Reece Land: short-term contracts, short-term thinking, short-term success
If you’re involved in women’s football, as a player, coach, agent or anything else, these few weeks are the toughest of the year. It’s the week when the majority of players find out about their futures: will their contracts be extended by their clubs or will they have to find somewhere else to ply their trade next season?
We’ve had several players crying on the phone to us this week because of the news they’ve received. One call and their lives have completely changed. It's heartbreaking.
Various clubs across the Women’s Super League and Championship have announced which players they’re letting go of; and there are a lot of them. As an example, Brighton have released five players while one more chose not to sign an extension. Aston Villa have released eight players and are left with a squad of 15 players that they need to add to. The narrative that there’s genuine financial growth in women’s football provides everyone with a false sense of security, leading to questions about why so many players are being let go.
Some may justify these numbers as either a response to the coronavirus pandemic or, in the case of Villa, a rebuild following their promotion to the WSL. These things have definitely played their part, but teams having some sort of mass exodus at the end of a season has been standard in women’s football for a while now, and it’s down to the short-term nature of the industry.
Teams having some sort of mass exodus at the end of a season has been standard in women’s football for a while now, and it’s down to the short-term nature of the industry.
The majority of female players on professional or semi-professional contracts in the UK will be on one-year deals with extension options. For me, this is because of a lack of evidence of the financial growth of women’s football. The lack of financial stability means it’s common sense for a deal to be staggered.
As an example, a three-year contract may be something like £10,000 in the first season, £16,000 in the second and £24,000 in the third. To sign that contract upfront, meaning the club would have to commit to paying a £24,000 salary in three years time, is impossible for most clubs, simply because their balance sheets don’t allow it. Making the contract a staggered one with the option to extend each year means the club can assess their financial position for the year ahead before committing to anything.
Teams like Arsenal and Manchester City can afford to do things a bit differently. They’re backed by men’s teams that will always provide them with some financial stability and therefore allow them to offer longer, more lucrative contracts to players.
Teams like Arsenal and Manchester City are backed by men’s teams that will always provide them with some financial stability and therefore allow them to offer longer, more lucrative contracts to players.
Both teams aren’t yet sustainable on their own – Companies House reports show that Arsenal made a loss of £519,000 in 2019, having lost £219,000 the year before while City, although moving in the right direction, are still at a loss at £1,106,000 down in 2018 and £910,000 down in 2019 – yet the stability provided by their male counterparts allows them to move forward.
Other WSL teams are attached to men’s sides, but these sides aren’t as profitable as the likes of Arsenal and City. Birmingham, for example, made a profit of £60,035 in 2018, but a loss of £91,102 in 2019. This was in the context of their wage bill rising from £523,548 in 2018 to £546,870 in 2019. Everton made the slightest of losses in 2019 – £1,647 – in comparison to a profit of £1,039 in 2018. Their wage bill, though, was cut massively, going from £660,909 in 2018 to £450,236 in 2018.
These statistics are just some of the examples of the fine financial margins in women’s football. In simple business terms: financial growth means increased investment while financial uncertainty means decreased investment. Until women’s football gets to a point of steady, regular growth, teams will continue to have to be savvy about their budgets, and a large part of that is player wages and contracts.
Until women’s football gets to a point of steady, regular growth, teams will continue to have to be savvy about their budgets, and a large part of that is player wages and contracts.
The most important factor in all of this is the players. The lack of security they have in their careers can have a big impact on their mental health. Players can never relax and enjoy football because they’re never sure what the future looks like for them. They’re always planning for six months’ time or twelve months’ time. Unfortunately that’s the cycle the women’s game has got itself into: the governing bodies plan for the short-term, the clubs plan for the short-term, then the players have to plan for the short term. Until we get out of this cycle, and that will happen by people challenging the systems currently in place and holding people accountable for current failures, then we’ll never move forward as an industry.
There’s no denying that football is and always will be a cut-throat, ruthless game. But surely we, as an industry, can do better by our players and offer them enough security to enjoy the game they love.