The current season of Serie A Femminile is underway, and the AC Milan Women currently sit in fourth place in the standings. As the team fights for Champions League qualification during this campaign, it’s also worth noting that the FIGC has implemented a few changes for the league. Here’s an overview of some of the changes that will be happening next season...
The Dawn of Professionalism
Serie A Femminile will become a professional league during the 2022/2023 season. To ease the transition into professionalism, the FIGC will implement a few structural changes to the league. The first of which, is that they reduce the number of teams in the championship from twelve teams to ten. As Ludovica Mantovania, the president of the FIGC’s women’s football sector has stated, the measure will be a temporary one.
“By 2025, we want to double our bases, our soccer players. We will reduce Serie A teams, in the short term, to promote competitiveness. Then we will try to increase them in the long term. We want to achieve sustainable professionalism.”
Given the questions about the sustainability of women’s football in Italy, this measure seems understandable. The goal of this rule is to prevent the women’s teams from sharing the same fate as the likes of Atalanta Mozzanica. The club was dissolved after their parent club, Atalanta, could no longer financially sustain them. So, to prevent history from repeating itself, the federation is temporarily making Serie A Femminile a ten-team championship.
In addition to the interim reduction of clubs in the league, there will also be changes to the way the competition is played. The FIGC will divide the league’s season into two phases: during the first phase, the teams will face each other in-home and away games, for a total of 18 matchdays. In the second phase, the teams that finish in the top five of the league’s table will gain access to the poule scudetto (‘title round’), where they will compete for the title and qualification for the UEFA Women’s Champions League (a top-two finish). The five teams that fall in the latter half of the table, will, instead, face each other in the poule salvezza (‘salvation round’), where they fight to avoid relegation. The team that finishes last in this group will be relegated, while the second to last team will have to play against the club that finished second in Serie B in a ‘play-out’ to stay in the top-flight.
The five teams of each poule will face each other in a round-robin tournament, with eight games divided into four first and second leg matches. The games will add another ten days (with two rest sessions in-between each round). In the second round, the teams will recommence with the points that they accumulated during the first round.
In total, the number of games played will increase from 22 to 28 games per season. The federation also expects the second round to increase the technical level of the competition, as the competition for the scudetto will be more “balanced” and the games in the poule salvezza will be more intriguing, as the teams will fight for their survival. As a result of these changes, the league’s other competitions will be affected as well. The Supercoppa Italiana Femminile will no longer be a Final Four format, as it had been in the last two seasons. Instead, it will go back to being a single game that will crown a winner. The reason for this is to prevent fatigue from having the same teams play each other repeatedly, as there is a risk of this happening under the league’s new guidelines.
These changes also coincide with a recent report released by FIFPRO which cited sporadic scheduling for women’s players as being detrimental to their health. The union states that “Competition design and reform could be applied to more national and international club competitions to bring more opportunity and stability for players.” Perhaps the FIGC’s reforms to the league might give the players more structure and stability.
And while this format might be new to Italy, it is in fact, not a unique concept. As the league itself noted, other leagues in other countries have previously implemented similar structures. In particular, they list the top-flight men’s and women’s champions in Belgium and Austria, and the women’s leagues in Denmark and the Czech Republic as examples of this.
Therefore, Serie A Femminile will follow the examples set by these leagues. However, whether this format will work out for the players and the league remains yet to be seen.
New Club Roles and Sponsorships
At a symposium hosted by the Università LUM last year, Mantovania stated that she recognizes the importance of clubs implementing specific roles within the management of their women’s teams. Some examples of this are roles such as that of a sporting director or a press officer. The FIGC has even added the implementation of these roles for the clubs to the Manuale Licenze Nazionali (which is a set of guidelines the teams must adhere to if they want to participate in a certain league).
Mantovania also notes that the women’s teams must take a different approach to obtain sponsorships. In her words, the women’s approach to sponsors cannot be based on the same strategies as men’s football. The director believes that women’s football can be “unique” in terms of marketing while also invoking certain values, such as passion and determination.
