August 18, 2023

With an ultra-competitive FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 heading to its final match, it’s clear that this year’s tournament has been nothing less than a quadrennial gauge for the state of play in women’s football, in a way that the Men’s World Cup has ceased to be. In the Men’s World Cup, both from a technical and a commercial perspective, elite club football has outpaced and superseded the international game.  

The best men’s team in the world is no longer Argentina, however, the best women’s team in the world is still very much undecided and will be unveiled as the winners of FWWC 2023 are crowned in a few short days now. Unlike the men’s version, this Women’s World Cup retains its pre-eminence and continues to showcase the current state of the game, both technically and commercially. The laudable explosion of professionalism in women’s football over the last five years, along with growing investment by elite clubs will inevitably change this picture, but, for now, international football is setting the standard on the world’s stage. 

 Commercially, the FIFA Women’s World Cup is also setting new standards in terms of revenue generation and interest across all key revenue streams, especially sponsorship. Advertising inventory being “sold out” before the tournament began tells its own story. The unbundling of media and sponsorship rights from men’s packages has been the key development with huge increases in rights fees and new brand entrants, driven by the audiences on offer, but more importantly by focusing on values and a purpose-driven marketing proposition. As bundled rights, brands placed little value on the women’s tournament and saw activation as something of a gamble. Unbundled, the rights achieved higher values, and the activation budgets are significant, with many brands prepared to place women’s football at the heart of their marketing and communication strategies. 

The only discordant note lies in the location of the tournament, which has posed issues for broadcasters and their audiences in regional markets, which historically generates the most revenue from media rights sales. This unpalatable reality has been the key to FIFA’s dispute with the major Free-to-Air broadcasters in Europe. Notwithstanding this issue, rights sales have been robust across Asia-Pacific, helped mainly by a favourable time zone and an expanded number of countries represented. This World Cup has also been one of the most streamed football events in history, offering another useful gauge to the future of elite sports media rights. 

The decision to choose Australia and New Zealand as hosts have also posed financial and logistical concerns for sponsors. Significant increases in travel costs post COVID-19, plus the distance involved from Europe and North America, have contributed to a reluctance on behalf of some brands to activate, especially around hospitality. Additionally, Australia and New Zealand have historically offered less clout as regional economies to merit record-breaking investment from global budgets. Despite these issues, FWWC 2023 will exceed previous World Cups in revenue generation, audiences, and ancillary media exposure, which demonstrates the irreversible growth of women’s football on a global scale. 

So, who will be crowned the best women’s team in the world? There were probably nine teams with a genuine shot at the tournament’s start, but now we’re down to the final two – England and Spain. The U.S. missed out on their third consecutive title. Their failing may have been a result from an understanding of the ongoing developments in the women’s game over the last five years. Club football, the quality of competition and the levels of professionalism have transformed the game – in Europe especially, more so than across North America in recent years. In the U.S. squad, all but one individual plays their football in the NWSL. The point being, does this expose the players to a sufficiently exacting level of competition on a week-by-week basis? 

European leagues, particularly the women’s Champions League, have evolved to provide intense levels of competition with club squads drawn from a robust global talent pool. A wider talent pool now favours the Europeans and, by extension, their national teams. All this demands that the Club Champions of Europe should face off against the Queens of the NWSL. A Club World Cup for the best Women’s teams? Now there’s a novel idea. 

So, who will come out on top down under? While England and Spain both zero in on their goal of claiming the FIFA World Cup Trophy, the real victor is the game of women’s football. This tournament is just another reminder of its emerging prominence globally, and no matter which nation hoists the trophy on Sunday, women’s soccer will undoubtedly take home the ultimate prize as the biggest winners.