“Continually comparing women’s football to men’s football doesn’t do it any good”

We speak with Edgar Merino, former student, Johan Cruyff Institute agent for Chile and director of Solo Cracks, a leading agency in women’s football, who argues that it does women’s football no good to continually compare it to men’s football

The Women’s World Cup France 2019  has put numbers to that feeling we all have that women’s football is an emerging sport that is arousing ever greater social interest, international commitment and investment.  According to information from FIFA, the last Women’s World Cup surpassed, for the first time in history, one billion viewers around the world, with the more than 200 television channels from 206 countries accredited to cover the tournament scheduling many of the decisive matches at prime-time.

The round of 16 tie between Brazil and France was the most watched game in the history of women’s football, with almost 59 million viewers;  the final between the United States and the Netherlands, reached a peak of 5.58 million viewers on Dutch television, breaking the record in the country set during the semifinal of the men’s World Cup in 2014;  in England, 11.7 million viewers watched the semifinal that their women’s team played against the United States;  and in the United States, the quarterfinal match against France attracted 6.1 million television viewers, according to official FIFA data.

Among our alumni is a professional international agent who has made women’s football his life and with whom we talked about his experience and the current situation for one of the sports with the biggest impact today and a great future ahead of it. Edgar Merino, a former student of the Master in Sport Management at Johan Cruyff Institute, is currently an international agent in Chile for Johan Cruyff Institute and director of Solo Cracks, an agency that he founded in Chile which, after only four years of activity, is already an international agency that has handled more than 100 transfers of women football players from four continents.

To put things in context, how many players did you have at the World Cup France 2019?

A total of 23 players I represent participated in the last World Cup in France.

How did your devotion with women’s football start?

My first contact with women’s football was when I was studying a degree in journalism in Chile, interviewing figures from the sport.  As an agent, I started in 2015. My first client was Christiane Endler, the current goalkeeper and captain of the Chile national team and París Saint Germain.  I already had experience working with other athletes on their image, such as with Carolina Rodríguez, world boxing champion, and Claudio Bravo, former goalkeeper of FC Barcelona.  And that was when we started working with Christiane, mainly on image issues.  She was interested in playing abroad again, to have an opportunity in Europe, and I became her agent, not only at an image level but also at a sporting level.  It was a very good experience and that’s how it all started.  In a matter of four or five months we got four offers from different countries, one from Germany and Norway, and two from Spain.  Finally, she ended up choosing Valencia CF.  We had done a good job with ‘Thiane’ that we could replicate with other girls who had the talent, but not the visibility that an agency gives you.  At that time, I made the decision to focus definitively and exclusively on women’s football.  Today, we represent more than 100 players of 21 different nationalities and in all continents: China, Arab Emirates, Spain, France, Australia, United States, South America

PSG’s player, Christiane Endler, with her agent, Edgar Merino

They call you the ‘Felicevich’ of women’s football.  Do you recognize yourself in that comparison?

In general, I don’t like comparisons very much. I accept them because today men’s football is more recognized at the media level.  It’s the same with the players.  I also don’t like it that a girl is told that she is the ‘Messi of women’s football’. They deserve their own recognition.  I have a player who gets that.  I prefer that they call her by her name—Estefania Banini, the ‘ace’ of women’s football—but not that they compare her with a man. In my case, I prefer to be recognized for what I have done with women’s football and not to be compared to a men’s football agent.  In the end, I have been compared with several: with Felicevich, with Jorge Mendes, the agent of Cristiano Ronaldo and Jose Mourinho.  If you are compared with people who have done things well, you should take it well, but my goal is to make women’s football continue to grow, matching the conditions so that, hopefully at some point, I will not have to be compared with anyone.

How has it all changed from when you started to the point where you are now?

