The Covid-19 pandemic will have an undeniable negative effect on women’s soccer, just like every other sport. The immediate financial picture for clubs and players alike is looking pretty grim.
A lot of players don’t have savings due to low salaries. The English FA has said it won’t provide financial assistance to struggling women’s clubs. It seems unlikely that U.S. Soccer is in a financial position to offer meaningful support to NWSL beyond what it already does.
And as The Telegraph notes, struggling organizations in England have been quick to cut their women’s clubs in times of financial peril, with Notts County and Sunderland doing away with their women’s teams in recent times.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that people with money don’t appear scared, or ready to abandon women’s soccer.
It’s fair to say that the sport could look extremely different after the pandemic. Some independent clubs that are not bankrolled by men’s clubs or wealthy people could go under. A lot of them are the sport’s pioneers, and they built the foundation that rich clubs are currently trying to build on.
It’s also possible that competition structures could change significantly, or they could come under new management. NWSL and FA WSL appear to be stable and are planning to continue play as soon as possible, but it’s fair to say that no one knows what challenges the next few months will bring, or how perilous the situation is for the leagues besides the world’s two biggest spenders.
But we do know that the game’s biggest financial stakeholders are in it for the long haul. Gone are the days of serious existential threats to the sport. We have thankfully reached a tipping point where enough billionaires and football administrators have realized the value of women’s football to ensure that a year off will not kill it, and that growth will resume when it’s safe to play again. The viewership for women’s World Cup, increase in interest in NWSL, and big attendances across Europe have convinced the people we’ve always needed to convince that women’s soccer has massive business potential.
Last week, the professional footballers’ union FIFPro released a terrifying report that made it sound like the death of women’s football was imminent. “If clubs, leagues and national team competitions start going out of business, they may be gone forever,” FIFPro general secretary Jonas Baer-Hoffmann said.
FIFPro exists to serve its membership, and that membership has a strong desire for both a promise of security and some short-term financial relief. The organization is involved in a public negotiation with FIFA, football associations, leagues, and the billionaires that have become increasingly influential in the sport. Creating a sense of immediate need is a useful negotiation tactic.
FIFA seem to be listening. On Monday, world soccer’s governing body confirmed that the Covid-19 pandemic will not affect its previously announced $1 billion investment in the women’s game, and that women’s soccer is part of its plan to spend some of its $2.7 billion in cash reserves on bailing out organizations in need.
The world’s richest clubs are giving us hints too. Arsenal extended Jordan Nobbs’ contract on Tuesday, and Utah Royals are reportedly moving to sign two of the highest paid players in the world. The women’s soccer world has not just stopped — the clubs that were serious about growing their businesses in February are still serious about growing them now.
I would like to live in a world where women’s soccer does not need to be seen as potentially profitable to survive. I wish its value was seen in a non-monetary context, but we don’t live in that world. Thankfully, players and our grassroots community have finally convinced the people with the purse strings that we are worth their time and money. Women’s soccer is getting close to becoming a money-printing machine, and this is a dip on a chart with a consistent upward trend.
Some players and clubs might need your help in this time, but this is not a true existential crisis. The women’s soccer world has finally convinced men with money that it has value. They might screw us, but they won’t kill us, because they realize we can make them money now. It’s not an ideal situation, but I’ll take it.