Women’s Football: Moving beyond the event

AT THE moment, there’s a lot of positives around women’s football. The World Cup is on the horizon, the European Championship was hugely successful and there’s growing interest in domestic football in many countries. In England, the game is on the crest of a wave after EURO 2022, but the big crowds witnessed at showpiece occasions are not truly representative of the momentum.

At the World Football Summit in Seville, building a sustainable model for women’s football was a recurring theme. Maggie Murphy of Lewes FC underlined the need to move beyond the idea of an “event” to greater appreciation of week-on-week league football. As the Women’s Super League got underway, there were big “event-type” crowds at Arsenal and Liverpool, but the fact is, both of these teams, in their own grounds would get much smaller attendances. At Chelsea, on a chilly September night, the current champions drew 2,842 people for a London derby with West Ham. This sort of crowd is more typical of WSL football than the big stadium “event” that resembles the atmosphere you find at the FA Cup final.

As Murphy said, post-EURO the appetite for the game has grown significantly, but there does seem to be a caveat in any discussion about the commercial opportunity. The FA, the media and the clubs have done a good job in raising awareness, but there should be no misunderstanding that in order to grow the game, domestic football has to become more popular. Nielsen conducted a survey before and after the European Championship and there was a notable rise in interest around women’s football.

Interestingly, Murphy explained that Lewes FC, a ground-breaking and innovative organisation – “we’re kind of a club with a personality” –  that has championed the idea of fan ownership and equality, is one of the most expensive clubs in women’s football in terms of admission prices. “We value the product and monetise it accordingly… we have to price appropriately to survive and thrive.”

There is no doubt this is an exciting time for women’s football, indeed sport as a whole. The big challenge is to convince investors, club owners and the financial sector that it is an attractive product. And at the moment, there is an opportunity as the feel good factor continues after the EURO 2022. Said Maggie Murphy: “The legacy is difficult to calculate. At Lewes we saw an increase in crowds and sponsor interest, but that fell off….In order to create a sustainable model, we have to be continually innovative.”

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