New research from Two Circles has revealed that crowds in the English Women’s Super League (WSL) in the first half of this season have increased by 267% compared to last season, due to the strategy of playing big games in bigger stadiums, which is filtered. throughout the league.
Overall, the WSL world average stands at 6,961 for the season to 21 January 2023, more than two and a half times last season’s average of 1,898. The league-wide total viewership has surpassed a quarter of a million after just 40 games this season, surpassing the total attendance for the entire previous season in a third of the time.
In November 2021, the English Football Association (FA) published a three-year Women’s Professional Game Strategy, in which it targeted an average WSL attendance of 6,000 by 2024. As it stands, with WSL matches still being played at Old Trafford and Goodison Park this per month, this goal will be achieved a year ahead of schedule.
Working from six international offices (London, New York, Los Angeles, Paris, Bern and Melbourne), Two Circles is a full-service sports marketing agency, growing revenue for the world’s leading sports rights holders. Powered by data, Two Circles creates strategies, provides proprietary technology solutions, packages and sells sponsorships, and designs and markets compelling, custom content.
They believe that strategies for increasing the visibility of the women’s game must be complemented by wider efforts to implement significant structural changes. They identify four key stakeholders – national associations and clubs, fans, media and sponsors. While they argue that all these stakeholders are independent, they must be aligned with common goals to promote the commercial value of a sport. Often, they argue, the development cycle is set in motion “by visionary and committed people sitting in managerial positions in the federation, the individual club league”.
Speaking to me in 2021, the FA’s Director of Women’s Professional Game, Kelly Simmons, told me “in this (strategy), we want to increase participation. Big games in the main stadiums, I think are very important in terms of playing in big fans of the men’s game that we know are increasingly coming and following the women.”
Already this season, eight WSL matches have been played in larger stadiums, resulting in four crowds of more than 40,000, each more than the previous league record crowd of 38,262 set at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium before the Covid pandemic in 2019. average attendance for those eight major games is 35,056 compared to an average of just 7,234 in the nine WSL games played in major stadiums last season.
While these five-figure attendances no doubt skew the general statistics, research from Two Circles shows that regardless of big game numbers, crowds at the WSL have still grown by 86%. Excluding the eight games played in larger stadiums, the average WSL crowd in the first half of this season is 2,799, compared to 1,507 last campaign.
However, Two Circles’ analysis suggests that the strategy of playing big games in big stadiums benefits the league as a whole, suggesting that the visibility and media attention it garners is “the key element of the cycle of sustainable growth for the women’s football”. With clubs seeing little or no financial benefit from playing in bigger stadiums due to increased costs, the research states that “profitability should not be the primary driver and sole measure of a club’s and league’s initial investment”.
They claim that hosting such big matches allows clubs to gain “insights into a very diverse audience” that has a different profile to those who regularly attend women’s matches. Furthermore, holding matches in larger stadiums allows a club to offer a “premium game experience” not available in smaller stadiums, which they argue plays a key role in fan retention and increasing fan affinity with the women’s team.
Unsurprisingly, it is the bigger clubs with established brands that have the most success attracting the biggest crowds to their big stadiums. Leicester City have played all of their league games at the club’s home ground and have not attracted the crowds that headline the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United. However, their season average audience increased by 50% last campaign and Two Circles argue that women’s teams around the world benefit from “access to infrastructure, marketing power and engagement with existing fan bases of their respective men’s teams”.
This Sunday, the 12th FA League Cup final between Arsenal and Chelsea will be played in front of more than 20,000 spectators at Selhurst Park, more than double the previous record attendance for last year’s final. This exponential growth means that holding the final at England’s 90-000 capacity national stadium at Wembley could soon be a viable option.
Chelsea captain Magda Eriksson believes that’s something to aim for. “Yeah, I mean, I’m all for it, I’m so excited to see numbers like that, to see it’s probably going to be a sellout crowd on Sunday. I think this is extremely exciting. I think it’s just another testament to where women’s football is going in this country. It’s just constantly taking new steps. And yes definitely, next time, an even bigger stadium, that’s the goal, of course, if we sell out this one then we have to go for something bigger.”