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  • Writer's pictureJabu Mtwa

Making African Women’s Football Truly Globally Competitive - Part 1

Abstract

In 2019, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) Women’s Football Strategy – a historic document that aimed to shape the future of African women’s football – was published. The 23-page strategy promised to provide an innovative approach to maximise the vast talent pool, commercial potential and social impact of the women’s game across the continent. Women’s football in Africa has since made strides to develop and become gradually competitive at the international stage. Despite the pandemic stifling the significant progress and growth achieved by the women’s game, the FIFA Global Transfer Report 2021 confirmed that global women’s football has maintained its pre-pandemic growth trajectory. Following the recent conclusion of the 2022 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations, there is great anticipation about how African women’s football continues to carve a path to global prominence. In this paper, the authors comprehensively examine how CAF and governance structures can accelerate the short and long-term development of its players, clubs and competitions.


I. Introduction


Women’s sport has witnessed significant growth in the past decade. A 2022 study revealed that international audiences watch more women’s sport than they did before the pandemic.[1] In particular, women’s football is leading the rise of women’s sports’ competitiveness and global marketability. The quality of matches and commercial viability of women’s football has shone in the 2022 off-season, with England winning the Women’s Euros and particularly South Africa winning the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (WAFCON).


The evolution of socio-cultural norms over the past few decades has resulted in African women participating in sport, with football being the sport most played by women in Africa. Women empowerment has been a major force in the influx of women in African football governance. As a result, we have seen an increased focus, on a governance level, to accelerate the growth of the women’s game on the continent. In 2019, the CAF Women’s Football Strategy – a historic document that aimed to shape the future of African women’s football – was published. CAF’s Women’s football office formulated a continental approach to elevate the technical quality and commercial viability of women’s football. CAF Women’s Football Development office representatives Safia Abdeldayem and Meskerem Tadesse Goshime are credited for crafting this monumental strategy for the future of African women’s football.


With the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup being the final major football tournament before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was uncertain what the implications would be for global women’s football development post-pandemic. Encouragingly, however, women’s football continued to grow its competitiveness and interest levels in spite of the pandemic. Indeed, the FIFA Global Transfer Report 2021 confirmed that “there [was] still a clear upward trend in the women’s game, even during the COVID-19 pandemic”.[2] The international transfer market has continued to produce multiple transfers of women footballers to different leagues around the globe. Interestingly, the top ten teams for incoming transfers in 2021 included only one African professional women’s football team - The Tiger Queens, a women’s football club from Tanzania, completed 10 transfers during 2021.[3]


On the backdrop of the recent, rapid professionalisation and commercialisation of women’s football (particularly in Europe and the United States), this paper analyses the current state and aspirations of women’s football in Africa. Using the CAF Women’s Football Strategy as a reference point, this paper comprehensively examines how African women’s football could be transformed into a globally competitive sector within the growing women’s football landscape. The paper will first consider the international landscape of women’s football by examining the key components of the development of European women’s football. Thereafter, the authors specifically focus on African women’s football by asking what CAF, National Football Associations, existing and potential sponsors and other stakeholders in the African sports business can do to ensure that the women’s game is on a path to global competitiveness.


The paper will be structured as follows; part II will present a critical discussion of the various components of and recent developments in the women’s game globally with a heavy emphasis on Europe, part III will briefly review the CAF Women’s Football Strategy and thereafter critically discuss the key focus areas that could be leveraged to significantly elevate African women’s football’s technical quality and competitiveness, appeal to and growth of audiences, and the commercial value of the sport.



II. Global Context of Women’s Football


The growing international context of women’s football can be divided into three main sections:


Broadcasting/Awareness

Broadcasting deals for women’s football in Europe has significantly increased over the last decade, which in turn has brought more awareness to the women’s game as it has become more accessible. This has been brought about by the increased value broadcasters are placing on the sport. It is reported that the BBC paid 10-12 million euros for exclusive rights to the 2022 Women’s Euros which is approximately a 90% increase on what Channel 4 paid for the same tournament in 2017.[4]


The BBC and Sky Sports also entered a 3-year deal worth around £8 million a year with the FA for the broadcast rights to the Women’s Super League (WSL) in England starting from the 2021/22 season.[5] This marked the first time the WSL broadcast rights were sold independently from the men's game.[6] Similarly, in 2021 DAZN secured global rights to broadcast the UEFA Women’s Champions League with a 4-year deal also reportedly worth around £8 million a year.[7] These two deals represent the largest broadcast deals in women’s club football in the world, underlining the BBC, Sky Sports and DAZN’s long-term commitment to providing women’s football to the world.[8]


