For the Super League, Women’s Soccer Was Just an Afterthought
(Bloomberg) -- Before it crumbled, the European Super League paid lip service to women’s soccer, promising a female project would be started “as soon as practicable.”
That has ended up being even more meaningless than when it was announced on Sunday. It took just days for clubs to pull out of the new league, initially created for 20 men’s teams. There was also little evidence that the almost exclusively White, male powers behind the rebel league had given any real thought to women’s teams.
“It was disrespectful but unsurprising that a small group of men included a single throwaway sentence about how they were going to build a great league for women, seemingly at the last minute,” said Maggie Murphy, general manager at Lewes Football Club. “Disrespectful because they think they are better placed than the hundreds of stakeholders and players who have been working on the future of women’s football. Unsurprising because we are often beholden to the decisions of people who don’t really know about us and don’t really care about us.”
As the dust settles on the rebellion and the sport looks into what ails it and what needs to be fixed, it may see that not enough attention is being paid to one of its fastest-growing segments -- women’s soccer. Viewership for women’s soccer could skyrocket with greater television access, according to a survey by RunRepeat.
“We’ve seen incredible expansion in the last few years,” said Murphy. “But it often feels like the growth is happening in spite of some of the leaders in the game.”
In an interview on Spanish radio late Wednesday, Florentino Pérez, president of Real Madrid and one of the main architects of the Super League, bemoaned the disintegration of his project.
He was “a little sad and disappointed because we were working on this for about three years,” Perez said.
Yet it’s evident that over that time barely any thought was given to the women’s league. Within the European Super League pitch document seen by Bloomberg News, there is no mention of the creation of such a league. Instead, the document focused on how a 3.5 billion-euro ($4.2 billion) payment would be split among the men’s teams.
In meetings as late as Sunday, there was little discussion between those behind the Super League on how a woman’s league would be put in place, according to a person familiar with the talks. Representatives for the league did not immediately respond to requests for a comment.
Interest in women’s soccer was evident in the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France, which generated record viewership. A total of 993 million people watched it on TV, with a further 482 million accessing it via digital platforms, according to Deloitte. The final alone was watched live by 260 million viewers.
According to RunRepeat, women’s soccer viewership could jump by more 350% globally, with the biggest increase coming in the European Union. In the U.K., male fans form 61.9% of the viewers of women’s soccer, it said. Currently, according to RunRepeat, only 7.7% of U.K. soccer fans, 6.7% of EU fans and 6.4% of U.S. fans watch women’s football leagues.
The Super League project came under fierce criticism from leading female players. Commentators pointed out that the architects of the plan came up with nothing for Europe’s leading female teams, such as Lyon and Wolfsburg.
“If the groups of people that make decisions about the future of football were much more diverse, we would have wiser investment decisions that take advantage of the breath of opportunities we have,” Murphy said. “If the decision makers were more representative of the vast range of men and women who love the game, we wouldn’t be seeing such proposals.”
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