Amid speculations over the summer about European football clubs entering the USA women’s football scene involving FC Barcelona and the NWSL, we’ve eventually witnessed the first collaboration between European and American entities through the acquisition of an NWSL team.
OL Groupe, the company who owns the French football club Olympique Lyonnais, acquired Reign FC shortly before the turn of the year. Lyonnais’ women’s team is the most successful women’s football team in Europe.
This acquisition brings to mind a model that is being tried and tested by two major organizations, City Football Group and Red Bull.
City Football Group’s Influence
CFG’s ownership of Manchester City and Manchester City Women has led to increased investment in both. A formal partnership between the two dates back to 2012 after gaining a licence to compete in the FA Women’s Super League in 2013. Both have won numerous titles since.
In 2014, CFG took over who was previously known as Melbourne Heart Football Club, nowadays Melbourne City FC. A year later, CFG announced the foundation of Melbourne City Women. The team immediately got a licence to compete in the Westfield W-League. In its five years of operating the club has won three domestic championships.
Currently, the third team where CFG is a major shareholder, New York City FC, does not have a women’s team. In US football (Soccer), several of the NWSL teams are in a shared ownership structure with MLS franchises; Orlando City/Pride, Houston Dynamo/Dash, Portland Timbers/Thorns, Utah Royals/Real Salt Lake.
It can be argued that the NWSL’s New Jersey based Sky Blue FC serves the NYC catchment area. As of the 2020 season, Sky Blue FC will play in the Red Bull Arena, home of MLS side New York Red Bulls. Despite being home to the NY Red Bulls, it is still very much located in New Jersey. So perhaps the hope of a New York labelled women’s team will come on behalf of the other multi-team ownership organization? You guessed right, Red Bull.
The Red Bull Potential
Whether you like it or not Red Bull had and continues to have an impact on football. At first commercially but in recent years in terms of club ownership, talent development, and tactical influence.
Under Red Bull operates RB Leipzig (Germany/Bundesliga), Red Bull Salzburg (Austria/Bundesliga), New York Red Bulls (USA/MLS) and most recently Red Bull Bragantino (Brazil/Serie A). Out of the 4 clubs only RB Leipzig has a women’s team which plays in Germany’s third division.
As women’s football continues to grow, we’ve seen more brands invest in sponsorships related to women’s football. If adding a team to its portfolio may not be in Red Bull’s plan that doesn’t mean that sponsorship or academies are out of the question in the future.
Multi-team ownership groups can also ease costs associated with transfer fees. In the men’s game transfers represent a high portion of a club’s revenue for some. In the women’s game we’re far from it. Especially when many clubs operate at a loss.
Strength In Unity
Another common feature that can be drawn from the CFG and Red Bull case studies is the branding consistency across the different teams. Similar crest designs, same kit supplier, it’s no coincidence that CFG have secured a deal estimated at £650M for 10 years with Puma across the group’s teams.
From a broader perspective, and especially in American sports, league-wide commercial partnerships are extremely common and women’s football is craving serious investment from brands.
One must wonder, how could we potentially see more multi-team ownerships in women’s football? American owners tend to own a variety of assets across different sports. For example, will we ever see Kroenke Sports and entertainment adding another women’s football team once the NWSL expands again? given that the ownership group already has the most successful women’s team in the English game, Arsenal Women.
Moreover, a recent study by the ECA (European Club Association) discovered that there are four main categories in women’s football administration within a club: Men’s team is prominent to the Women’s team, Men’s and Women’s teams are supported equally, Women’s team is prominent to Men’s team, and a standalone Women’s team.
The study gathered information from 25 clubs across 20 national associations. In slightly over 50% of those the Men’s team is prominent to the Women’s team. Now that’s not to say that it is a bad thing. Association with a men’s team bolsters visibility and resources. But as an ownership group, imagine having more such pairings in numerous regions. The appeal would be immense.
The acquisition mentioned at the beginning might be just the start for the newly registered US company. French clubs gain most of their audience in the USA via Champions League participation. OL, a big name in French football but struggles as a brand to compete consistently on that stage. The USA is already a women’s football captivated market. Growing your brand in this lucrative market in terms of sponsorships and fan base via the club’s successful women’s team is a no brainer. Don’t be surprised if in the future this entity will acquire a WNBA team, just ask Tony Parker.