More platforms showcasing women’s matches has led to a substantial increase of fans tuning in to watch. During the 2022 UEFA Women’s Euros, the semi-finals between England and Sweden set a new record of 11 million TV viewers,[9] while the final between England and Germany drew an audience of more than 17 million, becoming the most watched TV event of the year in the UK.[10]


During the 2021/22 WSL season, a match between Everton and Manchester City attracted 800,000 viewers on BBC, making it the most watched women’s club football match on UK TV.[11] Moreover, matchday attendance records continuously being broken across Europe is more proof of the growing awareness and popularity of women’s football. In April 2022, the Camp Nou witnessed over 91,600 fans during Barcelona Femeni’s match versus Wolfsburg in the Champions League (Graham, 2022).


Brand Endorsements and Sponsorship

Generally, sports sponsorship and endorsement opportunities in women’s sport have been lagging. Men’s sports have historically commanded the most lucrative sponsorship deals whereas women were an afterthought. Between 2011-2013, only 0.4% of the total global sports sponsorship was spent on women, that is $427.2 million out of a total of $106.8 billion.[12] However, within women’s football there have been huge developments and steps forward, with several brands confirming their support and commitment to the sport and the players through significant ground-breaking sponsorship deals.


To name a few, VISA signed a seven-year deal with UEFA Women’s Football until 2025, becoming the first standalone women’s football sponsor following the unbundling by UEFA of sponsorship rights from the men's game.[13] At the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Adidas sponsored players on the winning team and guaranteed that they earned the same bonuses as male players.[14] Barclays became the title sponsor of the FA Women's Super League in 2019, promising investments of more than £30m into women's game over the next three years - one of the largest investments in women's sports to date.[15] These brands continue to express their support for the women’s game; making more players and teams household names, ensuring they get equal recognition and respect across all levels and inspiring the next generation of players.[16]


We are also seeing an increase in the commercial value of players across Europe, with numerous players receiving backing from global brands for a sustained period. In 2020, Norwegian footballer Ada Hegerberg signed a 10-year deal with Nike, becoming the first female player to acquire the same sort of career-long Nike sponsorship agreement as Cristiano Ronaldo and LeBron James.[17] Visa also sponsors several European players through their team visa programme, including 2021 Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas, 8-time UEFA Women’s Champions League winner Eugenie Le Sommer, and the English trio of Lucy Bronze, Frank Kirby, and Nikita Parris. Another English player who has seen her commercial value increase is Arsenal defender Leah Williamson. Allegedly worth 4 million pounds, Leah has brand deals with Pepsi, Nike, Swarovski, and Gucci (Read, 2022).


Youth Development

The development of women’s football within Europe has remained consistent due to the numerous initiatives and programmes set up across the continent. Firstly, The UEFA Women’s Football Development Programme (WFDP) aims to provide ample opportunities and a safe environment to all girls and women who want to play the sport.[18] Currently, there are approximately 1.2 million registered female players in Europe and the aim of each member association is to increase that number.


Contributing to this current success are the ongoing WFDP supported projects across Europe. For example, in The Netherlands, the Strong Clubs project (2016-20) which aimed to develop a national community of inspirational grassroots clubs for girls and women saw the number of girls at the participating clubs grow faster than the national average and the number of senior players grow by an average of 10%.[19] Moreover, the Youth Activity Enhancement Programme (2016-2020) in Italy saw an increase in the number of players in the women’s U15 regional teams more than double.[20]


Furthermore, in collaboration with Barclays, the FA launched a network of partnerships with schools throughout England with the vision of ensuring every girl has equal access to football in schools by 2024. So far, over 12,000 schools have joined the initiative and in 2020, it was reported that 3.4 million women and girls played the sport.[21]


Part 2 will be published next week, exploring the professionalism of African women's football, in addition concluding thoughts.


Bibliography

[1] Jones, Rory. Study: 70% of Australians watch more women’s sport now than before the pandemic. Sportspro.com, SportsPro, 8 March 2022. Available URL: https://www.sportspromedia.com/news/womens-sport-australia-foxtel-study-tv-viewership-wbbl-nrlw-aflw/?blocktaxonomy =womens-sport Accessed 9 March 2022


[2] FIFA Global Transfer Report 2021 (2021)


[3] Ibid.