It’s only been four years, but I’ve seen a lot of development, in every way. At the level of media exposure, nowadays they show the games on television and that generates a lot of audience. At the level of attendance at the matches, more and more stadiums are opening up to women’s football. At the level of salaries, they are also increasing, and that also has to do with the fact that the market is growing.  Sponsorships are improving, with better commercial relationships. When I started in Latin America, we were the pioneer agency; today, others have emerged in the wake of the boom.  To give you an example: last season, in the First Division of the Spanish women’s league there were nine Chilean players, all represented by Solo Cracks.  Four years ago there were none, but we now lead the list of countries with the most players in the Iberdrola League.  We also represent three players from Colombia and several from Argentina. In that sense, I think we have helped and contributed a lot to the growth of Latin American women’s football.  We started there, but today we also represent players from the United States, Japan, Lithuania, Spain … We have players from four different continents.  We can now say that we are a global agency.

To what do you attribute the sudden craze for women’s football?

I attribute it to work that has been done for years, by different actors, institutions, some clubs that have been very involved, and the Spanish League itself, which has done an excellent job with women’s football.  It is also due to a cultural theme; nowadays women have another role in society, women ask for other things, and they deserve them because women make the same (or even more) effort as men. They don’t get big salaries, so they have to devote their time to working and studying, and complement it with football.  They have been gaining ground over time and the different social conjunctures have also contributed a little bit.

Some people still think that investing in women’s football is not yet profitable.  Is it now a business or a social responsibility phenomenon?

It’s a bit of both, a business and a social responsibility phenomenon.  In any business, when you want to start, you have to invest and you must be willing to lose.  If you think you’re going to do well immediately, devote yourself to something else.  Women’s football is profitable.  My company is, but that does not mean that it was easy at the beginning.  At first I invested a lot, I borrowed, I was in debt, but we have made Solo Cracks a profitable agency, with commercial agreements, sponsorships of some players, and we have now handled more than 100 transfers worldwide. And that has made our work profitable. But you have to be willing to invest first.

What does women’s football compete with today?

It does women’s football no good to be constantly comparing it to men’s football. It has to follow its own path. It has things that can still be enhanced and developed a lot—for example, bringing the family back to the stadium. The public that today go to watch women’s football is a family audience, children with their parents and grandparents. That is something that men’s football has been losing. I think that women’s football can take advantage of these other things, positive external things that it has, to improve its value as a product. It has to follow its own path and become a profitable sport.

How should the visibility of women’s football be reinforced beyond major competitions like the World Cup or a Champions League final?

By the work of the different parties, of all the actors involved, be they federations, clubs, the media. And both the agents and the players themselves also have to do their part, to make their sport more attractive. The players must also think about their sport as a show, and be aware that their image is now very visible. When everyone begins to have that vision, it will also be easier for the media, for brands, for clubs, to sell to their players, to position them better. I think it is a responsibility of all the actors involved in this industry. You also need to worry a lot about social networks, because today they are a means of communication in itself. We didn’t have that possibility 10-15 years ago. Today, each player is a means of communication in herself and can communicate what she wants to her fans and generate a close relationship and synergy with her sponsors that was previously very difficult to do.

The UEFA president says that “the potential of women’s football has no limits”. Can we put figures to that argument?

The audience data for the last Women’s World Cup France 2019 were spectacular. In addition to the more than one billion viewers in 206 countries, more than one million tickets were sold, the average stadium attendance exceeded 75%, some 57,900 spectators attended the final in Lyon, the shirt of the United States women’s team was the best-selling ever on Nike.com, and there were more than 171 million video views through FIFA’s social networks. Worldwide, federal licenses are expected to nearly double by 2025, with the number of players reaching 60 million. The great European clubs—Juventus, Manchester United and Real Madrid—have already announced that they will have a women’s team and, in Spain, Mediapro has just announced the purchase of the broadcasting rights of the women’s league for 9 million euros. Women’s football is present and future. It is here to stay and to give another vision to society and sport. Without a doubt, we will continue to grow.

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