Buzz around Lionesses’ Euro victory drives growth of Women’s Super League

Ticket sales for the upcoming Women’s Super League have surged on the back of the Lionesses’ victory at Euro 2022, boosting the long-term prospects for the game.

England’s final win, watched by more than 17mn people on BBC One, has been billed as a breakthrough moment for women’s football. The newly crowned European champions will play the US, the current world champions, at Wembley Stadium in an international friendly on October 7 in front of more than 65,000 fans. The game sold out within hours.

The buzz around the England team has quickly fed through to the WSL, the highest tier of women’s football in England. Arsenal and Chelsea have both sold out their season ticket allocations for this season. Manchester City and Leicester City said sales had doubled compared with last year, while Aston Villa said season ticket sales were up 84 per cent.

However, the women’s game is still short of money and lags far behind the men’s in terms of ticket revenue. A season ticket for Chelsea Women costs £49 — the same as the cheapest seat for a single Premier League match at Stamford Bridge and about a quarter of the price of a season pass for teams in the sixth tier of men’s football.

Season ticket sales are also limited by the size of the stadiums hosting games. Many women’s teams play in venues typically used by non-league men’s clubs. Arsenal Women play most of their matches at Meadow Park, home to Boreham Wood in the fifth tier of English men’s football. Due to the small number of seats at the stadium, the club can only sell 1,500 season tickets a year.

The ground has a total capacity of just 4,000, and is over an hour away from the Emirates — the main stadium for the men’s team, which can hold a maximum crowd of 60,000 — by public transport.

The jump in interest in women’s football coincides with a push to host more league games in larger stadiums.

This season Arsenal plan to play at least six women’s matches — a mixture of WSL and Women’s Champions League fixtures — at the Emirates. The club has already sold more than 25,000 tickets for its game against north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur in late September.

“We are fully committed to driving the long-term growth of Arsenal Women, and hosting key matches such as the north London derby at Emirates Stadium is an integral part of that strategy,” Juliet Slot, the club’s chief commercial officer, said last week.

A pair of charts showing that women’s stadiums often have limited capacity in remote locations. Brighton’s womens team plays over 25km away from Brighton’s Falmer Stadium, in a stadium with less than 20% of the capacity

Like Arsenal, a number of clubs are looking to exploit existing local rivalries. Manchester City will host Manchester United in their WSL meeting at the 55,000 person capacity Etihad Stadium, while Chelsea’s game against West Ham will take place at Stamford Bridge.

Other teams — including Leicester City and Reading FC — have made a longer term commitment to putting on all their women’s matches in the club’s main stadium.

Increasing match attendance is a key step on the road to building a more sustainable women’s game. At the moment, clubs are still heavily reliant on financial support from the men’s teams. Average attendance at WSL games last year was under 2,000, while the average Premier League match, the top level of English football, attracted about 40,000.

A chart of average attendances for women's home fixtures in 2021-22 showing that women's super league attendances are higher when played at the home stadium of the men's team

Some clubs have come under fire for staging women’s games in obscure stadiums that are difficult to reach. Brighton’s women’s team plays in Crawley, more than 20 miles by road from the American Express Community stadium — where the men’s team play and which hosted England’s quarter-final win over Spain at Euro 2022.

Travelling between the two arenas on public transport takes more than an hour. The club has said at least two WSL games will take place at the Amex this year.

Brighton playing Everton in Crawley in May © Gareth Fuller/PA

Manchester United Women play at the Leigh Sports Ground, a half-hour drive from Old Trafford, but a journey that takes almost 90 minutes by public transport.

For fans, travel issues are often compounded by the timing of matches, which can deter families from attending. Liverpool’s WSL game against Chelsea in September kicks off at 6.45pm on a Sunday — a time favoured by broadcasters — and takes place across the river Mersey at Prenton Park, home to the local men’s club Tranmere Rovers.

Travelling between the two stadiums takes less than 20 minutes by car, but up to an hour by train.

However, clubs face a difficult balancing act in deciding whether to shift matches to larger venues. Games that attract crowds of a certain size can trigger road closures, increased permit requirements and greater demands for policing — all of which can wipe out potential profits from ticket sales.

Organisers are also keen to promote a vibrant atmosphere at games — something that can be hard to achieve if small numbers show up to a large venue.

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