[4] Lee, P. et al. (2020) Women’s sports revenue and monetization, Deloitte Insights. Available at: https://www2.deloitte.com/xe/en/insights/industry/technology/technology-media-and-telecom-predictions/2021/ womens-sports-revenue.html Accessed 19 September 2021

[5] Wrack, S. (2021) ‘A huge step forward’: WSL announces record-breaking deal with BBC and Sky | Women’s Super League | The Guardian, The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2021/mar/22/a-huge-step-forward-wsl-announces-record-breaking-deal-with-bbc-and- sky Accessed 29 September 2021


[6] Graham, M. The rise of women’s football: The fastest growing sport in the UK and the Euros this summer can take it to another level. TalkSPORT, 4 May 2022. https://talksport.com/football/womens-football/1100928/womens-football-hope-powell-kelly-smith-growth-wsl-lucy-quinn/


[7] Hellier, D. UEFA Football Women’s Champions League: DAZN Gets Global TV Broadcast Rights - Bloomberg. Bloomberg.com, 30 June 2021. Available URL: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-06-30/champions-league-tv-deal-is-breakthrough-for-women-s-soccer


[8] Easton, J. DAZN announces series of broadcast deals for ‘historic’ Women’s Champions League final - Digital TV Europe . Digital TV, 18 May 2022. Available URL: https://www.digitaltveurope.com/2022/05/18/dazn-announces-series-of-broadcast-deals-for-historic-womens-champions-lea gue-final/


[9] Read, S. England women’s football team: Lionesses set to make millions from Euro triumph - BBC News. BBC, 1 August 2022. Available URL: https://www.bbc.com/news/business-62320684

[10] Roxborough, S. Euro 2022 Final Draws Record Ratings for Women’s Soccer in England, Germany – The Hollywood Reporter. Hollywood Reporter, 1 August 2022. Available URL: https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/tv/tv-news/womens-soccer-tv-ratings-highs-euro-2022-final-1235190057/


[11] Dixon, E. Assessing the women’s football European broadcast picture - SportsPro. Sportspro.com, SportPro, 3 November 2021. Available URL: https://www.sportspromedia.com/from-the-magazine/womens-football-wsl-uefa-champions-league-fa-sky-sports-dazn-youtu be-broadcast/


[12] Rogers, C. Why brands must rethink their approach to women’s sports sponsorship, Marketing Week. Available URL: https://www.marketingweek.com/brands-neglecting-womens-sports-sponsorship/ Accessed 29 September 2021)

[13] Lee, P. et al. (2020) Women’s sports revenue and monetization, Deloitte Insights. Available at: https://www2.deloitte.com/xe/en/insights/industry/technology/technology-media-and-telecom-predictions/2021/womens-spo rts-revenue.html (Accessed: 19 September 2021)


[14] Nair, R. Adidas to Pay Women’s Soccer Players Same Bonuses As Men for World Cup. Business Insider, 9 March 2019. Available URL: https://www.businessinsider.com/adidas-to-pay-womens-soccer-players-same-bonuses-as-men-for-world-cup-2019-3?r=US &IR=T


[15] Sky Sports. WSL: Barclays extends FA and Premier League partnership and will sponsor FA Women’s Championship. Skysports.com, Sky Sports, 15 December 2021. Available URL: https://www.skysports.com/football/news/28508/12496102/wsl-barclays-extends-fa-and-premier-league-partnership-and-will -sponsor-fa-womens-championship


[16] Nielsen (2019) Women’s Football 2019 – Nielsen, Nielsen. Available at: https://www.nielsen.com/uk/en/insights/report/2019/womens-football-report-2019/ (Accessed: 12 September 2021)

[17] Hudson, M. Hegerberg makes history for women’s football with Nike sponsorship deal | Sport | The Times. The Times, 9 June 2020. Available URL: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/hegerberg-makes-history-for-womens-football-with-nike-sponsorship-deal-9895rxmlp


[18] UEFA. (n.d.). Women’s Football Development Programme Factsheet. Nyon, Switzerland: UEFA.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Parry, K. Women’s football: record crowds and soaring popularity – here’s how to keep it this way. Theconversation.com, The Conversation, 20 April 2022. Available URL: https://theconversation.com/womens-football-record-crowds-and-soaring-popularity-heres-how-to-keep-it-this-way-180718

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