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Investment in (men’s) sports needs to slow down.

A few weeks ago, listening to Ian Wright’s 60th birthday podcast special I picked up on something very interesting. When asked what he wanted to spend this stage of his life doing he responded, helping grow the women’s game and when asked why he responded, “It’s really pure”. At first, I wasn’t really sure how to interpret this comment but looking at the way the sport interacts with its fans, growth and investment against the men’s side, I feel pretty confident to say I have grasped the distinction.

When investments are made into the women’s game, it is a decision by shareholders and investors to grow the sport in the name of fans, the competitors involved and for the general growth of the sport. When a large investment is made on the men’s side, I’m not sure the intentions are the same. It tends to come down to one thing alone: financial incentive. I’m not trying to paint this incentive as negative, after all, the largest male sports are usually very well established, face very few existential threats and have large followings already, therefore, it would be impossible for me to expect the same intentions for investments across each side. What I find concerning, however, is that seemingly the faster-growing sport is the more established side.

This weekend saw the introduction of the Las Vegas F1 weekend, held on a racing circuit that wound through the lit-up streets of Vegas. With the track featuring a straight that ran alongside the strip of Vegas’ largest and most expensive hotels, a Rolls Royce used as a cooldown room and constant advertising plastered across the newly built Sphere throughout the race, to say money wasn’t the incentive for the weekend would be impossible. The levels of investment seen in F1’s modern era is incredible, with race weekends cropping up from Miami to Riyadh. The sport once considered heavily exclusive to Europe now engages more in races outside of the continent than within it.

And while the levels of investment in F1 are at incredible highs the same really cannot be said for the women’s side. A criticism that has consistently been laid at F1’s feet is the lack of women in the sport, something that the W-series, an all-women’s racing championship, has sought to correct since 2019. While the W series wasn’t perfect, it certainly didn’t deserve its demise as it went into administration this year. My argument isn’t so much to say, that F1 doesn’t deserve to grow, I raise the question of why it is allowed to grow in the face of issues and inequalities that need to be solved.

Even a similar effect can be seen in football. It is easy to assume that inequality between the two games is reducing as more visibility is gained on the women’s side. However, if reducing inequality between the two sides of the sport was ever meant to be a long-term goal, it can never be achieved for as long as the investment trends between the two sports continue. Investment in the men’s game does not seem to be slowing down even though it is unequivocally established as a sport. This is not to say the women’s side hasn’t experienced its fair share of growth too, looking at the UK only, Arsenal WFC smashed the WSL average attendance record last season with 17,501.

While the trajectory of the women’s side does look great, this holds no torch to the financial prospects of the men’s astronomical earnings. With the new Swiss format for the Champions League starting next year and the plans by FIFA to install a new club World Cup, it is clear the money that investors stand to gain from the men’s side of the game could be very lucrative. However, this growth, in my opinion, is entirely unnecessary; the Champions League format was just fine, save from fears from organisations and investors alike that larger teams can currently go out too soon which could risk revenues.

The Swiss format would have made more sense in the women’s side, with big teams like Manchester United and Juventus leaving the women’s Champions League so early. Investment for the good of the game would make sense here yet it hasn’t been seen. In contrast, investment in the men’s game has no signs of stopping, as international competitions develop, so do other leagues like the Saudi Pro League, appearing to have endless sums of money ready to be spent. Despite the strides taken in the women’s game it is difficult to ignore the enormous leaps the men’s side has been making recently.

I would argue that excessive money and investment have always been a tenet of (men’s) sports but recently this has reached new levels. More and more global investors are spending money on sports. American investment in non-American sports surely has never been so high, with F1 charting three separate races in America, its grip on the sport grows, stronger and more influential each year. Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney have a whole documentary detailing their investment from California into Wrexham AFC and if that wasn’t enough they have joined the Otro capital group which is investing in Alpine a French F1 team along with other stars like Trent Alexander Arnold and Micheal B Jordan. Riyadh is the new boxing capital of the world, and it might just be the centre of football in a decade. Despite these sports being enormous already, more money is filtering in from across the world at blinding rates.

Fundamentally international investment sentiment has massively shifted to the point where (men’s) sports appear to be the new blue-chip stock. With established fan bases and competition structures, it seems that eyes are increasingly turning towards sport as the “best bang for your buck”. With all this money being invested in one side of the sport, I would say that this threatens to increase the gendered inequality that only recently people are becoming more aware of. While changes in the Champions League format, new F1 races, new golf competitions and boxing fights promise endless opportunities, one opportunity stands to be lost and that is closing the gap across the genders.

Image Credit: Alex-David Baldi // CC BY 2.0 DEED

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