Ahead of our 4th round FA Cup Final game a few weeks ago, Lewes FC issued a statement calling for a dramatic increase in funding for women’s football via the equalisation of the FA Cup prize money.
We received a lot of support for our statement and for being brave enough to call it out ahead of our game (and for our warm-up t-shirts). That day we took away £2000 for winning. Male 4th round counterparts took away £180,000.
Aside from the support, we also received sarcasm, condescension and were told we were naïve.
Let’s see those figures again.
When we shared these figures, lots of people were shocked by just how big the gap was. They knew it would be there, they just didn’t realise it would be so big that you can’t even see the women’s prize amounts on this graph (it’s there, I promise, zoom in). Nor that the disparity would be so significant that it would be valued at just 0% of the men’s prize pot in the semi-final (it’s worth 0.28% to be fair. Having said that the women win only 0.69% of the men’s amount in the final, but above is generously rounded up to 1%).
This weekend we take on Arsenal. Our potential prize money available has increased by 50% from £2000 to £3000 (yes, we will be wearing new t-shirts!). Fifty percent sounds like a huge jump. However, the men’s prize money for the same fixture is not only a huge £360,000, it has also increased by 100%. At almost every single level, the men’s prize money is not just significantly more, but it rises by a significantly higher percentage.
Let’s go back to that chart but add in how much the prize money increases at each round:
Round by round, the men’s money doesn’t just start much higher, it increases at much more significant rate.
We have been told that should we be successful in evening up the prize money, “grassroots [men’s] football would suffer”. Setting aside any immediate retort that women’s football is already suffering, and deeply so, people need to realise that the largest, sustained, financial increases come in only once premiership teams enter the fray in the 3rd round. Roughly 80% of the FA Cup total prize fund goes to those final few rounds, not to the grassroots.
The moment at which Women’s Super League (WSL) teams join sees an increase from £1250 to £2000 – a jump of 60%.
The beady-eyed will notice that it’s not actually the most significant jump. Extending the table to include the final, you’ll see that the largest overall increase in prize money for the women is for the final: the jump is 400% from the semi-final to the final. This feels symbolic of the way that the sports world treats women. You must be truly, truly exceptional if you are to be treated with respect and to be attributed financial value.
At the same time, remember the increase still brings the amount in the final from just 0.28% of the men’s prize money in the semi-final to 0.69% in the final (indeed, I’m not sure you can even see the women’s amount on the chart).
Others have accused us of campaigning for the destruction of men’s football – which would allegedly happen if the total prize pot was split equally across men’s and women’s football. Half the current amount would supposedly see the men’s game in ruins.
This is just not true.
I know it’s not true because this is exactly how much prize money was available just two years ago.
In 2018 the total prize money was doubled from “just” £13.7 million to £30.25 million. Over the same time the women’s prize pot was increased by £57,005.
The total prize money available to women has actually decreased proportionate to the men’s prize pot, not increased, despite the gains made in promoting the game.
So the money was there in 2018. It’s just that rather than even up the prize funds and create a radical new global landscape for women’s football, the men’s prize funds were increased instead.
One final response we’ve received is that it’s fair for the men to win more because there are more men’s teams in the competition.
This is true – there were 736 men’s teams in the competition last year compared to 293 women’s teams. But if we use that “fairness” argument for the current financial situation, then as a first step, we would need to increase the women’s prize money fund from £309,000 to £8.7million. (I’d be happy for that to be instigated as an immediate step).
But that fairness argument still misses the mark. The very reason there are so many fewer women’s teams is linked to the systemic stifling of funds and investment that the women’s game has undergone for decades.
I was going to stop there but I know that for some the status quo is still justified by the revenue argument. “Men’s teams deserve more money because they make more money”.
Here are a few quick responses to that…
- Women’s football was banned for 50 years. That meant zero investment into making women’s football accessible or successful. Fewer girls were allowed to play, meaning fewer clubs to go and watch, meaning smaller audiences, and no opportunity to shine on a national or international stage which is crucial for the wide enjoyment and visibility of a sport.
- Men’s football has benefited from public investment for decades – it’s wrong to think men’s football got there by itself. Public money went into the school field, public parks, local stadiums, coaches and teachers that have provided and supported football, almost exclusively for boys for decades.
- The ban also permitted discrimination to fester, tarnishing the reputation of women and girls who wanted to play, placing them outside of acceptable social structures. That stereotype and reputation has lasted, and has resulted in football being judged as, by default, male. That extends into the upper echelons of entities that make decisions around football. There are not enough women, and not enough people from diverse backgrounds in decision-making roles.
- Ultimately the people in power make decisions about what is banned. About what is broadcast. What is invested in. Decision-makers in sports bodies, in media houses, in corporate sponsors are not diverse in make-up. When they pitch ideas, products, adverts etc, they pitch to similarly homogenous rooms, they receive reinforcing positive feedback and so they make decisions based on what benefits people who act or think like them. Not others.
- People consume what is available to them and can command their attention. Women’s sport has been starved of media attention and rarely received marketing investment. Women’s sport coverage in the UK hits 10% of total sports media at its peak – during an Olympics or a World Cup.
It is a terrible business strategy to require a product to be successful before you invest in it. And investment does work! When Lewes took the decision to split revenue equally between its men’s and women’s teams, equalising the marketing budget led to a quadrupling of attendances (despite raising ticket prices by 160%). The men’s and women’s teams now see roughly equal attendances.
We will co-create an incredible, inspirational, successful product, decades faster if we invest now. The FA, as a governing body in charge of promoting the game, and as a governing body that took the decision to double the FA Cup prize funds for the men two years ago, could take that step now. We simply don’t know where we can take the game on a national level if we unleash its full potential.