By Allison Watkinson
Electonic Arts is expanding the role of women’s football in its upcoming video game, EA SPORTS FC 24.
The most noteworthy new expansion is the addition of professional women’s football players to the game’s Ultimate Team mode.
This will allow EA SPORTS FC 24 players to build squads featuring both male and female football stars from numerous licensed sports teams.
The women’s football leagues included in the game are the UEFA Women’s Champions League, Barclays Women’s Super League, National Women’s Soccer League, D1 Arkema, Google Pixel Frauen-Bundesliga, and Liga F.
In spite of backlash on social media, the expanded representation is expected to increase public respect and interest in women’s football as a whole.
“Ultimate Team is all about building your dream squad,” said EA SPORTS FC producer Gareth Reeder. “We wanted to make sure men’s and women’s football could come together. I think it’s just going to give more choice in terms of what players people want to put into squads.”
This move is the latest in EA SPORTS long-standing commitment to extending the reach of women’s football.
At EA SPORTS 2022 Women’s Football Summit, the company announced several initiatives and programs to provide funding and support for leveling the playing field for female football players.
These programs included an $11 million investment in the Starting XI Women’s Football Fund, investments in football internship programs for its women’s league partners, a multi-year partnership with the UWCL, and more.
“EA SPORTS is at the epicenter of global football fandom, and we recognize the role we have in representing and elevating diversity and participation in the sport,” said EA SPORTS SVP, Andrea Hopelain. “Our commitment extends beyond the pitch in the virtual and real world. The Starting XI Fund reinforces our dedication to unrivaled authenticity and representation in our games, and also showcases our focus on being changemakers for the future of the sport.”
Like the vast majority of institutions throughout recorded history, women’s football has suffered significantly due to misogyny, sexism, and gender bias.
Although great strides have been made in recent years to decrease the impact of these problems, the sport is still plagued by problems such as gender-based wage discrepancies, discrimination, abuse, harassment, and gender bias.
Average salaries of football players can be difficult to calculate due to lack of public information and the massive jump in salaries for celebrity players.
However, a BBC analysis from 2022 that is based on published salary data for the players and staff of seven of the twelve teams in the British women’s football league placed the mean figure at around £47,000 ($58,000 USD) per year.
An additional investigation by The Telegraph that same year uncovered that the lowest paid professional women’s football players received as little as £20,000 ($25,000 USD) per year.
In comparison, the wage bills at three mid-range men’s Premier League clubs show an average payout of approximately £4.3 million to £6.4 million.
This data implies that male football players are earning about 100 times more than female players in Europe.
The reasons for this massive difference in salary include lower fan attention, ticket prices, and sponsorship rates for the women’s league.
Salary discrepancies in football and other professional sports has been an ongoing problem in many areas across the globe.
However, new policies and agreements have been enacted in some regions to address the issue.
For example, the US Soccer Federation signed a collective bargaining agreement with the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) and the National Men’s Soccer League in 2022 which guarantees an equal pay structure and prize money division for both leagues.
That same year, the board of governors for the NWSL signed a contract that guarantees players a minimum salary of $35,000 in addition to 4% yearly raises.
The minimum wage outlined in the contract represents a 60% increase from the previously offered minimum salary for the league.
In addition, NWSL players will receive benefits such as life insurance, health insurance, paid leave, retirement fund contributions, housing stipends, and more beginning in 2023.
These bargaining agreements came shortly after the NSWL and the US Soccer Federation settled a multi-year federal lawsuit for discrimination with a 22 million dollar payout to the players of the NSWL.
On a broader level, sexism-motivated discrimination and harassment is still a significant hurdle for professional women’s football players and their fans.
A survey conducted in 2020 found that two-thirds (66%) of respondents had experienced gender-based discrimination in the workplace, with an additional 34% of participants reporting that they had witnessed gendered discrimination.
A further 82% said that they had faced obstacles in their football career due to their gender.
Jointly organized by Women In Football UK and Sports Marketing Surveys, the 2020 Women in Football Members Survey reached over 4000 women that work in the professional football industry.
A smaller study conducted by the #HerGameToo movement from 2021 reported that of the 371 women surveyed 91.9% had seen sexist abuse related to the sport towards other women online, 63.1% had experienced sexist abuse online themselves and 58.4% had experienced in-person sexist abuse at football-related events.
The #HerGameToo movement began as a Twitter social media campaign on the final day of the 2021 FA Cup. The #HerGameToo campaign and launch video quickly become viral with over a million views in the first two days alone.
It has since become a volunteer-run nonprofit organization that aims to reduce gender-based discrimination in football through education, awareness, and research initiatives.
Expanding upon these findings, Durham University led a research study based on a survey of 1,950 male football fans from UK-based football message boards.
From a sub-group of 507 respondents, 24% of participants communicated strong support for women’s football.
Unfortunately, the analysis of the survey sub-group also revealed that 68% of those polled held hostile, negative, or misogynistic attitudes towards women participating in sports.
A further 8% of survey participants were reported to express supportive attitudes towards women’s sports in public but had expressed hostile attitudes online or in private.
“This is the first study to examine UK men football fans’ attitudes to women’s sport in an era in which women’s sport has experienced a significantly increased media profile,” said Durham University professor, Dr. Stacey Pope. “Our research showed that attitudes towards women in sport are, to some extent, changing, with more progressive attitudes. However, the findings are also reflective of a patriarchal society in which misogyny is rife. There were numerous examples of men from across all generations exhibiting highly sexist and misogynistic attitudes.”
Researchers involved in the study believe that some of the extreme sexist and misogynistic responses could be targeted backlash from the perceived threat that anti-feminists believe women’s football poses to male fans and players.
“The increase in media coverage of women’s sport was openly supported by some men,” said Leicester University professor, John Williams. “But it also clearly represents, for others, a visible threat. This is at a time when there are more widespread anxieties circulating among men about how to establish and perform satisfying masculine identities. For men like these, there was a pronounced anti-feminist backlash.”
Despite this concerning data, there have also been numerous positive changes occurring in the industry and fan communities to reduce the impact of misogyny.
These developments include an increase in targeted awareness campaigns, changes in fan attitudes that result in more severe punishments for sexist abuse, an increase in support from corporations and brands for women’s football, and much more.
A 2021 Women at the Match survey by the Football Supporters’ Association found that football fans are less likely to accept sexist behavior and abuse than they were during the organization’s original survey in 2014.
The expanded representation of women’s football leagues, clubs, and competitions in EA SPORTS FC 24 is one of many steppingstones in the fight to reduce the impact of sexism and misogyny in the global football community.
“Celebrating sport for all is what continues to drive and inspire us,” said EA SPORTS SVP Andrea Hopelain. “That’s why we’re proud to announce the most inclusive and diverse iteration of the game so far. Whether it’s playing with the biggest player pool we’ve ever had in Ultimate Team or with new leagues like Liga F and the Google Pixel Frauen-Bundesliga, EA SPORTS is proud to champion the women’s game virtually and physically.”
EA SPORTS FC 24 will feature the largest collection of fully licensed football assets in the franchise to date. This includes more than 19,000 players, over 700 teams, 20 leagues and more than 100 different football stadiums.
The video game will be available to play on Sept. 29 with early access through the Ultimate Edition available as of Sept. 22.
Pre-orders are currently available for EA SPORTS FC 24 for PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC, and Nintendo Switch gaming consoles.