On Monday, exactly one year on from the final of the 2019 Women’s World Cup, the French Football Federation released a report explaining the economic and social impact of hosting the competition. The FFF found that hosting the tournament contributed roughly €284 million (or $461 million AUD) to France’s GDP, while every euro spent generated a return of up to 20 euros. The average financial contribution of each spectator – of which there were estimated to be over 1.2 million – was €142 ($230 AUD).
This is almost double the economic activity recorded at the 2015 tournament in Canada, which contributed around $260 million AUD to the country’s GDP, while the net profits increased five-fold from $35 million AUD in 2015 to $175 million AUD in 2019.
These figures add more weight to the argument that women’s football is transitioning into a serious economic and cultural product. As Noël Le Graët, President of French football, said: “The first satisfaction is to have proved that a women’s football competition can win popular support and help to change the perception of women’s football.
“In 2014, when the FFF decided to take over the organisation, I remember the scepticism surrounding the organisation, particularly with regard to the economic dimension. Today, the economic results are positive. They prove that the efforts of FIFA, the LOC, the FFF, the leagues, and the host regions and cities have paid off.”
The report will also provide much-needed optimism for Football Federation Australia and New Zealand Football – the two joint-hosts of the 2023 Women’s World Cup – as they emerge from the rubble of Covid-19. In March, both federations suspended all football in order to contain the pandemic, meaning the domestic economies generated within and by the sport also dried up. While the full economic ramifications are yet to be calculated – especially as a second wave of cases has emerged in Victoria – the shutdown has already resulted in numerous job losses and cancelled programs both within federations and the wider football community. As such, the projected $500 million that hosting the 2023 tournament will generate comes at a pivotal time, not just for football in Australia and New Zealand, but for the wider sporting economies of both countries.
The major trend identified between the Canada 2015 and France 2019 reports – that women’s football is growing in global interest as well as significant financial activity – is also cause for hope that the women’s game will not lose as much ground as was feared when lockdowns began. FFA’s Women’s Football Council has noticed this trend, too. That’s why, in June, they released a summary of their 10-year Business Case for Women’s Football, a proposal that, at its core, argues that women’s football has become a genuine financial player in world sport, making it more likely to open corporate wallets.
“You can only ever sell this kind of opportunity to people who remain unconvinced on a value proposition,” said Ros Moriarty, chair of the Council. “It’s not necessarily going to appeal as ‘this is a thing you should do.’ Instead, it’s a case of it being very high value financially.
“The Business Case demonstrates that the return on investment [will be] over a period of time, but also how much broader that investment – that return – is in terms of social benefits and what it can offer society as a whole.
“We only have to watch the World Cup last year to see what the standard and enjoyment factor of the sport is. So [the Business Case] is about bringing the converted through and giving them the tools to expand and benchmark and measure and provide the ongoing reasons [for continued investment], but it’s also to bring the doubters into some moments of revelation.”
While the pandemic has inevitably reshaped the Business Case’s projections, Moriarty remains convinced that women’s football still offers a unique opportunity in terms of its unparalleled growth potential. “Covid-19 means not many people are looking at investing immediately, but [the women’s game] is investment-ready. It’s also a bit of a twist on ‘this is what we’re looking for’ to ‘this is the value that women’s football offers football and society in Australia.’
“The return on investment needs time to evolve, so it’s going to need support – just like men’s football once did, and in some cases, still does. It’s not going to be day one, you put this amount of dollars in, and you get the same return as you might expect from a mature product. This product is growing but the excitement is that it’s the game’s biggest growth centre, so that weighs a lot.
“Lots of things went to sleep during Covid-19. We just have to make sure that women’s sport is not second out of the barriers. Once things start moving, we really need women’s sport upfront, centre, ready, and re-establishing its credentials because now it truly has them.”