The Women’s Super League is enjoying its most successful season so far, in terms of attendance records, and as a whole the exposure of women’s football is rapidly increasing. We’ve seen multiple records broken this year, with the Women’s Euros final at Wembley setting a new record for highest attended match at either a men or women’s European championship with over 87,000 in the stands.
Additionally, Barcelona’s 5-2 win over Real Madrid in the women’s El Clasico at the end of March broke the women’s football attendance record altogether with Nou Camp welcoming 91,553 fans to the match. Given that the women’s game still feels in its early years (the WSL only started officially in 2011) it seems a phenomenal achievement that we can celebrate such tremendous turnouts at these events. Yet it still feels like there is such a long way to go.
On average, 3,000 fans attended Barcelona’s fixtures during the 2021/22 season and the marketing and advertisement that went into promoting the El Clasico Champions League quarter-final, while evidently extremely worthwhile, was an inconceivable effort.
Must we commit to this level of advertising every time there is a significant match? Or can we hope that sooner rather than later there is a more substantial and consistent turnout?
Compared to the 90,000 that turned up to Camp Nou for the El Clasico, 3,000 sounds like nothing.
However, when this is put into the context of the WSL regulars, 3,000 would be an admirable feat to see week in week out. While clubs such as Manchester United have enjoyed a higher regular attendance rate with an average home crowd of 3,567 in the 2021/22 season, seemingly popular clubs in the men’s game, such as Tottenham Hotspur only saw an average attendance of 1528.
These figures are still, however, a vast improvement on what existed just a few years ago. When the WSL first began the 2011 season saw an average of just 585 fans and this figure only began to rise significantly during the 2019/20 season.
What is not just remarkable but also overwhelmingly positive from these figures, is that the average attendance for the WSL this season has doubled from what it was in the 2019/20 season and it is only November. The end figures of the 2022/23 season are sure to differ from what we see just now, but the message will still very much be the same. The interest is growing and representation is key. There is no way this number would have reached the heights its currently enjoying at the start of this season had it not been for the Euro 2022 success.
Additionally, the average attendance begins to shift exponentially following the Lionesses first foray into tournament triumphs when they reached the semi-final of the World Cup in 2019.
In a previous interview in which NationalWorld spoke with former England footballer Lianne Sanderson, the former England international said: “Now there’s more radio coverage, TV coverage, it’s fantastic. There is still a long way to go. I would like to see more fans coming consistently to the games. I’m not talking 2,000, I want to see 20,000.
“We’re at the point where we can sell out stadiums but it’s about promotion and I think the fact that there’s more publicity now makes a difference.”
Comparing these figures for the WSL to the Premier League, that 20,000 still seems a long way off, but recent history has shown it can happen and the consistent publicity makes an exponential amount of difference.
Over the years, the Premier League has enjoyed a consistent average attendance with only a small rise coming in the 2017/18 season following significant stadium expansions, such as Spurs’ temporary move to Wembley and Newcastle’s return to the top flight league.
This season they are currently enjoying a near average of 40,000 in attendance at each game. It is, as previously touched upon, obviously a much older and more established set-up than the women’s game. But such disparity between the numbers still does not feel right - should there really be a 30,000 person difference between the two?
One hopes it will only be a matter of time before this 30,000 person imbalance redresses itself as the level of publicity continues to increase. Wouldn’t it be more exciting to go see players who have actually won an international trophy this year rather than watch those who have been searching aimlessly for one since 1966?
Maybe that’s a tad harsh, but what is alarmingly unfair is the continued distinction in appreciation for the women’s game. It is a time for celebration that over 90,000 people attend the women’s El Clasico and a time for jubilation that the north London derby saw nearly 50,000 spectators. However, the real festivities and sense of complete achievement will come when these numbers become regular, and they are no longer outstanding anomalies.