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.”

Women’s Super League: Record crowd at the Emirates

HOSTING Women’s Super League games at big stadiums creates a definite showcase occasion and positive PR for the cause. While not every game is a full house, it shunts the women’s game into the spotlight, which is the clear objective.

On international breaks, the WSL has the opportunity to meet the demand for live action, and while such inflated crowds are somewhat artificial (whether you talk about tickets sold or actual  attendances – did 6,500 people really buy a ticket for the north London derby and not roll up?), they show what can be achieved.

Arsenal drew a crowd of 47,000 for their clash with Spurs and totally trounced their neighbours 4-0, their second consecutive victory by such a convincing margin. The Gunners  were in fine form, which bodes well for their Champions League second leg game against Ajax this week.

The big game of the weekend was the clash between Chelsea and Manchester City at Kingsmeadow. Both sides lost their opening fixtures and although the meeting of two of the WSL  heavyweights didn’t live up to expectations, Chelsea won 2-0, although City were the better team for much of the 90 minutes. Fran Kirby got her second goal of the season and the points were clinched by a penalty from Maren Mjelde.

There was another big local derby, with 27,500 attending the Merseyside clash between Liverpool and Everton at Anfield. Everton were by far the better side and there was a standout performance from Jess Park, the 20 year-old forward who is on loan from Manchester City. Everton won 3-0 and brought their hosts down to earth after their 1-0 win against Chelsea in their first game back in the WSL.

Manchester United continued their good start to the season with a 2-0 win at West Ham where only 2,100 turned up. United’s goals were scored by new signing from Bilbao Lucia Garcia and full back Hannah Blundell. United have yet to concede a goal and look a good bet for a title bid at this stage.

In the all-Midlands clash,  Aston Villa consigned Leicester to their second consecutive home defeat with Rachel Daly adding to her brace against Manchester City with the first goal in a 2-0 victory.

A crowd of over 5,000 at the Amex Stadium saw Brighton get off the mark with a 2-1 win against Reading. Hope Powell’s side took a 2-0 lead through Lee Guem-min and Katie Robinson and Reading’s consolation from Charlie Wellings came deep into added time.