It is no secret that women’s sports struggle to maintain the same levels of exposure as men’s sport. Whilst this isn’t necessary attributable to any given sport in particular, it is a precedent that has been set for a considerable amount of time.
Recently however, broadcast deals for the Vitality Netball Superleague, The Hundred and the FA Women’s Premier League Football has provided the opportunity for women’s sport to be showcased to a mainstream audience. As a result, the exposure afforded sports has given a platform for female athletes to demonstrate a market of fans supporting their game, few more so than Women’s Football.
FA Women’s Super League
Just last year, the FA Women’s Super League has reached a landmark rights deal that saw the league agree to a three-year agreement for games to be broadcast on Sky and the BBC. As a result, the exposure has seen female athletes and teams move into the mainstream consciousness of competitive sport, with up to 44 matches being shown on sky with 22 live games being broadcast on free-to-air channels such on the BBC network.
This is the first time that the Women’s Super League has been sold separately to the men’s game and provides a platform on which to allow the domestic game to grow within the UK. The impact of this has been noticeable even within the 12 months that have followed.
The 2018/19 season saw an average of 996 fans per game, with an increase of 41% for the Championship in the same year. The following year, the average number of fans at league games topped 3,000 and the exposure afforded to the game on mainstream TV continues to see growth throughout the domestic game.
An increase in the use of men’s stadia has been a controversial topic, with availability being a considerable issue for clubs with top-performing teams across both genders. Three of the Women’s Super League now share their home ground with the mens’ teams, setting a record for top-flight women’s football. The increased size of stadia for women’s teams to play in provides a unique opportunity to increase the attendance for games. Whilst these opportunities are often reserved for local rivalries or top of the table clashes, the opportunities are often well received by the general public.
Women’s Football League Attendances
At the end of April, Newcastle United Women played their National League Division One North game against Alnwick Town at St James’ Park, home of the men’s team. This was the first time that the Lady Magpies had competed at the stadium and they were embraced by a club-record crowd of 22,134 supporters, smashing the previous record of 2,700 who supported the team in their FA Cup clash in January of this year.
Whilst the growth of support within Newcastle United is remarkable in such a short space of time, it is made even more remarkable by the Women’s team being in the fourth tier of English football.
With it being the first time the team had played at the iconic St James’ Park, it appears that much of the growth of the women’s game can be attributed to the awareness and opportunities available to watch and support. The growing exposure afforded throughout the sport has seen an increase in fans attending games and engaging in the sport as an entity yet has not been restricted to the English league.
Prior to last month, the record attendance for a women’s football game was 90,185 for the 1999 World Cup Final between the USA and China. In the time since, there have been few games to rival such a staggering number, certainly without the pressure or prestige that accompanies a World Cup Final involving a team playing at home.
In the past month however, Barcelona women played in front of 91,553 for their Spanish League game against real Madrid. With playing at the Nou Camp, home of Barcelona men, the women surpassed their own world record by welcoming 91,648 fans for a 5-1 rout of Wolfsburg in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final.
Whilst reaching their third UEFA Women’s Champions League in four years and having attractions such as Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas undoubtedly contribute to the incredible attendance figures of Barcelona Femeni, the principles of their growth remain consistent with other opportunities throughout Europe. Providing the opportunity for exposure and growth without placing a ceiling on attendance figures or coverage has been an integral contirbutor.
The Future of Women’s Football
The increased opportunities for fans to support women’s football has contributed to a phenomenal rise in attendance figures to games both domestically and throughout Europe. Alongside the broadcast deals to push the game into the mainstream consciousness, the opportunity for the leagues to stand alone in the sporting sphere whilst utilising the same facilities available to the men has seen a well-received product that shows no signs of slowing down.
The UEFA Women’s European Championships being held in England later this summer is set to produce more games that will most likely feature in the top 10 attendance figures of all-time for the women’s game. The final of the competition has already seen the 90,000 capacity Wembley Stadium sold out whilst the opening game at Old Trafford, home of Manchester United, is in equally high demand.
The increasing growth in the popularity of the women’s game has gone hand-in-hand with the increase in exposure afforded to women’s sport as an entity. In order to grow the future of women’s football, giving the opportunity to for the game to be witnessed by as many fans as possible is crucial to maintain the momentum witnessed over the past couple of seasons and that which will no doubt be witness through the European Championships this summer.
With this exposure, utilising the facilities available through the country and the partnerships held by many clubs with their male counterparts will be crucial to capitalising on the stars that are being created throughout the domestic and European games.