- England's Lionesses face Spain in Sunday's soccer final
- Women's game is growing but still nowhere near gender parity
The World Cup has captured the attention of hundreds of millions of fans across the globe, but beneath the surface women's football still suffers from a titanic gender pay gap, funding shortages, disputes over the treatment of players and a sharp drop in public interest beyond the top-level blockbuster matches.
The tournament has been "transformational" according to Gianni Infantino, the president of football's global organizing body FIFA. "We still have to do much better, but we are on the right path," he said Friday at the opening of a women's football convention, adding that partners and sponsors need to "pay a fair price."
Infantino also caused a stir by saying it was up to women to "convince us men what we have to do" to reach gender parity. Either way, nothing highlights the chasm between women's and men's football as much as money — be it broadcasting rights, sponsorship or players' pay.
Sunday's final between Spain and England, home to two of the world's most financially powerful men's leagues, only serves to underline the problem. Countries competing in the World Cup can agree additional bonuses but neither the English nor Spanish football associations have yet done so. Both federations provide a lump sum to fund trips for the players' relatives, with England paying £10,000 ($12,740) and Spain €15,000 ($16,310). The stipend for England players is roughly equal to the price of a single ticket to watch Lionel Messi play for Inter Miami, according to some listings on Ticketmaster.
All footballers in the women's tournament have been guaranteed a $30,000 payment per game, with winners getting $270,000 in total, following an agreement earlier this year between FIFA and global players' union, Fifpro. The world's leading male players, meanwhile, are reported to earn over $1 million for a single Instagram post promoting a certain brand or sponsor.
Prize money has been rising for the women's World Cup, exceeding $150 million this year, up from $30 million last time around — yet still far short of the $440 million pot distributed at the men's World Cup last year in Qatar.
"There is a huge lack of commercial revenue," said Amanda Staveley, the co-owner of Newcastle United FC, in an interview. "We can't pretend that doesn't exist. It does exist and it's not going to change soon despite all the success the women are having. We, as owners, need to keep putting our women at the heart of our plan and eventually it will catch up."
The place to be
TV audiences have been considerable for the current tournament in Australia. An average of 7.3 million British viewers watched England's semi-final against Australia on BBC television, with a further 3.8 million streaming it online and through its iPlayer platform. The Lionesses' quarter-final against Colombia drew an average audience of 5.9 million on ITV.
In Spain, with a smaller population, the semi-final versus Sweden was the most watched ever for a women's World Cup game in the country, with a peak audience of 2.8 million and 54% of screen share.
BBC and ITV are both showing Sunday's final in England, with RTVE broadcasting it in Spain.
For brands, the World Cup "has been the confirmation they needed to start considering women's football seriously as the most watched women's sport in the world," Victoire Cogevina Reynal, a tech and sports investor who is working to buy stakes in women football clubs, said, adding that marketers should not compare it with the men's game. "Women are the ones who will be making decisions on what to consume, and women's football is the place to be."
The Matildas' semi-final defeat to England was the most watched TV show in Australia on record, with more than 11 million viewers at peak.
"The potential commercial value of women's football is as of yet unrealized," said Georgina King, an associate at Linklaters in London, specializing in sports. "It certainly feels like there has been a seismic shift of late. It should be remembered, however, that the women's game is still in its startup phase and there is a lot more to be done."
This is not the first time expectations are high for women's football. There was a similar situation after England, led by head coach Sarina Wiegman, won the European Championship in 2022, which resulted in a 200% spike in attendances to the domestic league, according to Amy Clarke, a manager in Deloitte's Sports Business Group.
"That Euros win in England has been pinned as the inflection point for the growth of the game," Clarke said. "I can only imagine the increase in attendances we're going to see this year after this World Cup."
Nonetheless, attendances are rising from a low base. While some games attract tens of thousands of fans — Arsenal has sold out its 60,000-seater stadium for a women's game — the average attendance in England's Women's Super League is still around 6,000, compared with close to 40,000 for the men's Premier League.
"The broadcasters also have issues," Newcastle's Staveley added. "At the moment people aren't watching" enough of the women's club games on TV. She said broadcasters and owners need to decide if women's games are played at different times to men's. The women's World Cup is clashing with the start of the men's season, including the Premier League, the world's most popular competition.
Most of the players in the Spanish national team play in their domestic league, which in its first season as a professional sport had a shocking clash with its naming sponsor, Finetwork. Liga F — the women's league — is reviewing its options with lawyers after the telecommunications firm said at the end of the season that it was not going to pay as it hadn't signed a contract. The league said they had signed a three-season contract for €15 million, including €4 million for the first season alone.
Real Madrid, the most valuable club in the world and the most successful in European history, only started fielding a team in Spain's female league in 2020, after acquiring a smaller team the previous year, and taking over its spot. Spain's semi-final this week was settled by a late, stunning strike by full-back Olga Carmona — one of Real Madrid's players.