The women's game continues to grow across Europe at an unprecedented pace, with encouraging progress made by member associations across all five strategic priorities: from developing the game and transforming competitions to enhancing governance structures and increasing visibility and commercial value. This was illustrated most clearly by the record-breaking UEFA Women's EURO in England in summer 2022, which saw nail-biting excitement on the pitch and unprecedented levels of interest off it.
Through the Playmakers programme, launched in 2020 with Disney, over 42,000 young girls between the ages of five and eight in 44 member associations have been given a first introduction to football in a safe, fun and engaging environment. Roughly 87% of the girls and 33% of the coaches who have taken part in Playmakers had never previously played football, while parent responses are overwhelmingly positive.
Meanwhile, between 2020 and 2024 the Football in Schools programme will give more than 2.8m girls and boys in over 81,000 schools across Europe the chance to enjoy the game as part of their educational structure.
Such schemes to involve and develop greater numbers of players are mirrored by a commitment to train more female coaches and referees, and raise standards in these fields, in order to protect the long-term health of the game.
UEFA also uses its tournaments to create a lasting legacy in partnership with the host associations. For example, Women’s EURO 2022 attracted a new generation of players and fans to the game, with programmes run by the nine host cities and the English Football Association aiming to create 500,000 new playing opportunities for women and girls by 2024 and significantly increase the number of girls' teams at grassroots level.
Developing the game
The programme earmarks €150,000 per year for every association to be used for women’s football development, and since its inception has funded over 100 projects in all 55 UEFA member associations. Together, they cover a range of activities from elite youth player preparation and coaching to increased human resources and club and league development. These initiatives have played a key role in helping UEFA’s members define and achieve long-term strategic goals for women’s football.
UEFA also encourages the long-term development of the women’s game by opening career pathways for young female coaches and players to fulfil their potential, including a scholarship programme for women to pursue UEFA coach education courses. A total of 179 scholarships were awarded during the 2021-22 season. The benefits of such programmes were clearly illustrated by the fact that in 2022 the shortlist for UEFA Women’s Coach of the Year was comprised exclusively of women for the first time.
UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 showcased the marked technical and tactical strides achieved since the previous edition in 2017, with new levels of intensity, athleticism and preparation. The increased competitiveness of the women’s game was highlighted by the fact that England became the fifth nation to become European champions, following the Netherlands’ maiden win five years earlier. The improvements on the pitch, coupled with the emergence of a new generation of star players, captured the public imagination on an unprecedented scale. Across the 31 matches, the tournament saw an aggregate attendance of 574,875 (including 87,192 for the final) – more than doubling the previous record set in 2017. Globally, the event attracted 374 million live viewers, including 51 million for the final alone.
On April 4 2023 the UEFA Executive Committee voted to take the next edition of the finals in 2025 to Switzerland.
The competitiveness of women's national team football has been enhanced by the introduction of a new and innovative national team competition system that provides the qualification route for the UEFA Women's EURO and FIFA Women's World Cup.
Meanwhile, the return to action of the European Women's Under-19 and Under-17 Championships after the COVID-19 pandemic have re-established the player pathways from youth to senior level. A revamped format divides teams according to relative strength and introduces promotion and relegation for the first time, thereby guaranteeing the best teams a minimum number of highly competitive matches per season.
In club football, the new cycle of the UEFA Women’s Champions League has seen the largest overhaul of the competition since its inception, with enhanced sporting competitiveness, increased crowds and heightened commercial value. The new format sees four groups of four teams playing each other home and away, with the top two per group qualifying for the quarter-finals. Staging matches in Europe’s most prestigious stadiums saw a record 600,000 fans attending matches across the 2021-22 season and records broken in France, Germany, Spain and Switzerland. Meanwhile a cumulative audience of 64 million followed the 61 matches on TV and internet streaming, with 3.7 million live viewers for the final.
Enhancing governance structures
The upward trend is also reflected in the fact that well over 80% of UEFA's 55 member associations that employ a staff member to manage women’s football, with the number rising year on year. In parallel, more women than ever are studying football management courses at UEFA and going on to pursue careers in football administration, in fields ranging from social responsibility to legal affairs.
A key pillar of this drive is the Women in Football Leadership Programme (WFLP). Established in 2014, the WFLP is a week-long biennial course run jointly between FIFA, the UEFA Academy and the IMD Business School in Lausanne. It brings together female professionals working in football to share their perspectives, examine the obstacles preventing more women from taking on leadership roles, and engage in a combination of leadership training, role-plays, round table discussions and one-on-one coaching sessions. The most recent edition in March 2023 featured a total of 32 women representing all six confederations and holding senior management positions within their respective national associations.
Increasing visibility and commercial value
In 2019 UEFA took the decision to centralise commercial and media rights for the 2021–25 cycle of our women’s football competitions, which has attracted a host of new sponsors and broadcast partners.
In club football, the commercial value of the Women’s Champions League has seen a four-fold increase as compared to 2019, which laid the foundations for UEFA to introduce a ground-breaking financial distribution model for clubs.
The UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 was similarly successful in generating unprecedented revenues, which have a direct benefit to the sustainability of the football pyramid. For the first time in a UEFA women’s national team competition, clubs whose players took part were compensated, in line with the men’s game. The prize fund for the 16 competing team also increased significantly, with winners England receiving than €2m and every team securing at least €600,000 – double the minimum reward in 2017.
In terms of image, the women’s game has never been stronger. For example, 84% of spectators at Women’s EURO 2022 said that the tournament had improved their perception of women’s football.