expectation that growing viewership and sponsor interest will create opportunities for clubs to further strengthen matchday and commercial revenue.
We will see more sponsors and partners entering agreements exclusively with women’s teams. Not only do they offer access to a broader demographic but they are also an opportunity to potentially drive greater return on investment in comparison to the men’s game given they often present a lower cost of entry.
Clubs are playing more games at main stadiums than ever, with Arsenal scheduled to hold six WSL games at the Emirates Stadium this season. Chelsea and United will play four and two matches at Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford (Chelsea have also played three Champions League games there this season).
With audience interest, attendance figures and participation in women’s football at an all-time high, the WSL’s negotiations with broadcast partners for its domestic rights from 2024-25 are expected to see an increase in value.
As the Women’s Champions League expands to an 18-team competition from 2025-26 along with the addition of a second-tier competition, more clubs will receive UEFA distributions.
The potential is huge, but this version of women’s football is still at the start of its journey. Decisions made in the weeks, months and years ahead will dictate if that potential is reached.
(Top photo: Catherine Ivill – UEFA via Getty Images)
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