Last week Real Madrid announced one of the most eagerly-awaited news in the recent history of football: its entry in the women’s game. The club has agreed to purchase Liga Iberdrola’s Club Deportivo Tacon, that will become Real Madrid’s official women’s team from 2020-21 season.
Real Madrid is the most valuable football property in the world, according to a recent report by Brand Finance. A brand worth €1,6 billion and with over 200 million followers worldwide on the different social media platforms. While most top European clubs have joined the women’s game during the last few years, “Los Blancos” were one of the two remaining clubs included in Deloitte Football Money League’s Top 20 (the other one is Borussia Dortmund) that didn’t have a women’s team yet.
The expectations raised by this move are huge. Many believe that, after the successful 2019 FIFA WWC, Real Madrid can trigger the final boost that women’s football needs to fulfill its enormous potential. But what changes can we actually expect in the short term?
To answer this question, we drew on the knowledge of some of the members of World Football Summit’s Advisory Board specializing in women’s football and sports marketing.
They all agree that the news is “very exciting” for the women’s game because, as noted by sports marketing expert Rayde Luis Baez, founder of The Connect, it proves that “women’s football as a business and as a media product is here to stay”. He believes women have earned their current status in the industry through their hard work on and off the pitch, and that Real Madrid’s entry is just the stamp of approval.
“We can only regret that the move wasn’t made earlier” – Patricia Rodriguez
According to Patricia Rodríguez, recently appointed CEO for Elche and a true pioneering figure that’s leading the way for other females in Spanish football, “we can only regret that the move wasn’t made earlier”
Increasing attendance and attracting media and new sponsors’ interest to the game will be the main benefits in the short term both in Spain and abroad. According to Xavi Bové, Sports Marketing Consultant specializing in women’s football, Real Madrid “will progressively attract global and local sponsors to more clubs, by generating more awareness more awareness for the game, remarking the benefits of investing in women’s football assets”. He believes media impact will also increase “due to the interest of local and worldwide fans in Real Madrid” and that this will eventually lead to higher fan attendances.
Growing attendance is one of the biggest challenges for women’s football in Spain. Although last season we saw record-breaking figures at San Mamés and Wanda Metropolitano, as Bové points out, the overall domestic average attendance per game didn’t reach 2,000 spectators.
“Women’s football needs more commitment from the decision makers in terms of both investments and sincere support” – Koksal
Ebru Koksal, Senior Advisor for J Stern & CO and first women ever to be elected for the Executive Board of the European Club Association, agrees that Real Madrid’s entry will increase investment: “We are already seeing new sponsors making landmark investments into the game and no doubt that they would welcome the addition of such a big football brand into the arena”.
“The interest will increase and, of course, will generate a snowball effect for other big football clubs still not having their own women teams”, claims Carlos Cantó, CEO for SPG Consulting and former Vice-President of IMG Consulting Division.
From the other side, women’s football will possibly provide a unique opportunity for sponsors to partner with Real Madrid with a much lower investment in comparison to men’s team sponsorships. According to Bové, “Barcelona women team’s main sponsor Stanley is valued around 3 million euros per season, whereas Rakuten invests more than 50 million euros every year to partner with the men’s team”.
“Local and national rivalries definitely boost the popularity of the sport, clubs, and platers, benefiting the sponsors and other stakeholders” – Carlos Cantó
In terms of media coverage, Patricia Rodríguez is sure that the move will be a complete game-changer: “The media tend to highlight any activity carried out by the big clubs, so now we can be sure that they will pay more attention to women’s football”.
All WFS Advisory Board members consulted agree that having a women’s Clasico between Real Madrid and Barcelona or a Derby between Real Madrid and Atlético de Madrid can be a significant turning point for the game. According to Carlos Cantó, “local and national rivalries definitely boost the popularity of the sport, clubs, and platers, benefiting the sponsors and other stakeholders”. In the same vein, Rayde Luis Baez states that “major rivalries play a key role in the growth of the football business, so having a women’s Clasico will automatically increase the value of the Spanish women’s league”.
La Liga Iberdrola’s domestic broadcasting rights were recently acquired by Mediapro, that reportedly paid for €9 M for the right to air the three following seasons. That sum is definitely set to increase in the coming years.
Although the future seems bright, there are still some important challenges to be tackled. “Women’s football needs more commitment from the decision makers in terms of both investments and sincere support, with full integration into strategic, marketing and communications plans”, says Koksal.
Patricia Rodríguez thinks that the whole society needs to stop considering women’s football like something related to social corporate responsibility as it’s already “a profitable investment”: “The proof is the key role that the women’s team has played in the expansion strategy that has allowed FC Barcelona to grow in the US”.
“Women’s football as a business and as a media product is here to stay” – Rayde Luis Baez
What seems sure, in any case, is that women’s football is no passing fad. As Koksal stresses, “it’s here to stay and will continue to grow exponentially in the next decade”. She firmly believes that “sponsors, investors, and fans who are looking for good returns on their investment and better alignment with their corporate and personal values will start opting for women’s football”.
However, as Carlos Cantó points out, “we have a lifetime opportunity to make sure that women’s football is growing in the right direction, with professionalism (not only in the pitch) and with the necessary resources to become a perennial source of progress. In addition, men football will also benefit from this reality, and more women will be interested in the same sport: football”.