Investing in the women’s game

The last couple of weeks has seen a rush of announcements about new investment proposals for women's rugby. Is this the dawn of an exciting new world, or too much too quickly?

Published by John Birch, April 19, 2024

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Investing in the women’s game

In France, there are talks between the FFR and LNR (who run France’s men’s professional leagues) to develop women’s competitions; the EPCR (European Professional Club Rugby) is in advanced discissions about a European Cup, with later suggestions of a possible South African involvement; and we've also had  the announcement of the WER – a professional Women’s Elite League in the USA.

All this on the back of news of a women's Lions tour beginning in 2026.

At times it has felt like a dam has been broken, and that the world after the next World Cup could look vastly different and very exciting.

And moreover for women’s fifteens rugby, it is a remarkable turnaround from the concerns from only a few years ago that sevens would be the prioritised and invested-in format for women.

The European Cup seems long overdue.

Women’s rugby is just about the only sport that does not have a European cross-border continental “champions” tournament of some sort.

A lot clearly needs to be decided, but at present the model sees taking clubs from the English Premiership, French Elite 1 and teams from the Celtic and Latin Cups. There have also been expressions of interest in the idea from South Africa.

The WER announcement is perhaps more revolutionary.

Whereas the FFR/LNR and ECPR news involved the existing structures and national unions, that does not appear to be the case with the WER, though being an American sporting initiative this is, perhaps, not surprising.

It anticipates essentially taking over the existing, amateur, Women’s Premier League.

It sounds a little like Premier Rugby Sevens, which seems to have been quite successful and the organisers say that they currently have 50% of the private funding they need.

All this leads to many questions. Would the rewards offered by WER pull in players from overseas?

And what effect might that have on other leagues – would there be competition for players? And if the WER were not a competition linked to US Rugby, would such players be released for international windows?

Let’s be clear though - it is brilliant that all of these initiatives are popping up, and the future for top talent could be a very exciting one indeed, with players having an opportunity – maybe a variety of opportunities - to ply a professional rugby trade.

But it is important to note that nothing is in place yet and it all this comes on the back of some severe problems with the men’s game, with men’s pro clubs going out of business on both sides of the Atlantic.

The organisations behind these initiatives have been inspired by the large crowds for some international and club games in England and France, without it being clear how representative or reproducible these crowds might be.

The holy grail will be ability to use first phase investment in leagues and clubs or franchises to create a brilliant product so that the game can then drive value from the areas it can generate investment - broadcast rights, sponsors and matchday. All that seems some way off.

There have been some exciting announcements recently - but let’s hold our enthusiasm until we see exactly where they lead.