By Jonathan Castner
Transfer spending in women’s professional soccer almost doubled in 2020 and surpassed $1 million this past year for the very first time. Last summer’s transfer window was the most active in women’s soccer history, with a number of stars like Lucy Bronze, Pernille Harder, and Tobin Heath, making big money moves. Last year also brought a new British record transfer in women’s soccer after Chelsea signed Harder from Wolfsburg for £250,000.
All of this is a drop in the bucket compared to the money generated in the men’s game. Most items of women’s soccer memorabilia sell for less too. Compared to the men, there are fewer top-level teams and fewer players. That means fewer pieces of women’s memorabilia on the market.
Of course, women’s soccer has been playing catch-up for the better part of the last century as women were denied the same sporting opportunities as men. Women’s amateur soccer matches attracted thousands of fans in the England in the first two decades of the 20th Century, but its Football Association banned organized women’s soccer in 1921. European football associations followed suit and women were essentially locked out of European football until the 1970s.
In 1971, the English FA lifted its ban and UEFA (the governing body of the sport in Europe) recommended that the national associations in each country should manage the women’s game. Later that year the first women’s international football match was played between France and the Netherlands.
A year later women’s soccer in America received its biggest boost as the United States government made gender discrimination illegal in the work force (and on the playing field) by enacting a law known as Title 9. High schools and colleges were required to offer women’s sports programs, and for many schools, soccer became the sport of choice. It was only a matter of time until American colleges attracted some of the world’s best talent in women’s soccer.
In 1985, the United States Women’s National Team was formed. It won the inaugural FIFA Women’s World Cup in China in 1991 and the 1999 Women’s World Cup it hosted. The National Women’s Soccer League was launched in 2012 and is still operating today. Professional soccer clubs in Europe got in on the act with the creation of their own women’s teams. Arsenal, Chelsea, and Manchester City are among the most successful.
Professional women’s soccer continues to grow but women’s international football continues to generate the biggest global buzz. According to some estimates over 1 billion people watched the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France.
Traditionally, the best international teams include the USA, Germany, Sweden, Brazil, and Japan. Some of the all-time great players include Marta from Brazil, Abby Wambach, Mia Hamm, and Michelle Akers from the USA, Sun Wen from China, Birgit Prinz from Germany, and Homare Sawa from Japan.
When it comes to women’s memorabilia, the best-selling match worn shirts (of the biggest stars) sell for hundreds, not thousands of dollars. Since there are fewer international and professional matches, match worn memorabilia can be very rare. The game’s most iconic memorabilia is either privately owned or in a museum.
The sports bra worn by Brandi Chastain during her match winning goal in the 1999 World Cup was temporarily donated to a museum in New York. She owns it, and the shirt she removed in that famous celebration.
Some sales are notable. In 2015, autographed, game-worn jerseys of players from the US Women’s National Team sold for total of $64,000 at a charity auction. Defender Ali Krieger’s jersey drew the highest winning bid of $11,000 while goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris’ jerseys brought $9,000. Alex Morgan’s shirt (pictured above) sold for $8,000.
Those prices are the exception and not the rule. A game worn Alex Morgan USA shirt from 2011 sold for over $1,000 on eBay in 2011. A Hope Solo match worn USA uniform from 2015 sold for over $600 on eBay. Some Brazil shirts worn by Marta have sold for over $1,500, while her match worn Orlando pride shirts have brought much less – around $200 online.
Other types of one-of-a kind memorabilia are difficult to find. An unused ticket from the first Women’s World Cup in 1991 is listed on eBay for $800.
Autographed memorabilia is widely available. You can find autographed soccer balls for hundreds of dollars. A 1999 World Cup match-used soccer ball (pictured at the top), which was also signed by team USA, did not sell because it did not reach the $1,500 minimum bid.