Among some the most striking of comparisons highlighted within the Telegraph’s #CloseTheGap campaign aimed at tackling the disparity between men’s and women’s prize money in sport is the gulf in this season’s two FA Cup prize pots, where the men’s competition receives £15.9m while the women’s gets just £428,915. The good news for the women’s game is that its prize money in the cup will be seven times higher next season, after the FA announced an increase to £3m for next season, and although that will still remain five times smaller than the men’s pot, it has been welcomed as an “awesome” step.
But for sides who enjoyed lengthy cup campaigns this season, the welcome, long-awaited rise is coming just a year too late. For quarter-finalists Coventry United, who secured away wins against Watford, Billericay Town and West Brom before losing at Arsenal, their run earned them just £7,250. The equivalent run in the men’s cup would have delivered them £352,000, an almost unimaginably large sum for a club that was on the brink of liquidation over Christmas.
“Away FA Cup games cost us to do the game, so when you factor in the coach travel is nearly £1,000, and you’ve got various nutritional requirements, ultimately it’s going to be a loss-making exercise,” Coventry United’s new chairman , Lewis Taylor, told Telegraph Sport. “I don’t want that to necessarily be overshadowing the joy of being in the quarter-finals, but there’d be a loss actually for every game in the FA Cup unless you get to Wembley and if you won the final probably there’ d be a profit. If women’s football is ever to be able to stand on their own two feet then these things need to be addressed.
“The increase [to £3m for next season] is awesome. It’s a step in the right direction for sure but they need to pay more attention to the women’s fund because the prize money doesn’t really affect the top men’s sides that much compared to what it can do for the women’s teams.”
Speaking ahead of his side’s meeting with Coventry United, Arsenal head coach Jonas Eidevall said “playing in a prestigious tournament like the FA Cup shouldn’t be a loss-maker” for any club and he felt the increase was “definitely a step in the right direction”, adding: “It’s nice, the increase, [but] I still think there is a long way to go.”
Clubs making a loss in the Women’s FA Cup, even if they win games, is certainly not a rarity, and it’s a new issue, even for a team who reaches the final. Back in 2015, when the prize fund was even smaller, runners-up Notts County said before that match even if they were to win what was the competition’s first Wembley final, they would not cover the costs associated with playing the final in London. Despite increases in the pot since then, when earlier this season Clapton Community FC became the first seventh-tier club to reach the third round, they had to crowdfund to raise the money to travel to Plymouth, and their run of away games in the early -round draws meant they had received no shares of the matchday revenue, contrary to the sharing of gate receipts that occurs in the mens’ competition.
But one club is putting forward a solution. Championship side Lewes FC, who as a club have long given parity of pay to their men’s and women’s sides, have campaigned to the FA for equal prize money for three years, and now they have put forward two models for an ‘equal’ FA Cup .
Lewes director Charlie Dobres said: “When we first raised the issue of equal FA Cup prize money with the FA three years ago the response was to flat-bat it and nothing happened. The pressure has grown and there’s been a clear movement towards increasing it because the existing prize money gap has been just crazy.”
Either of Lewes’ two suggested models would see 95 per cent of participating clubs better off. The first centers around an equal ‘Prize Per Fixture’, allocating the same reward to every cup fixture played in every round – men’s or women’s – and then adding weighting variables depending on the round. While this model would treat every men’s and women’s cup game identically, the men’s cup would still enjoy a larger overall prize pot because this term 729 men’s teams entered compared to 417 women’s teams, meaning more rounds and more matches for the men’s.
Lewes’ alternative proposal is to split the men’s and women’s overall prize pots exactly 50:50. In that scenario, a higher proportion of the prize fund would go to individual women’s matches compared to men’s because the men’s pot would be divided by a larger number of teams, and Dobres added: “Equity reflects that the women’s game is not starting from the same point as the men’s game for historical reasons with the ban in 1921. It’s a historical injustice that has led to this.
“Secondly it is about investment and smart business practice. We want women’s football to thrive and the way for it to thrive is to create all the revenue opportunities for women’s football to create its own revenue, because women’s football doesn’t want to continue being reliant on handouts from a men’s club, it’s perfectly capable of earning your own money but you have to create the revenue opportunities. We have to create a self-sustaining industry.”
An FA spokesperson said: “The FA has a clear plan for women’s football that has seen it become one of the biggest successes across sport in our country. Within the last year we have been able to announce increased income through new partnerships that include our broadcast deal with Sky Sports and the BBC, as well as Barclays’ renewed commitment to the FA Women’s Super League and new sponsorship of the FA Women’s Championship. This new income will see money reinvested into the game, with the most recent commitment being to raise the prize fund for the Vitality Women’s FA Cup to £3m per season.
“The Emirates FA Cup is the biggest revenue producer for The FA. This revenue enables us to invest back into football at all levels and we have made significant progress to develop the women’s game as a result. Women’s football continues to be in a growth phase and we are always looking to make improvements and investment to drive it forward and break new boundaries.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.