Women's Football Benchmarking Report


Good governance is key to the long-term sustainability of women’s football. In 2023, the majority of women’s football clubs continued to be loss-making, but there are signs that historic investment is paying off, as women’s clubs and leagues are becoming evermore commercially attractive.

Affiliated clubs (%)Stand-alone clubs %
Financial profit14%9%
Financial loss59%61%
Break even27%30%

Club structure

Women’s football clubs can be categorised into two groups depending on their structure. These are either:


Part of a wider football club that includes an affiliated men’s team (with the same name or a different name, but part of the same legal entity) – representing 72% of clubs in 2021/22


A stand-alone club (including stand-alone clubs that might have an agreement in place with another club) – representing 28% of clubs. Stand-alone clubs generate more commercial revenue than those that are affiliated to a men's team.

Structure – clubs

The set-up of a club can determine many other factors, and there are some key differences between each. For example, for stand-alone clubs, matchday revenue makes up a greater proportion of their overall operating revenue compared with clubs affiliated with a men’s team, reflecting stand-alone clubs’ success in having carved out their own unique identities and generating interest from broader audiences.

Average operating revenue split for clubs with different structures (%)

Structure – leagues

The majority of leagues are governed directly by their country’s MA, with a further 12% of leagues being governed by a separate entity that falls under the MA’s umbrella. Only three leagues are private and independent of their country’s MA.

League governance structures (%)

None of the women’s leagues’ governing entities that fall under the MA’s umbrella also serve as the organiser of the domestic men’s leagues. In only 30% of leagues, the organiser of the domestic women’s leagues serves as the organiser of the domestic men’s league, indicating the structural independence of men’s and women’s leagues.

Club Licensing

Club licensing is a system that uses principles-based criteria and sets minimum standards that clubs must satisfy in order to be licensed and, consequently, be able to participate in a given competition. Considerations taken prior to implementing such a system must be measured to ensure it is constructively adding to the governance arrangements of leagues/clubs, rather than potentially being a significant administrative burden, particularly for those organisations with fewer supporting staff members.

Of leagues have adopted club licensing systems


of leagues surveyed in the report have a specific department dedicated to women’s leagues’ operations.

Of clubs in leagues with club licensing were loss-making vs 65% of clubs in leagues without club licensing

Where the men’s top-tier league has a club licensing system, running a women’s team features amongst the criteria in > 50% of leagues. Meeting club licensing requirements is generally seen as a positive step in the quality of the women’s game.

However, leagues in some countries may not benefit from this requirement, particularly if they already have a significant number of stand-alone women’s clubs, or if there is already a strong tradition of women’s football.

Commercial value

The average number of sponsors for clubs is eight, but there is a large range amongst leagues.

The number of sponsors affiliated to women’s leagues ranged between zero and 11 in 2021-2022, with the USA (11), Australia and Japan (both ten) leading the way.

Of leagues have title sponsors, with more of these sponsors coming from the financial services sector than any other industry

Of leagues had a written commercial strategy dedicated to the women’s league

Of all club sponsors come from the financial sector, followed by retail (14%), and construction and real estate (10%).

Case Study

Safeguarding plays a crucial role in ensuring the well-being, safety and protection of athletes in all sports, and women’s football is no exception.


The JFA is the governing body for football in Japan. With a strong emphasis on gender equality, the JFA has been actively working towards advancing women’s football. One significant milestone in the evolution of women’s football in Japan is the establishment of the WE League.

Safeguarding and well-being initiatives

Within the JFA and the WE League, a range of comprehensive safeguarding initiatives have been implemented to prioritise the safety, well-being and rights of all individuals involved in women’s football.

Policies and procedures:

- In 2019, the JFA announced “The Declaration – Ensure Safety of Football Family” in alignment with UNICEF’s “Children’s Rights in Sport Principles”. This declaration includes clarifying disciplinary criteria, imposing stricter punishments and promoting welfare officers to create a healthier football environment free from violence, verbal abuse and harassment.

- In 2021 , the JFA introduced the “JFA Safeguarding Policy” to embody “The Declaration – Ensure Safety of the Football Family” in the everyday context of football. This policy now serves as a guiding principle for all individuals involved in football, aiming to create a secure environment where children can enjoy the sport while protecting their rights.

Welfare officers

The JFA is committed to expanding the network of welfare officers to ensure the safety and well-being of individuals involved in football. Welfare officers play a crucial role in promoting safeguarding values and implementing measures to prevent misbehaviour and discrimination within the football community.

The JFA has categorised welfare officers into three types to cater to different levels and contexts of football:

- General welfare officer: this officer is responsible for safeguarding matters within local football associations and federations

- Match welfare officer: this officer focuses on safeguarding matters during league matches and other competitions

- Club welfare officer: this officer is dedicated to safeguarding matters on a daily basis.

Training and education

The JFA also places significant emphasis on training and education initiatives to promote safeguarding and foster a culture of respect and fair play within women’s football; organising the annual “Respect Fair-Play Days” to stand against discrimination and violence in sports while promoting the values of respect and fair play.

Lessons Learned

The JFA’s safeguarding initiatives serve as a blueprint for other football associations and clearly highlight the JFA’s zero-tolerance approach to harassment and abuse in football. They emphasise the significance of investing in safeguarding to prioritise the welfare of athletes, creating a safe environment and fostering the growth and success of women’s football globally.