She Plays: Salaries, and lack of, in the Spanish Primera División

Soccerella

Salaries in football are always a talking point. In the top tiers of the men’s game, there are players who are paid millions a year to play football. What about the top female players though? Surely they are in a similar situation? They run like men, train like them, win and lose like them, so it would make sense to be paid like men too, right? Wrong. In the second part of our She Plays series, Bath University’s Alicia Povey looks at the issue of salaries for female players in Spain.


In Spain, women’s professional contracts are hard to come by. Out of the 30,000 registered players, only 0.1% receive ‘professional’ contracts. That’s 3,000 women who have contracts to play football. That sounds like a lot, but after some digging you find out that a contract does not guarantee a living wage, or even a fixed salary, or much at all. Often these contracts only mean that the players get a payment per match, which can reach up to around 300€ to 500€ in the Liga Iberdrola, but in the Segunda is much less. The structure of wages and contracts in Spain for female players is haphazard. Even within the Liga Iberdrola, the top tier of female football in the country, there are players with full time jobs outside of football, so that they are able to live, while others are able to play full-time on a decent wage. The pay gap between different players and different teams, even within the top league, is massive.

Ainhoa Tirapu works at Decathlon alongside competing in the Liga Iberdrola with Athletic Bilbao (Image courtesy of Marca.com)

The salary spectrum

At one end of the Liga Iberdrola salary spectrum, there are the teams which pay their players per match or pay expenses. These clubs do not offer professional contracts, and players normally juggle training and matches with a full-time job. Until fairly recently in the women’s leagues, clubs were allegedly paying their players with ‘black money’ in order to avoid providing a secure contract. Some clubs were also employing their female players under fake job titles, so that if they were injured or couldn’t play, the club did not lose out on money. Although there has been a clamp down on this practice, many clubs in the Primera División still do not provide their players with a living wage, and for this reason, the players have to hold down a part time or full time job on the side.

At the other end of the Liga Iberdrola spectrum, we have the players of Barcelona and Atlético Madrid. These are the two teams which currently pay their players the most and award the most full time contracts. FC Barcelona Women, who currently sit at the top of the league, recently dug into their pockets to sign Toni Duggan from Manchester City, Line Røddik from Olympique Lyon and Lieke Martens from FC Rosengård. They are dominating the league so far, winning their most recent match 10–0, and it’s clear that the investment into the team this summer is paying off. Attracting talent from abroad has not long been a characteristic of the Spanish Primera División, and FC Barcelona is one of the only teams which have awarded contracts with pay and benefits able to rival other top European female clubs.

Toni Duggan signs on to play for FC Barcelona Femení (Image courtesy of Sky Sports)

The Messi business of professional salaries

Even though Barcelona is one of the highest paying women’s teams in Spain, this achievement is overshadowed immediately if we look at the difference between their men’s wages and their female wages. Barcelona players make up half of the top 10 highest paid male footballers in Spain; with Messi, Iniesta, Rakitic, Neymar and Suarez all making the list at the beginning of 2017. Excluding sponsorship, Messi was receiving 365,000€ a week during the 2016/2017 season. Leike Martens, FC Barcelona Women’s star summer signing is rumoured to be receiving a salary of around 100,000€ a year. This means that Messi earns 3 times more in a week, than Martens earns in a whole year.

So, what’s the solution?

This is a difficult question to answer, especially because we’re still facing a similar problem with female salaries in leagues around Europe. Firstly, sponsorship has potential to be a game-changer. Iberdrola’s sponsorship of the Primera División was a jump forward, with the company agreeing to fund educational and awareness-raising activities and female football festivals around Spain alongside heavy financial sponsorship of the league. However, many top female teams (including even Barcelona) remain without a lead shirt sponsor - a valuable source of income which would offer some flexibility for teams to improve wages.

Iberdrola Chairman Ignacio Galán with some of the Primera División players

Alongside sponsorship, it would be important to increase the following and coverage of women’s football in Spain, which will in turn increase club income. This is what will allow the clubs to be able to sway their stakeholders to pay the female teams decent wages. Currently three games from the Spanish Primera División are televised each week, two on free-view, and one pay-to-view. Building on this, television rights should become a more valuable commercial income stream for the game and increase the exposure surrounding the female leagues.

Perhaps, the introduction of a professional league would also attract other top men’s clubs, such as Real Madrid, to get involved in the women’s game and perhaps lead to new rules relating to minimum pay, but this is something that the Real Federación Española de Fútbol mentions once in a blue moon, and does not appear to be something high on their agenda.

Finally, there is always the prospect of organic growth in the women’s game. Following England women’s increasing success on the international stage, the female game in the UK gained a lot of momentum. Higher WSL attendances and more television coverage on the BBC and BT Sport are just a few of the measurable changes that we’ve seen. With the success of the Under 20 women’s national team in the Euros, its clear that there’s a golden generation of players coming through the talent pathway. This is the kind of growth and improvement in the female stage will hopefully lead to higher wages, better representation and sponsorship for female players.


Alicia Povey is a Modern Languages and European Studies student at Bath University, currently living in Barcelona, Spain as part of her year abroad. While Wycombe Wanderers LFC is in her heart, Alicia has joined CE Vila Olimpica in Spain’s Segunda Catalana league for this season. Throughout the year, Alicia will be sharing some of her insights and experiences of women’s football in Spain and around the world. Follow Alicia’s progress on Twitter at LishaPovs!

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