By Emily Salley
Juventus Women played for the first time in the Allianz Stadium and set a new attendance record for a women’s Serie A match.
A total of 39,027 people received free tickets and filled out the Allianz on Sunday 24th March to see Serie A leaders Juventus triumph 1-0 over second-placed Fiorentina. This shattered the previous record of a women’s club match in Italy, which was previously held at 14,000.
This comes just a week after 60,739 people watched Atletico Madrid v Barcelona in Atletico’s Wanda Metropolitano stadium, a record for a women’s club match. Fellow Spanish club Athletic Bilbao held the preceding record of 48,121, which was a bigger attendance than any of the men’s La Liga home games this season.
So why is the same thing not happening in the English Women’s Super League?
The women’s national team have excelled over the past 4 years. Recently crowned champions of the SheBelieves Cup, the Lionesses are now among the USA and Germany as favourites to win this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in France.
So, when the national team is experiencing such international success and the Women’s Super League is producing some of the best footballing talent in Europe, are crowd attendances so low? Senior international matches are producing attendances which average at 11,000 whilst the ten-team WSL recorded averages of 1,047 people at matches.
Perhaps it is helpful to start with the ban on Women’s football in 1921. The ban lasted for 50 years and was implemented by the FA because they thought the game was “quite unsuitable for females”. Before this prohibition, huge crowds had been attending women’s matches; 53,000 people packed themselves into Everton’s Goodison Park to watch Dick, Kerr Ladies, a popular team which regularly attracted crowds of over 10,000. Today’s game is clearly failing to match the heights women’s football was reaching in the early 1920s. It is difficult to determine to the overall impact of the FA’s 50-year ban, but it undoubtedly hindered the development of the sport, both in quality and popularity.
Then there’s the problem of home-grounds. The record attendances of Juventus, Athletic Bilbao and Atletico Madrid mentioned earlier were all recorded at the club’s main stadiums where the men’s teams play their home matches. Women’s Super League Teams have yet to experiment with this strategy and instead are using stadiums usually accessed by the club’s academy or lower-league teams. Reading Women, who are currently seventh in the WSL, play their games 26 miles away from the club’s main stadium at Wycombe Wanderers’ Adam’s Park.
Whilst the English Women’s Super League may be off the mark with its desire to increase crowd numbers, Spain and Italy have laid down a positive strategy which the FA can attempt to replicate.
Maria Tato, Athletic Bilbao’s deputy secretary told the Daily Telegraph, that they wanted to make women’s football visible; “to make that possible, we started a social movement, attracting all clubs from many different sports to see how well women could play.” These European clubs have benefitted by placing the women’s team as a central part of their values, rather than a mere extension of the men’s team, a trait that English clubs have neglected to capitalise on.
There is no doubt Women’s football is on the rise in England. It was announced last week that Barclays was to become the first ever title sponsor of the Women’s Super League, in a partnership worth over £10m which will create a prize pot of £500,000 for the WSL winners. Despite being a long way off the men’s £150m prize money, this is the first official financial recognition for a winning women’s team. Women’s football as a whole is benefitting from big brands recognising the potential for the women’s game to become mainstream.
This is shown by Adidas’s latest initiative of promising to reward female players in this year’s World Cup winning squad the same performance bonus pay-out as their male counterparts.