Money and football have always had an uneasy relationship, from Jimmy Hill’s campaign for the abolishment of the Football League’s maximum wage in 1961 to the collapse of ITV Digital in 2002 and the oligarch acquisitions of the later 2000s (Roman Abramovich, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan et al). The women’s game has been no different in its edgy relationship with the pennies and perhaps the biggest issues with finance in the women’s game has arisen from the US, where attempts to deliver a fully professional women’s league have foundered twice, latterly in mid-2012 amidst a storm of litigation threats and falling television audiences.
Earlier this month, the BBC released the results of their annual Price of Football Survey which charted the price of tickets across 10 divisions of British football, as well as inclusive costs for programmes, tea, refreshment and a general ‘day out’ pricing. While some of the results were truly shocking (an average 11.7% rise in the top four divisions of English football, the country’s most expensive season ticket costing almost £2,000), a quick overview immediately confirms the financing gap between the men’s and women’s games – even before sponsorship, TV revenue and associated finances are taken into account.
Firstly, though, a point of encouragement – women’s football truly is affordable for everyone: within the 8 elite clubs of the FAWSL, the most expensive match day ticket comes in at a princely £6.00; the most expensive season ticket, at Birmingham Ladies, a whole £40.00. You could buy 50 of those for the most expensive season tickets at Arsenal. 50! We also take a positive that the BBC for featuring women’s football at all in the survey.
This affordability tells another story, though. Even the cheapest season ticket in the Blue Square Bet Premier division (formerly known as the Conference and the lowest of the formal Football League structure) is £275.00 at Woking. The discrepancy is clear and the value attributed to women’s football is disconcertingly low, from a monetary perspective at least. This value is, unsurprisingly, reflected in the wages on offer to the players themselves where WSL rules enable a maximum of only 4 players to be paid over £20,000 per season per team. It is no exaggeration to state that most Premier League footballers earn over that figure in a single week; Wayne Rooney is widely reported to make in excess of ten times that amount each week. These figures, frankly, do not bear thinking about.
And what of the cost? To the game, at least, this cost will inevitably be the loss of many highly talented players who will never see football as a way to make a living, and this is probably the saddest point of all. Women’s football has taken astonishing strides and the introduction of the entire WSL structure is amongst the greatest steps the game has taken in many years. While such discrepancies exist between the two genders of the sport, though, money will continue to hold one side back. That’s the price of football.