Competitive Balance in Women's Football

What really is sports without competition? In my opinion, there would be no more sports if there wasn’t competition. The winning and losing aspect of sports is what draws fans in and keeps them interested. Everyone likes the idea of winning something so when their team wins fans feel like they won too and when their team loses the fans feel like they lost. It creates this community centered around competition. Fans winning and losing together. But the competition doesn’t stop there, it continues into a competition between leagues as well.

There is a constant debate in women’s football over which league is truly the most competitive. Rival fans will get into wars on Twitter claiming their league is more competitive than others. For some, I imagine this is getting to the point where it’s annoying to hear others claim their favorite league is the best and most competitive. Does how competitive a league is, make it the best? And how do fans know it is the most competitive? To dispel this debate, I used a measure to calculate how competitive a league is. This is called the Noll-Scully competitive balance measure.

To calculate this measure one takes the actual standard deviation of the win percentage and divides it by the ideal standard deviation of the win percentage. The actual standard deviation is calculated as the standard deviation of the win percentage meaning the variation in the win percentage or in simpler terms how far from the average win percentage each team is. The ideal standard deviation is calculated as 0.5 divided by the square root of matches played. 0.5 is because in an ideal world everyone should have a 50% chance of winning a match. A perfectly competitive league should have a ratio of 1 so the closer to 1 each league’s ratio the more competitive it is.

I decided to just look at the top European leagues which were figured to be the Women’s Super League, Frauen Bundesliga, Primera División, Damallsvenskan, Serie A Femminile, and Division 1 Féminine. The NWSL was not included as the league is set up with a salary cap and other things of that nature to make the league as competitive as possible rather than letting one team spend as much money as they want and dominate the league. Many American sports have salary caps as there is no promotion or relegation, so this way teams can’t just coast at the bottom rather than trying to compete with teams spending more money than them since teams are limited on how much they spend. This allows American leagues to be more competitive because no one team has a financial advantage over others. While all the European leagues have promotion and relegation which motivates teams to try and be as competitive as possible so they don’t get relegated, as seen teams will do the bare minimum to not be relegated rather than trying to keep up with the bigger teams. The data used to calculate this measure is from the 2021-2022 season except for the Damallsvenskan where I used the data from 2021 since they haven't finished the 2022 season.

Looking at the graph one can see that the Damallsvenskan is the most competitive, with the WSL in second, Primera Division in third, Serie A in fourth, Frauen Bundesliga in fifth, and Division 1 in last.

The gaps between these teams are only going to increase if we only see the top teams investing more money. But more and more top men's sides are starting to invest money into their women's teams, such as Frankfurt, Borussia Dortmund, Newcastle, and many others. With this, hopefully, in the next ten years, we will see these numbers drop closer to 1 increasing the competitiveness of these leagues.

As a Bayern fan, I naturally think the Frauen Bundesliga is the best simply because I find it the most interesting to watch. Others say their league is the best because it does the best in Europe. These numbers don’t explicitly state which league is the best, they show which league is the most competitive in other words which league has the most evenly distributed wins, and if that’s what makes it the best for you then congratulations the Damallsvenskan is the best league.