Women's World Cup 2019: FIFA shedding perception that women's football costs

This year's FIFA women's World Cup is set to be the biggest yet.

Not because stadiums are sold out and more than 250,000 more people are expected to tune in than in 2015.

But because FIFA hopes it will be the tournament that will help end a stigma that's followed the women's game round for years.

After 12 teams took part in the first Women's World Cup in China in 1991, the global showpiece has doubled in size. Twenty-four teams will compete in the eighth edition of the quadrennial event, but there's still much to do in terms of catching up with their male counterparts.

On the surface, there are clear differences.

The men's tournament has 32 teams. There are more people watching - the men's final alone has approximately the same viewership numbers FIFA hope to get for the entire women’s tournament - and offers more prizemoney (US$400 million, compared to US$30 million).

But below the surface lies a bigger difference - perception.

"There's a perception that women’s football is a cost activity," chief FIFA women’s football officer Sarai Bareman told Newshub.

"It's seen as a cost or something negative in terms of budgets, and for me, that needs to change.

"That whole conversation needs to change - that it's not a cost, it's an investment and if we can do it at a FIFA level down throughout the structures of football, it will make a massive impact."

By launching the first-ever global strategy for women's football late last year, Bareman's shown her commitment to changing that. FIFA installing Bareman in the position of head of women's football shows its commitment as well.

But as it stands, FIFA are actually preventing that change.

Currently, FIFA's commercial model bundles the women's and youth World Cup rights with the men's. That can leave the female game short-changed, with some partners not buying into the Women's World Cup like they do the men's.

Bareman wants to change that by creating a separate commercial model, but with some contracts signed through until 2030, that's not possible for another three tournaments.

"We are a little bit tied in terms of bringing new partners on board before those contracts come undone, but that's not to say we aren't working towards it.

Football Fern Hannah Wilkinson & Sarai Bareman
Football Fern Hannah Wilkinson & Sarai Bareman. Photo credit: Photosport

"We do see lot of interest. We do think there are a lot of partners out there that are interested in investing specifically in women's football."

Bareman uses Barclay's recent multimillion-dollar investment in the English Women's Super League and Iberdrola's sponsorship of the Spanish women's league as examples.

"We’re researching those, and obviously we're talking to those partners and associations and clubs, trying to understand what it is that made this one work.

"What are you trying to get from both sides? How long is it, how much is it?

"There's all that research and analysis [to] help us."

Bareman's realistic about the product they are selling. The former Samoan international footballer is cautious of comparing apples and oranges, and wants to exploit the nuances in the women's game to help draw them level with the men.

"Women's football has a different audience. What you're going to see in France is families and generations - there will be mums and dads with kids and grandparents.

"I think we can get there with a different flavour."

It's a long way off yet, but France 2019 is the biggest opportunity to show it's viable as a stand-alone business venture to commercial partners.


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