The announcement that viewing figures for the Women’s World Cup hit 1.12 billion is hugely impressive and raises vital questions about how we measure the success of the women’s game versus the men’s.
If you put to one side the massive exception of the USA women’s national team generating more income than their male counterparts yet being paid less (which hints at this being more ideological than financial), then the argument against equal World Cup prize money and funding is that, generally, the men’s game generates more income that the women’s. Except this is never quantified. Because sponsorship rights and broadcast rights (which make up the majority of money generated) for both the men’s and women’s premier competitions are bundled and sold together, it is impossible.
The assumption is that these big-money deals are sold overwhelmingly on the basis of the men’s World Cup. But this can only ever be an assumption when rights are bundled together. (Uefa, meanwhile, has unbundled the rights for its women’s competitions – the European Championship and Champions League.)
However, if you look at the $30m (£23m) prize pot for the 2019 Women’s World Cup (double what it was for the 2015 edition) and the $400m prize pot for the 2018 men’s World Cup, it is clear that we are putting separate values on the two competitions. Somewhere it has been decided that the women’s tournament is worth 7.5% of the men’s.
Why begin with the 1.12 billion viewers of the Women’s World Cup in this context? Because it offers a concrete measurement of the interest in the women’s competition that we can compare to the men’s. The 2018 men’s World Cup pulled in a huge 3.572 billion viewers. The figure for the Women’s World Cup is 31% of the number that watched the men’s.
So, in the absence of unbundled rights, why do we not use that figure to determine the women’s share? Why do we instead get another token “doubling” of the prize pot or investments when the numbers are so low?
The announcement that the women’s prize pot will double again to $60m for the 2023 tournament makes for an impressive headline in isolation, evidence that Fifa does indeed care, until you read that the men’s is increasing by $10m more than that, to $440m, in time for the Qatar World Cup. When Megan Rapinoe was asked ahead of before the USA’s semi-final against England whether she felt, as a campaigner, they were making a material difference given the mid-tournament raft of Fifa announcements – among them a further doubling of the prize fund and a $500m investment in women’s football (since upped to $1bn) – she was dismissive.
“Double it now and use that number to double it or quadruple it for the next time,” she said. “I think that is what I mean when we talk about whether we feel respected. If you really care about game in the same way, why are you letting the gap grow? We’re not asking for $450m for lots of different reasons – the men’s game is far more advanced financially than the women’s game.”
While there was undoubtedly a huge amount of respect for Rapinoe, this also prompted the view that she was simply being radical for the sake of it, that laying into Fifa as big money was being poured in was misjudged or misplaced.
Except in the above context, her comments are transformed. If anything, they are relatively conservative and very considered. “You don’t get to have an incredible business running it on a budget of a dollar more than last year,” she said. “You have to bet on the future of the women’s game and it has proved World Cup after World Cup, year after year that we are worthy of investment and the quality on field is there and we need the business step to be in line with the steps we are making in performing on the field.”
If we take even the viewing figures as a loose guidance for prize money and investments then 31.4% of the men’s $400m prize pot would come to $125m – more than four times what was actually available in France. But that should be the minimum, first because, as Rapinoe said, a business requires investment in order to grow and, perhaps more significantly and importantly, because Fifa is a not‑for-profit organisation. Regardless of the numbers it should be looking to use its huge influence and record $2.7bn in reserves to the benefit of the entirety of the population, not just half of it.
Tim March – TCMConsulting
Mobile: +971 (0)50 5498207
Office: +971 (0)6 5153662