As the final whistle rang around Wembley Stadium last Sunday alongside the jubilant roar of the crowd, it marked a real game-changing moment.
The Lionesses of England had finally brought football home, bringing women’s football to the attention of an entire nation.
After an unstoppable run of Euro 2022 matches, which filled stadiums and drew ever-increasing viewers to a previously underfunded and neglected corner of the sport, the 23-person squad took advantage of every opportunity and interview. to draw attention to his legacy, culminating in their historic 2-1 win over Germany.
But that was not the end of their efforts.
Just three days after lifting the trophy, still weary of the celebrations, the players made it clear that their first priority was to galvanize change, using their newly acquired platform to urge politicians to build a better future for girls in the sport.
In an open letter to Prime Ministerial candidates Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, signed and shared by each of the European champions on Twitter, the players called for change, saying of their Euro triumph: ” We only see this as the beginning.”
“We want every young girl in the country to be able to play football,” they said, drawing on their own barriers to playing as children, and called for a minimum of two hours of physical education in schools , where currently only 63% of girls – dropping to 44% in secondary school – play football.
“We have made incredible progress in women’s football, but this generation deserves better,” wrote the country’s newest heroines, who became household names almost overnight.
The race is on to secure the kind of legacy they wasted no time demanding – but waited decades to be heard; one that replaces and learns from the fiery efforts to get more people, especially women, into the sport after the nation was captivated by the 2012 Olympics a decade ago.
The Lionesses, leading by example, want a legacy for the little girls that remains and for that to happen, momentum, lasting change in attitudes towards women’s team sport and sustained investment are needed to talent can access and progress in the game, experts say.
“Society as a whole has a responsibility to leave a lasting legacy,” says Stephanie Hilborne, CEO of charity Women in Sport.
“Government, governing bodies, sponsors, media and big clubs must take this very seriously and recognize that women owe major repairs to the past, which makes the need to step up more urgent.
“We need coaches and teachers to speak out against bad attitudes in boys, towards girls, in physical education and parents who care should make it clear to schools that they expect girls experience exciting team sports.”
Hilborne says fathers are particularly important in changing attitudes, citing that only 30% support their daughters in sports, compared to 50% who want their sons to compete.
Crucially, she says, regulations to ensure gender equality at the top of the sport will propel lasting change, adding: “The Lionesses won’t be in the headlines forever. We need people on boards and governing bodies who really care about us. Real change will only be lasting when half of the CEOs, Presidents and Directors of Sports Performance are women.
Currently, the charity estimates that only one in five of those positions in Britain’s top 20 sports, by participation, are held by women.
The Euro revealed a history of women’s exclusion from football – they were banned 50 years ago and only became fully professional in 2018, with the creation of the Women’s Super League (WSL), meaning that female players previously worked two jobs, effectively paying to play.
The hangover is a colossal chasm between the women’s game and the men’s game. WSL players earn an average reported salary of £27,000, rising to £300,000 for his highest salary. In its second tier, the Women’s Championship, they would take home as little as £4,000 a year.
Premier League broadcast rights are worth £10bn and subscriptions cost up to £900; they start at £39 in the WSL. Meanwhile, the Lionesses will split a £1.3million bonus pot for winning the Euros, compared to £5million promised to the men, had they won last year.
Nonetheless, the money is about to flow into the game. Since Sunday’s win, season tickets have sold out, as has a clash against World Cup holders USA at Wembley , in October.
The broadcast rights for next summer’s Women’s World Cup have been put up for auction by FIFA, also for the first time, after previously handing them over to the BBC.
Kieran Maguire, author of The Price of Football, an expert in game finance, says the Lionesses’ biggest stars can expect six-figure endorsement deals, adding that Chloe Kelly’s goal celebration, putting featured her Nike sports bra, was now ‘her pension’, given her enormous market potential.
“Blue-chip companies now want to be associated with the joy of this game,” he explains. “The money generated by the FA will fuel the WSL and building facilities to boost the relatively small pool of talent from which it can attract and develop players.” There are sponsors who would like to be associated with initiatives to create spaces for girls to play.
Ahead of the Euro final, the FA announced plans to help 120,000 more schoolgirls play football. They have pledged, along with the government, equal access to 90% of schools, by 2024. And in March the government pledged £230million for 8,000 new multi-sport pitches and facilities, to by 2025, 23 of them will now be named after the Lionesses. .
Maguire continues: “The success of the Euros legacy will be measured by how many girls will be playing football in school five years from now. The Lionesses letter was fantastic; politicians need to invest and dedicate time to it. physical education in the school curriculum.
“Ten years after the Olympics, there aren’t many people who have taken up athletics and Emma Radacanu’s victory at the US Open last summer hasn’t translated into more girls who have taken up tennis. It takes action and momentum to make it different.
Football agents can also play a role in helping negotiate branding deals that suit both the players and the future of the game.
Georgie Hodge, head of women’s football at CAA Base, established the agency’s women’s division nearly a decade ago and represents players including Lionesses striker Fran Kirby.
“Even Sunday night after the final whistle we were inundated with sponsorship and media requests,” she says. “It was amazing to see how far big brands are now ready to go, in terms of long-term, big-budget global campaigns that weren’t on the table before.” The Lionesses’ earning potential is taking a huge leap now.
“It is accelerating a shift that has accelerated over the past two years, including during the pandemic when marketing budgets were cut and brands couldn’t afford male stars. They shifted to more affordable female stars with more and more followers and they started earning more than before.
“Now these players, who each have incredible stories to tell, are the brands’ first choice and they are able to say no,” adds Hodge. “What we have to keep is the authenticity and the connectedness between the players and the fans that brought all this joy during the tournament. It can change very quickly and it’s something that has disappeared from the men’s game.
“A meaningful legacy would mean safeguarding it and working with companies whose values match the values of the players.” Right now it’s pumping money into the wider game, transcending the WSL, grassroots football and elite lanes for girls.
Bradley Rains, Head of Women’s Football at Coda Independent Sports, represents Lionesses reserve goalkeeper Hannah Hampton and says players can now choose the right sponsorship deals to cement the legacy they want. “Agents have been plugging into big brands for years,” he explains.
“Now the brands want to throw money at these players. It was a watershed moment, but the ideal sponsorship deal is not a knee-jerk reaction to the Euros. We have to make sure it sticks.
The Lionesses’ victory accelerated a slow-growing cultural and economic shift for women’s football. Their instant call to action demanded a legacy.
“The important thing now is longevity,” adds Rains. “Offers that not only benefit the player, but the game. They have the platform for societal change and change in their own domain.
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