LFootball agent Jo Tongue last month arranged for a player to be transferred to a second-tier English side, only to have the club offer her a full-time salary of £21,000 – less than £21,000. many male Premier League players win in a week.
Even that is an improvement over where the sport was. For Tongue, one of the biggest triumphs of England’s run to the Euro 2022 final has been that companies no longer ask his players to make company appearances for free: “I had the I’m used to hearing ‘There’s no charge’. That’s the main change.”
This is the reality of women’s football in England today. A small group of top national team players, dubbed the Lionesses, are set to become household names and earn substantial sums, with sold-out stadiums and huge viewers ready to watch them face off. Germany in the Euro 2022 final on Sunday.
Lucy Bronze has already signed sponsorship deals with Nike and Visa, while captain Leah Williamson has signed up with fashion house Gucci. Every England player would be in line for a £55,000 bonus if they win the tournament on Sunday – with further life-changing sums available through potential sponsorship deals.
But for the rest of professional football, there are still concerns that interest in women’s football will wane once the tournament is over, crowds fail to show up for domestic league matches and there will be another false dawn.
“It’s not wonderful that there’s this disparity,” Tongue said. “There are a few Lionesses who will have it all because brands can be a bit lazy.”
Yet this time around she hopes there will truly be a shift in attitude towards the wider world of women’s football, with her management agency awash in interest throughout the tournament. “Previously, you received all the requests the day before the final. Everybody wanted to talk to you on game day, or the day after, and then it stopped,” she said.
She praised early sponsors of English women’s football such as Barclays, Visa and Nike, but said many other companies were waiting on the sidelines. Euro 2022 has stimulated interest from potential sponsors: “Brands are now looking at long-term deals. They want appearances and authenticity. Women respond well to brands investing in their sport – which is almost a grateful mentality.
More than a decade after the launch of the top-flight Women’s Super League (WSL) in England, the money is just starting to come into the domestic game, with a much improved broadcast deal involving the BBC and Sky. Mainstream media coverage – like the Guardian’s new Women’s Football Weekly podcast – also helps.
Nicole Allison, chief executive of women’s football consultancy NA Sport, has welcomed UEFA’s decision to sell sponsorship rights for the Women’s Euros separately from the men’s tournament.
Allison said audiences are different: “The men’s game is so obsessed with traditional metrics – how many people watch and see billboards. Sponsorship has evolved and isn’t about eyeballs, it’s about how you can engage directly. That’s what women’s sport offers sponsors now, people actually see what a brand stands for.
“Women’s football hasn’t had airtime on traditional media, so we’ve had to create our own content and create our own buzz. Social media has allowed brands to interact with savvy women’s football fans in terms of digital.”
She added: “We have already had international success, which is followed by a natural dip. When the domestic leagues resume, it is the job of the clubs and the FA to keep attendance high and maintain the same level of interest.
Tongue said too many people still perceive women’s football as a grassroots sport in which players participate for the love of the game, rather than a professional spectacle in its own right.
In particular, clubs must stop playing on remote non-league grounds with limited facilities and few opportunities to entertain corporate clients with the high-level treatment many expect, she said.
“There is no opportunity to take customers to WSL matches because there are no hospitality options. There are certain people I try to involve in the game but I can barely get them a drink at half time I’m quite happy with a Bovril but I’d like to take Mr PricewaterhouseCoopers and I can’t We have to show it’s an occasion, it’s an event .