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Money helping French women’s soccer players close gap on men

  • France's Amandine Henry celebrates after scoring her side's fourth goal, during the Women's World Cup Group A soccer match at the Parc des Princes in Paris, Friday, June 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Francois Mori) Francois Mori

  • France's Amandine Henry celebrates after scoring her side's fourth goal during the Group A soccer match between France and South Korea on the occasion of the Women's World Cup at the Parc des Princes in Paris, Friday, June 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco) ap file — Francisco Seco

  • France captain Amandine Henry smiles during a press conference at the the Parc des Princes stadium a day before their Group A soccer match against South Korea at the Women's World Cup in Paris, Thursday, June 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino) Alessandra Tarantino

Published: 6/24/2019 10:11:18 PM
Modified: 6/24/2019 10:13:01 PM

Women are slowly starting to match up to men in France. In soccer, that is.

In France, women’s soccer has never drawn the interest, media attention or the money that the men’s team has. That’s changing as the country hosts the Women’s World Cup, with the games raking in ticket sales, viewers, coverage and, more importantly for female French players, sponsorship funds.

On Friday, chemicals company Arkema announced a three-year contract for the naming rights with the top women’s professional league for the season starting August. The sponsorship deal is worth $1.13 million a year, according to Agence France-Presse.

“The naming contract is a first for the Women’s D1 and is excellent news for the development of women’s soccer, which is going through an important phase, as we can see, thanks to the popular success of the Women’s World Cup,” Noel Le Graet, the French Football Federation’s president, said in a statement.

Although a fraction of the $17.1 million Uber Eats will pay to name the men’s League 1 this coming season, the sign of funds trickling in bodes well for the business of women’s soccer in France. The Women’s World Cup — which started on June 7, with the final match slated for July 7 in Lyon — has already surpassed expectations, with TF1, France’s most-watched TV station, increasing ad prices twice in a week for the French team’s matches. According to the world soccer body FIFA, the global audience for the tournament could reach 1 billion viewers, up from 750 million in the last World Cup in 2015.

Soccer in France — like elsewhere in the world — is still largely a men’s sport, with the women’s tournaments seen mostly as an American fad. Movies like Bend It Like Beckham in 2002 about a British girls team aspiring to a soccer career, have done little to change that view.

In France, which has been slow to embrace the feminist #MeToo movement, the newfound interest in women’s soccer is a recent phenomenon. It’s been boosted in part by the men’s team’s World Cup victory for a second time last year, after a first win in 1998.

In a sign that female soccer in France has hit a critical mass, France Football magazine, the bible of French soccer fans, is now devoting full pages to women’s matches and women players, even granting its first women’s award, the Ballon D’Or, last year to a Lyon club player, Ada Hegerberg. Canal Plus, a pay-TV channel that’s been broadcasting men’s soccer games for years, decided to broadcast women’s matches this past season.

The Women’s World Cup has only confirmed this growing interest, with stadiums like the 48,000-seat Parc des Princes sold out for most of the matches. On Sunday, the French women’s team entered the quarter finals after beating Brazil, 2-1.

On June 7, during the inaugural game of France against South Korea, TF1 attracted 9.8 million viewers on average with a peak of 10.9 million, representing a 44% audience share. On June 17, when France played Nigeria, TF1 drew 10.2 million viewers at its peak. The Sweden vs U.S. game on June 20 broadcast on cable channel TMC attracted as many as 2.36 million viewers.

According to Publicis Media, TF1 will have gained net revenue of $10.25 million as France reached the round of 16, may take in $17.66 million if the team makes it to the semi-finals and $22.22 million if it makes it to the final.

“We’re far, though, from the financial figures of men’s soccer, and it is doubtful women’s could reach such a stage over the coming years,” said a spokesman for Paris Saint-Germain, the famed Paris-based club that has hosted a women’s team since 2011, who asked not to be named. “There’s still a long way to go.”

Nowhere is that more evident than in players’ salaries.

PSG’s star male player, Neymar, has a monthly salary estimated at around $3.5 million, according to L’Equipe sports daily. The amount excludes bonuses and advertising contracts.

Compare that to what women soccer players make. A PSG women’s team player’s monthly salary is about $11,000, while Lyon’s Olympique Lyonnais, which has been grooming a women’s team since 2004 and has several international stars in its ranks, pays its players around $34,000 to $45,000 a month, according to figures disclosed by France Football. But on average, a female soccer player earns $2,800 a month in France, according to FFF’s figures.

Some female players are slowly but surely catching up. The French team’s captain, Amandine Henry, is chalking up contracts, featuring in an ad for Nike and being backed by telecom operator Orange and French state-owned lottery company FDJ.

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