New research from Two Circles has revealed that attendances in England’s Women’s Super League (WSL) have increased by a staggering 267% in the first half of this season compared to last season, thanks to a strategy of playing big games in bigger stadiums to play, which leaked down across the league.
Overall, the average WSL viewership for the season ended Jan. 21, 2023 is 6,961, more than two and a half times last season’s average of 1,898. Total league attendance surpassed a quarter million mark after just 40 games this season surpassing the total attendance for the entire previous season by a third of the time.
In November 2021, the Football Association of England (FA) released a three-year women’s professional game strategy, in which it aimed for an average attendance in the WSL of 6,000 by 2024. Currently, WSL games are still being played at Old Trafford and Goodison Park this month, achieving that goal a year ahead of schedule.
Operating from six international offices (London, New York, Los Angeles, Paris, Bern and Melbourne), Two Circles is a full-service sports marketing agency delivering growing revenue for the world’s leading sports rights owners. Driven by data, Two Circles strategizes, delivers proprietary technology solutions, packages and sells sponsorships, and designs and markets compelling, tailored content.
They believe strategies to increase the visibility of women’s football need to be complemented by broader efforts to implement significant structural changes. They identify four key players – the national associations and clubs, the supporters, the media and sponsors. While they claim that all of these stakeholders are independent, they must align towards common goals to increase a sport’s commercial value. Often, they argue, the growth cycle is “started by visionary and committed individuals who sit in senior positions within the association, the league, and the individual clubs”.
Speaking to me in 2021, FA Director of Women’s Professional Game Kelly Simmons told me “in relation to this (strategy) we want to increase the attendance of the game to the large fan bases of men’s football, which we know is increasing.” come over and follow the women.”
Eight WSL games have already been played in larger stadiums this season, resulting in four attendances in excess of 40,000, each beating the previous league attendance record of 38,262 set at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium before the Covid pandemic in 2019 The average attendance at those eight major games is 35,056, compared to the average of just 7,234 for the nine WSL games played in major stadiums last season.
While these five-figure attendance figures undoubtedly skew the overall stats, Two Circles research shows that viewership at WSL is still up 86% regardless of big game numbers. Excluding the eight games played in larger stadiums, the average WSL attendance for the first half of this season is 2,799, compared to 1,507 last season.
That notwithstanding, Two Circles’ analysis suggests that the strategy of playing big games in big stadiums benefits the league as a whole, as they suggest that visibility and the media attention it brings is “the key element of the sustainable growth cycle for women’s football.” ” are. With clubs deriving little or no financial benefit from playing in larger stadiums due to the higher costs, the study states that “profitability should not be the most important factor and the only measure of a club’s and league’s initial investment”. .
They claim that hosting such big matches allows clubs to gain “insights into a highly diverse audience” which has a different profile than those who regularly attend women’s matches. Additionally, hosting matches in larger stadiums allows a club to offer a ‘premium matchday experience’ unavailable at smaller stadiums, which they believe plays a key role in retaining fans and increasing fans’ affinity with the women’s team .
Not surprisingly, the bigger clubs with established brands have had the most success in attracting the biggest crowds to their big stadiums. Leicester City have played all their league games at the club’s main pitch and have failed to match the headline-grabbing attendances of Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United. Nonetheless, their average viewership for the season is up 50% from the last campaign, and Two Circles argues that women’s teams consistently benefit from “access to infrastructure, marketing power and engagement with their respective men’s teams’ existing fan bases.”
This Sunday, the 12th English League Cup final between Arsenal and Chelsea will be played in front of over 20,000 spectators at Selhurst Park, more than double the previous record attendance at last year’s final. This exponential growth means that hosting the final at the 90,000 capacity English National Stadium in Wembley could soon be a viable option.
Chelsea captain Magda Eriksson believes that’s a goal. “Yeah I mean I’m totally in favour, I’m so excited to see those kind of numbers, to see that on Sunday it’s most likely going to be a sold out audience. I think that’s super exciting. I think it’s just further proof of where women’s football is going in this country. He just keeps taking new steps. And yes, definitely, next time an even bigger stadium, that’s obviously the goal, if we sell out the one then we’ll have to move to something bigger.”
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