This season’s January transfer window might’ve been defined by a risk-averse Premier League but women’s football relished yet another record-breaking transfer window
Women’s football is growing and showing no signs of slowing.
That’s the default summary when it comes to any conversation around the women’s game, but the numbers being touted are becoming eye-watering. Deloitte estimated recently that the women’s game will generate global revenues of £1bn in the coming years, while WSL chair Dawn Airey believes the competition could be the first to hit such a figure within the next decade.
For those maybe doubting that the exponential rate of growth can keep up its stamina, a look at the transfer market over the last few years is as solid a place to start as any.
In a January transfer window defined by men’s football’s overall risk-aversion, the women’s transfer window marked another episode in breaking records. The window’s transfer fees reached a record of USD $2.1 million (£1.65million), 165.5% higher than in January 2023, according to a new FIFA snapshot report.
While the total number of international women’s transfers remained relatively stable, with 357 transfers across borders (an increase of 0.3% compared to last January), it’s the sliding scale of players’ price tags that is most telling in regards to women’s football’s growth.
Indeed, the January transfer window saw another English transfer record smashed with Chelsea ’s signing of highly-rated Colombia striker Mayra Ramirez. The fee, understood to be approximately €450,000 (£380,000), set a new record fee in British women’s football and could be a new world record fee with respective add-ons.
Meanwhile, Manchester City parted with £200,000 to acquire Laura Blindkilde Brown from Aston Villa after their previous record-signing from the summer, Jill Roord, suffered an ACL injury, while NWSL side Portland Thorns forked out £250,000 for Canadian Olympic gold-medal winner Jessie Fleming from Chelsea.
The numbers are in keeping with the spending trends of the women’s game in recent years. 2023 was marked by a record $6.1million spent on transfers, an 84.2% increase from the year prior. The number of transfers also increased, with a 20% hike from 2022 while the number of clubs involved in international transfers also rose from 507 in 2022 to 623 in 2023, a 22.9% increase.
Distilling precisely where the money in the women’s game comes from boils down to myriad factors. The general inflation of the transfer market is one of them, but with major investors and broadcasters queuing to get involved in the women’s game and attendances and visibility increasing by the week, clubs are also more willing to invest not only in players for their playing ability but for their commercial value too.
Manchester United and England star Mary Earps demonstrated her unmatched pulling power in the last year as her Manchester United shirt was one of the highest sold at the club, men’s or women’s, while her row with Nike over sales of her national team goalkeeping shirt became an international tempest.
That spending this past January represented more than a third of that from last year in total offers a glimpse into the year to come, with a number of high-profile players mooted to be making moves around the world in the summer.
So what does it mean for women’s football? Promise, though caution is needed. Increased spending has raised concerns amongst many in the game over a widening gap between top clubs and those with larger financial backings than those struggling financially.
Former Brighton boss Hope Powell stressed the importance of maintaining the connection between the game’s upper echelons and the very bottom of the pyramid, a sentiment that increased in frequency with the planned NewCo takeover of English football’s top two sides. The increasingly swelling financial chasm threatening to expose men’s football is a cautionary tale which women’s football will be smart to heed.
Long-term sustainability and development have to be the priority moving into the next era of women’s football. Reading’s most recent relegation offers a cautionary tale in just this. Nevertheless, the sight of a £1million player in the women’s game doesn’t seem far away, a sign that the game is flourishing.
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