The ‘men only’ world of European football is seemingly coming to an end. The clubs of the ‘Old Continent’, such as Chelsea, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, have established solid, successful women’s teams and the fan base that follows women’s football is increasing—clearly demonstrated by the ratings for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup.The process has not been without obstacles, among them profound discrepancies in salaries and sponsor gaps as well as television and media coverage, in addition to disorganized institutions and federations. In fact, many developed nations have not yet institutionalized women’s football as a professional sport. One such nation is Italy, where women have been relegated to an amateur league and therefore have not had the opportunity to partake in the benefits that going pro entails. Finally, however, an Italian professional club has noticed the sea change in the sport. During an August 18 press conference at the Artemio Franchi Stadium, ACF Fiorentina announced the first professional women’s football team in Italy. In a first, the men’s club has taken over the women’s amateur team, the ACF Firenze ASD. Now called the Fiorentina Women’s Football Club, the team is controlled by ACF Fiorentina and is an asset of the Della Valle ownership. The team will compete in the Italian Women’s Serie A division.
The president of the new club is former Fiorentina general manager Sandro Mencucci. Charged with overseeing the growth process of the new club, during the official announcement, Mencucci spoke of ‘an ambitious and innovative project…that could bring advantages also to the men’s club, because it will bring us [Fiorentina] closer to the mentality of the top tier European teams, such as Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Chelsea and many others.’ Press coverage has resonated with enthusiasm, and many are already curious to see the new team at work when the season begins in October. Even more importantly, the new squad immediately caught the attention of potential sponsors and investors, as Mencucci observed: ‘The idea has been received very well, and I already have a handful of proposals regarding sponsors for the team—both for the jersey, and for the club in general. I’m talking about important businesses.’
Whether Fiorentina’s new project turns out to be flash in the pan or truly the start of a new era in Italian professional football will only be revealed in time, but the organization’s intent is evident in its first acquisition for the new team: striker—and leader—Patrizia Panico, the most renowned woman in Italian football, who won last year’s women’s Serie A championship. ‘When you leave a team that just won the league, it’s not the best of feelings, especially when you could have played in the Champions League. But since the first day that I was contacted by the Fiorentina managers, I was intrigued and delighted by their project to grow the women’s football movement,’ Panico said.