The players of Olympique Lyonnais (OL) train in a light rain on the eve of a long-awaited duel against Paris Saint-Germain (PSG). Despite this gloomy temperature in November, President Jean-Michel Aulas is there on the sidelines, watching the actions of his team.
Olympique Lyonnais was a pioneer in the development of women’s football. We are fortunate to have a president who is passionate about football, but also passionate about his women’s team. He has done everything to give this female team the means to perform. Today, in terms of considerations at her club, men and women are on the same level, emphasizes club coach Sonia Bompastor.
The qualities of the facilities, the staff dedicated to the women’s team, the daily presence of the club officers. Quickly, we understand that OL are in a class of their own.
If FC Lyon has already existed since 1970, it is since 2004 that OL have developed their female counterpart. The club has seven triumphs in the Champions League, including five consecutive from 2016 to 2020, in addition to having been crowned champion of France for 14 years in a row, from 2007 to 2020. Since 2020, it is often considered the best team female in the world.
In an interview with Radio-Canada Sports, the French businessman, owner and president of the club, said that investing in women’s soccer was above all a matter of belief.
Women’s football is a chance to have a set of values that men’s football alone may not have on a permanent basis. Through my education and my culture, I have always made sure to favor the integration of the female world in the companies that I have managed, says the man whose value was estimated in 2018 at 600 million euros.
I often say that a women’s football game is on average 15-18% longer than a men’s game just because there is less simulation, less contestation with the referee. These are values that must be put forward and that is what we have been trying to do in Lyon since 2004, he adds.
Those who believe women’s soccer is not a worthwhile investment, he said, are wrong. While results aren’t always instantaneous, he has never regretted his decision to support the women’s club.
We see more and more large groups interested in women’s football. We can also see that television broadcasting rights are changing in a very significant way. Now all the big European clubs have their women’s team. When you have a comprehensive football development strategy, you can’t miss the economics of women’s football, he says.
Laura Georges, former player who became secretary general for the French Football Federation, agrees.
At Olympique Lyonnais, we have the example of investors, sponsors dedicated solely to women’s football, she recalls. I can’t give you the numbers for how much it earns them, but in terms of image, in terms of reputation, they’re right on target.
Ms. Georges is well placed to know that women’s soccer has evolved greatly over the past 20 years. She is aware, however, that there is still a lot of work to be done. While clubs like OL, Paris Saint-Germain and Montpellier are enjoying some success, other clubs in D1 Arkema are struggling to assemble a squad capable of competing with the big teams in Europe.
We are trying for the championship to tighten up and become much more competitive. We still have an axis of progression. We want to have regular supporters in women’s football. We want to improve our stadiums. If we are followed by Canal +, then we have to host these matches in beautiful stadiums.
This year, FIFA published its first comprehensive analysis of women’s soccer (New Window), consulting 30 leagues and 282 clubs. This document revealed that 70% of women’s clubs were operating at a loss.
Focused on the United States
While several countries, including Canada, are struggling to put in place an adequate structure for the development of women’s soccer, Jean-Michel Aulas continues to show the way.
Since 2020, he has been the president of OL Reign, the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), in Seattle, USA. This expansion is no coincidence for his group.
We have always imagined having relations with the biggest football countries. American football has always fascinated me. Initially, when we invested in women’s football here in Lyon, we brought in a number of American players, including Hope Solo. I remember when the United States won the World Cup here in Lyon, Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan came to see me spontaneously, he says.
This American women’s football makes it possible to shoot upwards in terms of the quality of the game, in terms of personalities too. When you invest in women’s football, you also have to find a source of growth with a certain number of partners and, by going there, to Seattle, you are in a magical place in terms of business.
This partnership has been very successful so far. In addition to allowing a certain collaboration between the coaches of the two teams, several players were able to be part of a loan and thus continue their progress.
Jean-Michel Aulas does not intend to stop there. If he sees an investment opportunity that will grow women’s soccer globally, he won’t hesitate to move forward.
According to our strategy, the ideal tomorrow would be to have other teams. Why not also in Canada where today, women’s football has acquired its letters of nobility? We are also looking towards Japan because we believe that the Asian continent can also contribute a lot to the development plan for women’s football.
Meanwhile, months after winning gold at the Tokyo Olympics, Canada still does not have a professional women’s soccer team or league.