The 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup broke new ground for women taking part in international professional sports.
In nine seasons, the competition has evolved since the first tournament in 1991, expanding from 12 to 32 teams and attracting TV audiences of 14.8 million during the Spain and UK finals.
As the excitement settles and the Spanish winners bring their trophy home, FIFA has verified that this World Cup was the largest women’s sporting event ever held, selling millions of stadium tickets to sell-out crowds previously only seen in men’s matches.
But what will the footfall fever mean for the long-term development of women’s football – and for the countless other sports that continue to lack equal representation, often with female players paid a fraction of their male counterparts, if they are paid at all?
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Comparing Male v Female Salaries For Professional Sports Players
Despite the interest and support from fans worldwide, female footballers remain underpaid compared to male sportspeople.
FIFA was criticised after announcing a 300 per cent rise in tournament prize money compared to the last 2019 World Cup. Although a significant increase, the prize pot of $110 million is dwarfed by the $440 million winnings awarded during the Qatar men’s competition.
The Spanish team may have received $10.5 million, but again, this appears somewhat low against the $42 million awarded to Argentina after winning the final of the 2019 men’s tournament. It is also worth noting that the 2023 prize rules state that payments will not be made directly to players but to their national associations – meaning some female footballers could potentially receive nothing for their efforts.
However, the tide is changing. FIFA has confirmed that it intends to introduce equal prize money by 2027, and some national federations, including Football Australia, have committed to gender parity across participation levels within the next four years.
The American National Women’s Soccer League has also introduced a minimum $35,000 salary, meaning fewer players are expected to maintain full-time jobs while training at a higher level.
Attracting Brand Sponsorship Into Women’s Sport
While many view football and other televised sports as entertainment, the reality is that sports at this level must become commercially viable. The enormous, multi-million transfer fees and salaries paid in the men’s game are facilitated by investments by billionaire owners and, notably, by vast sponsorship deals.
The biggest sports sponsorships to date are dominated by sports brands, with Nike entering into a lifetime sponsorship with basketball legend Michael Jordan, valued at $1.3 billion. The partnership between Manchester United and Adidas is reported to be worth $1 billion, while Fly Emirates paid Real Madrid €70 million to feature the brand logo on team jerseys.
During the 2023 World Cup, several female players struggled with sponsored football boots made for male feet. The impacts were severe, from blisters and stress fractures to torn ligaments. The focus on the women’s competition has prompted claims against Nike, Puma and Adidas, urging them to release female-specific football boots – rather than entering into sponsorship deals as a token gesture.
One legacy of this tournament is that advertisers and sponsors have seen significant leaps in viewer numbers, responding to a 23 per cent increase in match attendance from last year. As fans and followers engage, corporate sponsors are more open to opportunities, seeing women’s sports as an environment where they can directly reach key audiences.
The change will likely take time, but sentiment among potential sponsors is 61 per cent positive. The core focus is on price points and brand perception, using the wave of interest to inform marketing strategies and use sponsorship deals to boost sporting brands.
New sponsors on board include Visa, which committed to sponsoring the female British team, and Adidas, which has launched a campaign featuring players Alessia Russo, Mary Fowler and Lena Oberdorf – respectively, English, Australian and German national team members.
The outcomes include more drive for female players to consider taking up the sport, greater global interest in the women’s game, and pathways for new and young players to start working towards a career in professional football.
Women’s Football And Equality
Following the stormy row over Luis Rubiales, the Royal Spanish Football Federation President, kissing Spanish player Jenni Hermoso, allegedly without permission, equality and diversity in the professional sports sector have come sharply into focus.
Although the publicity and support for Hermoso has been widespread, the reality is that equality is still some way off, with 91.9 per cent of women seeing sexist comments made towards female footballers online. Over 58 per cent have experienced this directly either when watching a football match or attending a game, according to We Are Social.
Part of the issues around diversity and inclusivity is that a 13 per cent proportion of global women players consider themselves LGBTQ+. The Women’s World Cup has undoubtedly had a positive impact, with increases in discussion about identity and sexuality, alongside a nine per cent increase in support from followers following the stand-out achievements of LGBTQ+ players at the Euros in 2022.
The previous captain of the US women’s football squad, Megan Rapinoe, spoke during a 2019 interview about disparities between opportunities to play for gay women, stating that a country ‘can’t win a championship without gays’ – the USA went on to win that year’s World Cup.
Attitudes are also changing in the men’s game, with players from teams including Adelaide United, Blackpool FC, Gala Fairydean Rovers, Sparta Prague, San Diego Loyal, and Tornado FC having publicly spoken about their sexual orientation.
The Future Of Women’s Professional Sport
While change is undoubtedly slow, interest and coverage of women’s sports have increased substantially over the last few years as broadcasters, sponsors, and tournament hosts recognise the growing excitement.
Coverage of the coverage2023 Netball World Cup Final, hosted in South Africa, was streamed onto BBC Two alongside BBC iPlayer and the BBC Sport app. The FIFA Women’s World Cup was shown on FOX, FoxSports and FS1, with the World Athletic Championships featuring male and female international teams shown live on the BBC.
Perhaps the most sustainable impact of the Women’s World Cup isn’t in the immediate future – in terms of salaries, sponsorship deals or TV publicity – but is in the perceptions of those watching at home, particularly young women and girls who are potentially considering the space for them in the world of sport.
The Women in Sport Report 2021 highlights the part that marketing and coverage have to play, showing that the main factors that prevent more women from playing sports are a lack of information, knowledge, media coverage and advertising.
Although challenges clearly still exist, those barriers are becoming smaller, with Iberdrola reporting that women who participate in school sports are 76 per cent more likely to remain active or interested in sports. The FA also provides encouraging statistics, showing that female referees have increased by 21 per cent since 2021, and affiliated players have grown by 30 per cent in all registered female football teams.
The Legacy Of The Women’s World Cup FAQ
Which team won the 2023 Women’s World Cup?
Spain took the top prize, having scored 18 goals over six matches to take home the World Cup trophy following a tense final against the UK.
Will the Women’s World Cup help more girls try football?
Potentially, yes – more viewers and greater publicity have made this Women’s World Cup far bigger than ever before, with crowds around 2.5 times larger than in previous seasons. Viewer numbers hit new global records, meaning more women and girls have watched live games, and more will possibly be interested in trying the sport for the first time.
Around 19 per cent of people now follow or watch professional women’s sports, whereas eight per cent are engaged in amateur sports – compared to 40 per cent and 12 per cent watching or playing men’s sports, respectively.
What is the average rate of pay in US and UK professional women’s football?
The minimum salary in the US is fixed at $35,000 following an agreement with the National Women’s Soccer League. In the UK, that can increase to as high as £200,000 – the amount paid to Arsenal captain Leah Williams. Sam Kerr, player for the Australian Matilda’s and Chelsea, is thought to be paid £400,000 a year.
Who is the highest-paid professional female sportsperson?
Naomi Osaka, the Japanese tennis player, is reportedly the highest-paid female athlete, earning $1 million from court performances in 2022, plus an additional $50 million through sponsorship deals and endorsements.
Where will the next Women’s World Cup be held?
The next planned World Cup in the women’s football game is scheduled for 2027, and following a fierce competition to host the tournament, slated for either Belgium and the Netherlands, a joint bidder, Brazil, South Africa or Mexico and the US – another joint bid. The final venue is due to be announced by FIFA in May 2024.
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