The Old Trafford stadium, home of Manchester United soccer club, stands in Manchester, U.K. (Photographer: Paul Thomas/Bloomberg)  

Manchester Utd. Kicks Off in Top-Flight Women’s Soccer, At Last

(Bloomberg) -- Europe’s richest soccer club is finally about to enter the realm of professional women’s football.

Manchester United will soon have a team playing in England’s elite Women’s Super League, after the Football Association on Monday awarded it a licence to join the tournament’s second tier. The club has already advertised for a team manager.

U.S.-owned United is unusual among Premier League teams in not having a professional women’s side, a fact recently bemoaned by former player Phil Neville, who just started managing the England female national team. Cross-town rival Manchester City has already won a cup and league title with its women’s side, the first in the game to become fully professional in 2014.

“United will have looked across town at Manchester City and seen a lot of great press, marketing and public relations coming from their women’s team,” said Jake Cohen, a sports lawyer. “Women players seem to be great ambassadors for the game.”

While a record 45,000 attended this month’s women’s Cup Final between Arsenal and Chelsea, crowds for regular league matches remain tiny compared with the men’s game.

Revenues from ticket sales and TV rights are also a fraction of what top-flight men’s soccer brings in. Turnover for Chelsea Football Club Women was little more than 2 million pounds ($2.7 million) in the year ending June 30, 2017, compared with 428 million for the club’s male first team, according to accounts filed at Companies House.

Pay Gap

As for pay, soccer puts the 30 percent to 40 percent gender pay gaps seen in many finance firms in the shade. The 362,000-pound combined losses of the Chelsea and Arsenal women’s sides for the year 2016 to 2017 would barely cover the weekly wages of two of their men’s teams’ top players.

With such small numbers at stake, United’s women’s team may have a limited impact on the share price. The northern English club, which is listed in the U.S., has seen its stock rise 5 percent this year, compared with a 10.5 percent drop in the Stoxx Europe Football index.

While this is United’s entry into professional women’s soccer, it did have an amateur female side until 2005 and continues to coach girls up to the age of 16.

The big advantage of having a women’s team is publicity. Matches have been broadcast on BT Group Plc’s BT Sport channel, the BBC and on Facebook. Most of the major clubs heavily promote their women’s sides on social media and press interest is brisk.

“Manchester United are one of the biggest clubs in the world with a strong female base and yet they were conspicuously absent from the women’s game over the last 13 years,” said Barbara Keeley, a member of parliament whose constituency borders the site of United’s Old Trafford ground.

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