Women’s football is going through a season of great upheaval. Since the major Serie A companies started investing in the sector, the social, media and economic importance of women in the sport has completely changed. And we don’t just refer to players.
Italy boasts the European record number of referees on a team, which is more than 1,800. An essential contribution to a class, the arbitration class, whose ranks are shrinking. During the 2022/2023 season, the first female referee in the men’s first division, María Sol Ferreri Capote, also appeared. There are over 370 female coaches, six of whom hold the highest qualification available in European football, UEFA PRO, and 64 women who work on the national team staff.
Women’s Soccer: A Popular Success
The turning point in recent years is evidenced by the data on the number of women registered in the International Federation of Colombia. In the 2017-2018 biennium, there were 25,896 members, not much more than the roughly 24,000 at the end of 2016. However, the next survey, the 2019-2020 survey, shows a clear increase, to 31,390 members. Only Covid-19 has stopped this growth. The success was also reflected in the youth who are approaching the world of football. Before Covid-19, there were more than 12,000 female soccer players between the ages of 10 and 15, more than a third of active adults.
The Sky pay satellite channel will broadcast women’s football on television until the 2021-2022 season, on Sky Sports channels. Indeed, as of 2021, the rights pass to La7, which broadcasts matches unencrypted on the main channel and on La7d. A shift that also led to a 36% increase in profits from television rights. At this time, Italian women’s football began to attract the attention of a large number of spectators. The average of approximately 160,000 fans in front of the TV speaks for each day of the Women’s First Division broadcast in clear. The Italian Super Cup Final reached its peak, recording an average of 352,000 viewers, with over 2.3 million viewers and a 2.5% share.
Interest turned into something tangible in July 2022, when the Women’s First Division became a professional league. A battle that Italian footballers, previously considered only amateurs, have been fighting for years. no more reimbursement of expenses but real salaries, and above all no more temptations to go abroad, to France or England, where professionalism is a reality.
Sponsors and investments
The Women’s First Division has made a clear leap in quality. In the 2022-2023 season, it managed to attract sponsorship from a major company like eBay. But the most important investment was that of the big names in Italian football. The first was Juventus in 2017, followed closely by other Serie A clubs in the following years. UEFA-licensed teams spent €9.5m on women’s football between 2019 and 2020, despite the pandemic. In the last two years they have only reached 1.7 million euros.
Italian women’s football is a growing phenomenon. This is evidenced by the public interest and the increasing investments in this sector. The professionalism of the athletes was an important step, but also a testament that the movement continues to fill the gap accumulated over the years compared to the outside world.
supremacy of the United States
In terms of women’s football, English-speaking countries are ahead. In particular, the leadership of the United States has been recognized around the world for years, and not only in terms of sports results. Thanks to the university system, which provides a multitude of sports with a steady stream of top athletes, American women’s soccer has developed rapidly. 13% of Americans say they are interested in the league or the national team, and NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League) games average 10,000 spectators. The numbers that Italian women’s football reaches only during large, popular and publicized events, such as the recent Italian Super Cup.
The league is considering expanding into two new cities and the value of the teams is on the rise. As of December 2019, OL Reign has sold for $3.15 million. In the summer of 2021, Michelle Kang, entrepreneur and founder of CognoSante, a health services technology company, purchased The Washington Spirits for $35 million. Exponential growth is also reflected by the potential increase in expansion fees.
In American sports, competition participants are not selected through systems of promotion and relegation as in Europe. Leagues expand when a city decides to host a new team. To participate, it is necessary to pay a type of entry fee, an expansion fee, to the league running the competition. In the case of the NWSL, the most recent expansion cost about $3 million. The new order from the university will now be about $50 million.
The gender gap between men’s and women’s soccer
However, the clearest sign of the development of the women’s football movement in each country remains the parity of compensation at the national team level. Indeed, if the logic of payments in club teams follows the huge popularity and disproportionate turnover that goes around the men’s teams, then the compensation recognized by the national federations should simply be based on the commitment required of the players.
This was supported by American football players who sued the American football team in 2019 for $24 million, and won. From that moment on, the men and women of American football, when invited to represent their nation in international competitions, shall receive equal pay. Same access from 2020 in the UK.
The Italian women’s football movement still has a long way to go to the leading countries. However, compared to the recent past, the change seems to be evident. However, the path taken in recent years seems to be the right one. “Today, 8 out of 10 teams in the First Division are the direct expression of men’s clubs, and their level and competitiveness have grown, and this has led to greater interest from sponsors and the media, thanks to the spread of women’s football to all.” Marta Carissimi, a former footballer from Turin, Fiorentina and Milan, is today the technical area manager of the Genoa women’s team.
Interest in women’s football is growing in Italy: why this new popularity?
“Since 2015, the federation has developed a development plan for women’s football: on the one hand, the creation of youth sectors within men’s professional clubs, starting with the enrollment of 20 girls under the age of 12, and on the other hand, the possibility of men’s professional clubs getting access to sports. Women’s Amateur Club title. In parallel, the U-16 and U-23 national teams were created to join the already existing U-17, U-19 and senior national teams, and new projects were revitalized by the schools’ youth sector starting with 5-year-old girls. All this led to an increase in the numbers in the base and a greater attraction to clubs by foreign players, because they find distinctive brands, structures and economic resources in professional clubs. The 2019 World Cup was certainly an important driving force, with RAI recording a total of 24 million viewers. This result was achieved thanks to the work of all the components, and today the path of growth continues in pursuit of new important goals ».
Since the current season, the Women’s First Division has turned professional. What does that mean for a senior player on the cruise and for those who play instead in the juniors?
“Being a professional means recognizing in your work rights, duties and protections: thus INAIL social security contributions and accidents. This allows you to think of football as a job and not in parallel with another job, as it was until last season for the First Division and today it is for players in the small categories.
What is the future of the women’s movement in Italian football and what are the growth prospects?
“The growth of women’s football is evident in the numbers. Between 2008 and 2020, there was a 66.5% increase in total membership in Italy and an expansion of the base between 10 and 15 years of age by more than 93%. The number of spectators is also growing, culminating in the opening of large stadiums for the UEFA Women’s Champions League and some cartel matches. The process is just beginning and the growth prospects are vast: just look at countries that started investing in women’s football before we had a benchmark. In Italy we have today just over 31,000 members, while in England there are more than 120,000 and in Germany they are close to 2,000,000. According to a study from UEFA, women’s football will continue to grow, and its value will increase sixfold over the next ten years, so the potential is still great.”
The World Cup will be held in Australia and New Zealand next summer. Could it be an opportunity to arouse interest like those in France in 2019?
“The opportunities are certainly there, because this summer’s World Cup aims to be ‘above the greatness’ as the organizers say. More than half a million tickets have been sold so far. The opening match has been moved to Stadium Australia, Sydney’s biggest stadium, to meet demand for tickets for the opening match A 10-12 hour time zone probably won’t help viewers in Italy, but the prerequisites to generate interest and follow-through from here are all there too.”
In other countries, such as the USA or the UK, female soccer players have closed the gender gap with their male teammates, at least in the national team. When will the same thing happen in Italy?
“The development process started in Italy a few years ago. I think it is too early today to talk about closing the gender gap, it is important to continue to grow with a great sense of responsibility and sustainability of the system.
Article taken from the March 1 issue To read the newspaper, subscribe!
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