Sponsors to the fore, media rights lagging in review of women’s football finances

(Pedro Salado/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)
(Pedro Salado/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)

The importance of sponsors to women’s football and with it the comparative absence of broadcast money has been laid bare for all to see in a new report analysing the finances of the game’s leading clubs across Europe.

The Women’s edition of the annual Deloitte Football Money League (DFML), published today (Thursday), revealed that for the 15 richest clubs analysed for the 2022-23 season, the average revenue generated was €4.3m ($4.7m) each, a 61-per-cent rise year-on-year.

FC Barcelona led the way, with €13.4m in total, while only three clubs (Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and Everton Women) in the top 15 reported less than double-digit revenue growth.

The signs are positive – Deloitte predicts football will contribute around a half of its forecast €1.1bn global revenue pool for women’s elite sport in 2024 – but there remain stark warnings.

Zero clubs are profitable, with revenues playing catch up to the money being spent on growing the game.

Across the 15 clubs, which come from leagues in England, France, Spain, Germany, Italy and Portugal, the average wages/revenue ratio stood at 106 per cent (the comparative figure for the top 20 men’s clubs is 59 per cent).

As football writer and broadcaster Flo Lloyd-Hughes wrote for SportBusiness just last week: “There’s a wider conversation to be had about women’s sport media’s obsession with good news stories in coverage of so much of the boom period. There needs to be a bigger debate about the reality of the women’s sport economy. Things are running at a loss.”

Here are SportBusiness‘ five key takeaways from the DFML Women’s edition.

Going in the right direction

The €4.3m average revenue generated by the 15 clubs compares favourably with the €2.6m recorded for 2021-22, and serves as evidence that elite women’s football across Europe is on the right track.

It is sponsorship deals that are driving the upward curve, with commercial revenue accounting for 58 per cent of 14 clubs’ total revenue, followed by matchday 22 per cent and broadcast 20 per cent (PSG did not provide a breakdown of its total €3.7m revenue).

A significant share of commercial revenue continues to be driven through combined central sponsorship agreements for men’s and women’s clubs, albeit a number of women’s clubs have developed exclusive partnership options.

These include Stella McCartney (Arsenal), Lindahls (Chelsea) and Rilastil (Barcelona), while Manchester City went a step further entering into a stadium naming rights deal with baby care brand Joie.

Growth is expected in this sector over the coming seasons, as different brands look to align with the values of the women’s game.

Power of the brand

As is the case in the men’s game, it is the same big name clubs that dominate the Women’s DFML, evidence of some of the aforementioned central sponsorship agreements.

But in the women’s game, Manchester United has been a relative late bloomer, having only gained promotion to the Women’s Super League (WSL) in 2019-20 and yet to compete in the group stages of the Uefa Women’s Champions League (UWCL).

And yet the club sits second overall, with total revenues of €8m for 2022-23. Some €6m of that total figure derives from commercial revenue, an indication that while not the most successful club on the pitch, brands continue to want to be associated with the wider Manchester United name.

Likewise, commercial revenues also drove Real Madrid’s rise, accounting for €5.8m of its total €7.4m pot, itself a 416-per-cent rise on 2021-22.

Strength of the WSL

Eight of the top 15 clubs analysed play in the WSL, with two from Spain’s Liga F and Germany’s Frauen Bundesliga and then one each from Italy, France and Portugal.

That is indicative of the more than £7m (€8.2m/$8.9m) per year the WSL receives in media rights revenue from its domestic deals, from 2021-22 to 2023-24, with pay-television broadcaster Sky and public-service broadcaster the BBC.

Liga F brings in a similar amount per year, while Italy’s Serie A Femminile, which only became fully professional from the 2022-23 season, receives around just €1m per season.

It explains why Juventus, a global football brand, is only 15th in the Women’s DFML, with total revenues of €1.2m, €700,000 of which is from media.

That gap could grow further, with Deloitte predicting the WSL, which is currently in negotiations with broadcast partners for its domestic rights from 2024-25, will “see a material uplift in value” in the next cycle.

This year the United States’ National Women’s Soccer League begins the largest media rights deals in women’s sport: $60m per annum agreements with CBS, ESPN, Amazon and Scripps Sports’ ION. The deals shatter the previous contract with CBS/Paramount worth $1.5m per year.

The NWSL was a notable absence from Deloitte’s analysis (as were other big women’s football markets in Sweden, Norway, Japan and Australia), which the firm said it hopes to include in future editions of the report, which will impact both the make up of the top 15 and the financial figures to “provide a more comprehensive view of the global women’s game”.

Differing revenue streams within leagues

While media rights has often been the dominant revenue driver in men’s football, there is significant diversity in the way that clubs generate revenue in the women’s game, even within the same leagues.

