First of its kind FIFA report benchmarks W-League against world’s best leagues

Full story first published for SBS’ The World Game:

Declared to be the first of its kind by FIFA President Gianni Infantino, a new benchmarking report – christened ‘Setting The Pace’ by the global governing body – has provided an overview of the elite level of the women’s game at a club and league level around the world.

Surveying 30 leagues and 282 clubs, FIFA classified the information it received into six key areas of the game at a club level: sporting, governance, finance, fan engagement, players and COVID-19.

“Boosting the development and growth of women’s football – on and off the pitch – is a key commitment and top priority for FIFA,” Infantino said.

“As the interest continues to increase, we must focus on developing an in-depth understanding of the elite women’s football landscape.

“This document has been developed with the aim of supporting our women’s football stakeholders to better understand this landscape and to maximise its big potential.

Unsurprisingly, FIFA’s research found that those clubs that were willing to actively invest in their women’s teams were rewarded.

Across the competitions examined – Matilda Ellie Carpenter’s Olympique Lyonnais cited as a real-world example – it was determined that possessing the league’s highest wage bill correlated with becoming champions 73% of the time and that 58% of championships were captured by clubs with higher operating costs than their rivals.

A correlation was also found between access to superior facilities and trophies: 50% of teams that led their competition in material resourcing winning it in the past five years compared with only 23% for all other clubs.

Below the senior side, the presence of a properly structured youth structure was also found the have significant carryover to a nation’s FIFA World Ranking; with nation’s whose competition had 80% or more of its completing clubs operating a girls’ youth structure possessing an average national-team ranking is 13, compared to a ranking of 28 for others.

Of nations ranked in the top ten of FIFA’ World Rankings that had their leagues examined by the report, only Australia’s W-League had less than 50% of its clubs operating some form of girl’s academy.

Competitions where there existed a players’ association or union were found to have a minimum player wage 63% of the time compared with only 17% that do not have player representation.

A minimum wage was first introduced into the W-League for 2017-18 season after negotiations between the PFA and then-league operators FFA, which was raised to the same minimum hourly wage as their A-League counterparts in 2019.

Examining governance frameworks, leagues that operated with both a club licensing system and financial controls fielded a higher proportion of clubs that were profitable or at least break-even (36% against 32%) and possessed higher average club revenue.

Standalone clubs – roughly a third of those examined – were found to generate more revenue than their affiliated counterparts, whilst versions of the latter with a reporting structure where the head of women’s football was one level or fewer away from the club’s CEO achieved higher revenue than those with two levels of reporting structure and significantly higher revenues than those had three layers of difference.

Clubs with a written strategy for women’s football were shown to have revenues that were 224% higher on average than clubs that did not.

Negotiations that dealt exclusively with broadcasting rights for the women’s league were found on average to produce a greater revenue than those that were bundled, and sponsorship revenue – which was found to be the backbone of high-performing clubs over broadcast deals – was higher for clubs that negotiated deals for the women’s team only.

It was found, however, that 70% of clubs examined reported a financial loss, with 22% breaking even and just 8% reporting a financial profit. Subsidies from a club’s owner (42%) and/or aid from an affiliated men’s team (36%) were the most common ways of meeting any shortfalls.

Only 57% of clubs examined were found to offer some form of season ticket – the presence of which were found to have positive correlations with both revenue and crowd size. Foreseeably, higher crowds were also shown to have a positive relationship with revenue.

Per the report, W-League clubs produced an average revenue of USD $319,000m, with none yet at break-even or a profitable level.

Clubs employed, on average, 2.1 full-time technical staff – 38% of head coaches possessing a pro licence – and 1.8 full-time administrative staff. Every player in the league had a written contract and received a monthly salary, while 53% of players had football as their primary income.

“Whilst many clubs and leagues continue to navigate the impact of COVID-19 on football, this report provides key insights into the reality of the women’s game, as well as the many opportunities and challenges, on and off the pitch for players, clubs and leagues around the world,” Sarai Bareman, FIFA’s Chief Women’s Football Officer, said.

“It is paramount, as we look to the future of our game and take decisions that will impact generations to come, that we base these decisions on a clear understanding of where we are.

“This means generating these insights into what is working well in the current context. This report is an important document to support the decision-making process of the stakeholders involved in the game.

“Whilst the progress already made and FIFA’s commitment to the women’s game is clear, more can still be done across football to maximize the exciting opportunities on the horizon and ensure a strong and sustainable ecosystem for the whole of women’s football.”

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