They also believe that it is better to not view women’s football as being merely a “product” to be sold but to focus on what makes the movement intrinsically valuable, such as the previously mentioned merit of passion. Mantovania has also stated that potential contributors should mainly focus on the players, whose appeal is growing exponentially.
They believe that this would be the ideal way for the benefactors to enter the world of women’s football and to help the movement grow.
The Infrastructure Reforms
The reforms don’t just stop at the restructuring of the league. Mantovania also wants to improve the infrastructure for women’s football in Italy. The director wants to see the teams of Serie A Femminile play in venues that are capable of holding 3,000 to 4,000 spectators (Ufficio Stampa). There are currently a few teams in the league that are undertaking this endeavor. The first one is Juventus, who plan to build a new stadium for the Bianconere and their U-19 and U-23 squads. The new stadium will hold 4,000 to 5,000 fans and will be completed in 2023.
The Rossonere, on the other hand, might move to an established venue. The team is currently entertaining the possibility of moving into the Arena Civica in Parco Sempione, Milan. The venue can hold up to 10,000 spectators and they plan to co-inhabit it with their crosstown cousins, Inter Milan. Other teams, such as AS Roma, currently play in venues that can hold that many viewers. Roma’s home is the Stadio Tre Fontane, which can hold up to 4,000 people.
The other teams in the league might run into stumbling blocks in the search for larger venues. Unfortunately, the framework for football in Italy is famously antiquated and subpar compared to other leagues in Europe. If the men’s stadiums are dilapidated venues and crumbling monuments to past glories, then trying to improve the venues for the women of the country seems like an incredibly daunting task.
Mantovania, however, remains undaunted. One proposal to amend this is to allow the teams to play outside of their regions, as they were previously limited to stadiums that were in their particular provinces. With these new rules, the teams of Serie A Femminile can now play in stadiums outside of their provinces as long as they meet the criteria. In addition to being able to hold a certain number of fans, the federation also requests that the fields be made of “natural” grass instead of artificial turf.
Of course, in a perfect world, the country would find the willingness to build “mini” stadiums that are capable of holding 10,000 to 15,000 people. However, since that seems unlikely, then having the teams play in venues that meet the FIGC’s specific standards might be the next best thing. The goal is to get as many people in the stands as possible to increase visibility and to help grow the women’s game in the country.
The ‘Beckham Law’
Like with great power, professionalism also comes with great responsibility. The professionalization of Serie A Femminile means the league will be able to protect their players with binding contracts. Previously, in the past, the contracts were more like “economic agreements” that didn’t bind the players to the teams or even offer them any protection. One example of this is how Aurora Galli moved to Everton. Because Galli was an amateur player in an amateur league, the player was able to leave her previous club, Juventus, and join the Toffees for free. Everton didn’t even have to negotiate with Juve for her. They offered Galli a professional contract and she took it.
The story would have been different had Juventus been a professional team in a professional league. And since they will be professionals next season, the likeliness of this happening again will decrease. The federation has also implemented other policies to make the league an attractive destination to play in.
As per Marca, the players of Serie A Femminile have the same tax incentives that their male counterparts in Serie A do. Back in 2019, Italy approved a law that was similar to The Beckham Law that Spain implemented in 2004. The law allows footballers to enjoy a tax-exempt part of their salary, which is 50 % for players in Italy. For the women’s players specifically, the first €10,000 are exempt from taxes, and the rest of the amount is taxed at a rate that is less than the rate of taxation in other countries, e.g. Spain. For example, a player in the league might be taxed at a rate of 30%, although in cities like Napoli, the rate would be reduced to just 10% of their income.
In Spain, the players are taxed at a rate between 43.5% to 52% (Senn Ferrero).
With this in mind, Serie A Femminile has all the groundwork needed to become a powerhouse in Europe. The tax incentives will make it an attractive destination for players, especially after the current salary cap of €30,000 is lifted and the teams can pay their players a higher salary. The FIGC has its delicate, newborn life in their hands and they need to be careful not to inhibit its growth. The federation must not repeat the same mistakes of the past, where they neglected the women while implementing their ideas for the league’s growth in a sustainable manner.
And once they do so, then perhaps Serie A Femminile can become the league that it was meant to be, and establish itself as one of the best leagues in the world.