Million market: Why women's football is now an investment case

Anyone who thinks that hardly anyone is still interested in women's football might find it helpful to take a look at last year's ratings.

Million market: Why women's football is now an investment case

Anyone who thinks that hardly anyone is still interested in women's football might find it helpful to take a look at last year's ratings. The football game with the highest ratings on German television in 2022 was not a game of the men's World Cup in Qatar - no, it was the European Championship final of the German women against England.

Women's soccer in Germany is more visible and popular today than ever before. In the past season alone, more than three times as many fans came to the stadiums as in the previous year. Nevertheless, fans had to tremble until the last minute before it became clear that the next big women's tournament would also be freely available on TV.

The World Cup in Australia and New Zealand starts in a month. But only a few days ago, the world football association Fifa and the European Broadcasting Union, which also includes ARD and ZDF, were able to agree on the price for the broadcasting rights. In a month-long dispute, ARD and ZDF had repeatedly emphasized that they had submitted a "brand-appropriate" offer: in the amount of 5 million euros. For comparison: The offer for the rights to the men's World Cup in Qatar was 214 million euros.

Figures like these make it clear that men's football is still on a completely different scale. What an entire squad currently earns in the women's Bundesliga is sometimes equivalent to a single player for the men. The financially strongest women's clubs in Europe generated a profit of EUR 35.9 million in 2021/22, while the men's clubs with the highest turnover came to EUR 9.2 billion in the same period, according to the Football Money League Report. But women are increasingly benefiting from the financial strength of men - and their marketing potential is considered to be growing.

Since the successful European Championship last year, players like striker Alexandra Popp, goalkeeper Merle Frohms or free-kick expert Lina Magull are almost as well known as the top stars of the German men. They are not only successful in the national team, but also in their Bundesliga clubs. They play for VfL Wolfsburg, serial winner of the DFB Cup and two-time Champions League winner, and for FC Bayern, whose women became German champions for the fifth time this season.

It is license clubs like these, which are already established in the men's field, who now want to build their women's teams and invest in them. It is comparatively easy for Bayern or Wolfsburg to create the basic professional structures, with their own cabins, training areas, physiotherapists and trainers. It's more difficult for other teams that don't have a male counterpart. Pure women's clubs are therefore now the exception in the Bundesliga. One of the most traditional, 1. FFC Turbine Potsdam, has just been relegated from the first division.

Even if the conditions are far from optimal everywhere, you cannot compare the current situation with five or ten years ago, says national coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg in an interview with Capital. "Especially with the last big tournaments we have developed a lot," she says. "We are very realistic and know that we still have many issues to deal with. We also want to take the next steps financially, but one after the other and appropriate to the market."

Figures from the DFB show that the women's Bundesliga is currently still a loss-making business. In the 2020/21 season, the income of all women's clubs in the Bundesliga was higher than four years before, but on average each team made a loss of 1.5 million euros. The DFB justifies this by saying that the big clubs invest a lot. Sports economist Sascha Schmidt from WHU Düsseldorf also describes the women's teams as an "investment case" for the big clubs. "At the moment, of course, the women's teams are benefiting, as they can use the infrastructure and know-how of the men's Bundesliga teams," he explains. "But they won't subsidize the women's business forever, they want to run it as a self-financed business field, and good marketing is what counts."

In his opinion, women's football is specifically promoted in order to make it attractive for sponsors, the marketing of media rights and for the merchandise business. According to Uefa, there are already 144 million women's football fans today, and by 2033 the number could rise to 328 million. In addition, the market value of women's football is set to increase six-fold over the next decade. Already three quarters of the international leagues have a title sponsor.

The German league will be titled "Google Pixel" Bundesliga for the next four seasons. Google thus announced its second major partnership with German women's football within a few weeks after the tech group had become the official sponsor of the national team in May - Google's first involvement in German sport ever. The Google campaign, which is planned in time for the World Cup, is intended to reach 50 million people.

For national coach Voss-Tecklenburg, the entry of such a global player was unimaginable until a few years ago. "Of course, winning strong partners helps to improve the framework conditions," Voss-Tecklenburg told Capital. "The strengthening of diversity and women is a social issue right now and the fact that it's 'in' doesn't mean anything negative." On the contrary - it shows that the basis for more involvement in women's football has been created.