Women’s sport is (finally) becoming big business

They have won! Several competitions, such as the World Cup, and medals, including gold, at the London 2012 Olympics. But what the American football players have just won goes much further: it is equal pay with the men they have been paid. At the end of an agreement, and above all a long battle, also on legal grounds, the American Federation of “soccer”, as the ball game across the Atlantic is called, has pledged that the two national teams, men and women , receive the same salary at international matches and competitions.

In addition, the two teams will share money paid by the International Football Federation, FIFA, for their participation in the World Cups, to be held in 2022 for men, in Qatar, and for women, in Australia and New Zealand, in 2023. Are stars like Megan Rapinoe happy? Sure, but they point out that they have been discriminated against for years – while their achievements sometimes surpass that of men… And if the footballers have agreed to share, the fact remains that the 32 teams will compete in Qatar next November will share $450 million, while the 24 women’s teams at the 2019 World Cup in France had to settle for $30 million…

Cultural developments

Where does this gap come from? Cultural – and sexist – reflexes that are still well entrenched, which can be found almost everywhere in professional sport, be it football, tennis, golf, rugby, cycling…? No doubt. The fact that women’s sport does not attract as many spectators and therefore does not bring in as much money as men’s sport in ticketing and broadcasting rights? “If women’s football hadn’t been banned in the UK between 1921 and 1971 – for the sole reason that it was then more of a crowd puller than men’s football – it would be arguably the most popular sport in the world today, more than its male counterpart.” underlines Wladimir Andreff, Honorary Professor at the Panthéon Sorbonne University Paris 1 and President of the Scientific Council of the Observatory of the Economics of Sport, at the Ministry of Sport.

Still, the professional sport for women has evolved over the past twenty years. So much so that in late 2020, consulting firm Deloitte predicted that, taking into account television rights, sponsorship deals and event revenue, the amounts it was likely to brew would exceed a billion dollars a year. the future. A figure that may be small compared to the 471 billion the sports sector in general reached in 2018, but women’s sport has nevertheless demonstrated in recent years “its ability to generate significant television audiences, provide value to sponsors and thousands of from fans,” emphasizes Deloitte. The Nielsen polling station noted in a 2018 poll that the rise of women’s professional sports was one of the most important global trends. Out of the eight major countries surveyed, in Europe and the rest of the world, the data collected shows that 84% of sports fans in general are interested in women’s sports, including 51% of men.

Celebrate soccer players

Some clubs, especially football clubs, have understood this well. In the wake of the cultural upheavals brought about by May 68, which enabled the development of female sports, FC Lyon founded a women’s football team in 1970 (affiliated with Olympique Lyonnais since 2004) and Paris Saint-Germain launched a section in 1971. Also footballers have just distinguished themselves again, by winning the Champions League final against Barcelona, ​​in a packed stadium of Turin (more than 40,000 spectators).

“But if the strategy of these clubs pays off, especially that of Jean-Michel Aulas, at OL, the salaries paid to the players will still come from the revenue generated by the men’s teams,” Wladimir Andreff tempered.

High workers, as OL and PSG, according to estimates by the newspaper L’Equipe, offer the highest average gross monthly salary in the championship, at 12,000 euros and 9,000 euros respectively, and 37,000 euros for the two French internationals, Kadidiatou Diani (on PSG) and Wendie Renard (at OL), but who still pale in comparison to the monthly millions of male stars of these clubs!

More audience

Will French professional sportswomen ever win the same contract as men, or at least be paid at the same price for their participation in international competitions? Everything depends on certain elements, including the television audience. According to Deloitte, the women’s cup broke records in 2019, with a total of nearly one billion viewers, with 500 million more to be added that were accessed via digital platforms. As a result, broadcasting rights in the major football countries are constantly increasing. In France, for the 2018-2023 period, for the ladies D1, they cost 1.2 million euros per season at Canal+, against 110,000 euros in 2011 and 200,000 in 2017. And this, then the amounts, clearly higher, of course, for the men’s competitions, they fall constantly, even though they are still the subject of bitter fights… The sponsors are there too. For example, the chemist Arkema, partner of French women’s football since 2019, returned to work last April until 2025. A sponsorship that costs him 1.2 million euros per season. Professional athletes, regardless of discipline, also benefit from this enthusiasm in the form of contracts with sponsors. In fact, “the female body remains an advertising medium par excellence”, sighs Wladimir Andreff, who is also concerned about seeing certain male flaws, such as aggressiveness, that will conquer women’s sport in the future – for the spectacle…