Commercial accounted for 74 per cent of Manchester United’s total €8m revenue, while 58 per cent, or €3.1m, of Arsenal’s total €5.3m came from matchday revenue.

While fifth in the overall table, that represented the highest matchday revenue among the 15 clubs – vindication of Arsenal’s decision to host three WSL games in 2022-23 at Emirates Stadium, each drawing attendances of over 40,000, as well as 60,000 fans for the UWCL semi-final against VfL Wolfsburg Frauen, a near sell-out.

A number of other clubs have followed Arsenal’s lead, moving high-profile WSL fixtures to their men’s stadium in a bid to increase ticket sales.

London rivals Chelsea adopted a similar policy in 2022-23, albeit Stamford Bridge’s capacity is only 40,000 compared with the Emirates’ 60,000+. That meant matchday revenue came in at €1.3m, helped by three of five UWCL games being played at the club’s main stadium.

The reigning WSL champions reported total revenues of €4.1m for 2022-23, with the run to the UWCL semi-finals helping secure more media money – €1.9m in total, some 48 per cent of total revenue. Money from Uefa accounted for more than 50 per cent of the TV revenue.

Only reigning UWCL champions Barcelona (€2m) received more media revenue in 2022-23 than Chelsea.

Start of the journey

For all the positivity around the women’s game, the report’s findings highlight how this is only the start of the journey.

No club in the leagues analysed is making a profit, not an unexpected feat given they are in the growth phase.

The majority remain reliant on contributions from their associated men’s club to help bridge the funding shortfall, with the 15 clubs receiving average revenue contributions of €1.5m.

Deloitte warned that “continuous investment is required to drive further growth and financial sustainability in the women’s game”.

Even within the top 15 there is noticeable polarisation.

Clubs ranked 11th to 15th (Liverpool, Benfica, Everton, West Ham and Juventus) had combined revenues of €7.3m in 2022-23, a little over half what Barcelona generated alone.

Given the level of drop-off within even the best-remunerated 15, it is easy to understand the financial struggles of women’s football further down the pyramid.

Echoing men’s elite football, concerns will no doubt be raised over potentially greater financial disparity, impacting the competitiveness of the game domestically and in Europe, as the game continues to grow.

According to Deloitte, women’s elite sports will generate global revenues in excess of €1.1bn this year, with football contributing more than €500m. Specifically football clubs and leagues globally could account for as much as 26 per cent of the total women’s sports market pot in 2024, a prediction based largely on expectations of growing viewership and sponsor interest, thus encouraging clubs to stage more matches in their main stadia.

The release of the Deloitte report comes on the day Uefa officially launched its request for proposals for global commercial rights to the UWCL from 2025-26 to 2029-30, with sponsorship rights to women’s national team events over the same period also offered to the market.

Bids are due February 29.

The UWCL media rights RFP raises questions over the likelihood of a renewal with the incumbent DAZN, which last week announced the dropping of its paywall for women’s football coverage.

The alliance between DAZN and YouTube, which included a plan to show all bar 19 matches behind a paywall in the last two seasons of the four-year contract, was praised by Uefa as “innovative” and a “winning formula” upon its announcement in June 2021.

During its first season of centralisation in 2021-22, the UWCL generated €15.2m in revenue. Over half – €8.1m – stemmed from media rights following the international deal with DAZN, an agreement in the Mena region with beIN Sports and rights sales in China.

Only €6.8m came from sponsorship rights sales in season one but that number has since swollen following high-profile additions to the Uefa Women’s Football Partner programme.

The governing body set out to generate more than €70m in women’s football sponsorship revenue during the 2021-25 cycle and it is thought that deals with Amazon and PlayStation signed off early last year put it close to achieving this target.

DAZN’s decision to drop its paywall for the bulk of its women’s football coverage worldwide came with a call to the wider industry to support a ‘New Deal’ for women’s football and grasp a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to make the game commercially viable and sustainable.

Read this: Flo Lloyd-Hughes | Women’s sport needs to be cautious of fairy godmother magic

Deloitte Football Money League – Women’s 2024

PositionClub2022-23 Revenue
1FC Barcelona Femení€13.4m
2Manchester United Women€8m
3Real Madrid Femenino€7.4m
4Manchester City Women€5.3m
5Arsenal Women€5.3m
6Chelsea Women€4.1m
7Paris Saint-Germain Féminine€3.7m
8Eintracht Frankfurt Frauen€3.6m
9FC Bayern Frauen€3.1m
10Tottenham Hotspur Women€2.6m
11Liverpool Women€2.1m
12SL Benfica Feminino€1.5m
13Everton Women€1.3m
14West Ham United Women€1.2m
15Juventus Women€1.2m