A second consecutive World Cup semi-final appearance, record-breaking television viewing figures and unprecedented media exposure – it’s been a landmark summer for women’s football in England.
The likes of Steph Houghton, Ellen White and Lucy Bronze captured the nation’s imagination en route to reaching the last four, where their narrow 2-1 defeat to eventual champions USA was watched by 11.7 million people – the highest peak television audience of the year so far.
But what’s next? This is a key moment for the women’s game and several initiatives are planned in order to help further raise its profile and encourage fans to attend more consistently.
Liverpool and Manchester United have arranged joint pre-season trips for their men’s and women’s teams, with the former taking both squads on tour in the US and the Red Devils sides each having friendlies in Norway on consecutive days at the end of July.
Arsenal Women will play Bayern Munich in the 2019 Emirates Cup, with the game immediately followed by the men’s team taking on Lyon. Indeed, tests with similar “double headers” involving other sides are planned for the 2019-20 campaign.
“We know there’s a massive potential audience of fans coming across from the men’s game and the men’s clubs,” said Kelly Simmons MBE, FA Director of the Women’s Professional Game, speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live.
Boosting the numbers
Simmons added that there would be a number of fixtures played at men’s stadiums, noting: “We’ve already seen when we’ve done that before a big uplift in numbers coming to the games.”
Manchester City and Chelsea have announced that their opening Women’s Super League fixtures, against United and Tottenham respectively, will be played at the Etihad Stadium and Stamford Bridge. Both offer the chance for bumper crowds, with the latter notably providing free entry for all fans.
“I think we are at that point, going into this season, where we can expect that teams will be playing in big stadiums more often – not every week, because we are building to that, but I think it is ready to do that,” Chelsea Women boss Emma Hayes told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Daily Football podcast.
Looking further ahead, the Premier League is moving closer to taking over control of the Women’s Super League. As it stands, the WSL is Europe’s only full-time professional competition, but there are still opportunities for further growth.
Last season, the average WSL attendance was just 833, down from 1,128 in 2016. The aim is to bolster this figure this season in the wake of the success of the World Cup, as well as the arrival of two big-name sides in United and Spurs.
United were particularly well supported in the previous campaign – their first as a newly formed professional side – with an average attendance of over 1,500 across all competitions.
Any potential PL takeover is likely to be a few seasons away at least, so for the immediate future the focus is on improving attendance figures. The message is: get out there and support your team!
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