Growth, Development, Commercialisation and Challenges in Women’s Football

Growth, Development, Commercialisation and Challenges in Women’s Football

  • Sarah Gregorius, Director, Global Policy & Strategic Relations Women’s Football – FIFPro
  • Emma Sykes, Head of Women’s Football Development – UEFA
  • Tatjana Haenni, Chief Sporting Director – National Women’s Soccer League
  • Professor Laura McAllister, CBE – Football Association of Wales and UEFA Executive Committee
  • Claire Bloomfield, Head of Women’s Football – European Club Association (ECA)


Women’s football is now the fastest-growing sport but critically, it remains in a formative era. That was the context for a panel discussion on day one of ISC 2024 about the commercial development of the women’s game.

Sarah Gregorius, director of global policy and strategic relations for women’s football at Fifa, outlined one of the key challenges. “We’re struggling to come out and build a unique identity for ourselves,” she said.

Uefa head of women’s football development Emma Sykes noted that the fast-changing nature of the game means that it is hard to build an overarching structure.

Professor Laura McAllister CBE, who is currently the only woman on UEFA’s Executive Committee, pointed the discussion towards the future.

“We’re at an absolutely critical juncture in the game,” she said. “What happens next is dependent on how much voice and agency you give to women in football.

“Growth on its own isn’t always a good thing. It can grow in an unbalanced way. I hope women’s football grows in a good way, but for that, you need women’s agency.”

The conversation went on to address how women’s football can ensure progression equally at all levels of the game. For Gregorious, specialist women’s football knowledge is paramount.

“We need our own rooms to make the best decisions,” she said. “The most equitable thing to do is find your own room and fill it with experts in our game.”

As someone currently sat in ‘the room’, Sykes suggested there was work to be done but that progress had been made. She pointed out that a matter of years ago, women’s football was not even on the agenda in those rooms.

She said: “I think there is a genuine desire to make change in the women’s game.”

Speaking from her experience in the USA, NWSL chief sporting director Tatjani Haenni said her advice for Europe would be to move away from men’s football and create something different.

She attributed the success of the NWSL model to seeing women’s football as an entity on its own. Investors in the USA, she said, are not interested in men’s football.

That theme was explored in a different context by ECA head of women’s football Claire Bloomfield, who spoke about the organisation’s female-specific research.

A shocking statistic that came out of its study was that 82% of women felt discomfort in the football boots they were playing – a clear case for properly designed and dedicated footwear.

Bloomfield warned this did not necessarily provide an instant solution to the ACL crisis currently facing women’s football, with the likes of England captain Leah Williamson and Australia captain Sam Kerr both ruled out within the last year.

Gregorius suggested the fragmented response to these issues makes finding solutions more difficult, calling for a more collaborative approach to problem-solving.

“Some of the competitive disparity we’re seeing in competitions comes back to this lack of shared understanding,” she added.

She went on to explain that investment needed to be reflected at all levels to support the women’s game, whether that is governments investing equally in research or clubs remunerating women’s team doctors the same as their men’s.

Speaking to this idea of feeling valued through investment, Haenni emphasised the importance of playing women’s teams’ matches in a club’s main stadium – regardless of whether it sells out.

Gregorius added: “We need to have other markers for success. What is happening more holistically around the game? Sometimes, it can mask some of the deeper problems that the club is having. Let’s not have progress-washing just because we’ve sold out a stadium.”