Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Rise of WSL attendances post 2019 World Cup

Posted on 5 July 2020 by Alexandra Ibaceta

The 2019 Women’s World Cup was historic.

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The eighth edition of the FIFA Women’s World Cup smashed viewing records with a total audience of 1.12 billion according to a report by FIFA.

More than double the average live match audience from 2015 tuned into the tournament globally, averaging a total of 17.27m viewers.

The final between the Netherlands and the USA was the most watched Women’s World Cup final in the tournament’s history with 263.62m viewers.

In the UK, the semi-final clash between England and the USA recorded the highest TV audience in 2019 (at that time) with 11.7m viewers; that is 47% of the UK population according to BBC.

The Lionesses had the nation behind them with the belief they could overcome the reigning champions and progress to a World Cup final for the first time ever.

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Of Phil Neville’s 23 woman squad, 19 players played in England’s domestic league, the Barclay’s FA WSL.

Post-World Cup, fans still had the opportunity to see 17 World Cup players live in England; Nikita Parris (Manchester City) and Alex Greenwood (Manchester United) signed for Olympique Lyonnais for the 2019/2020 season.

The tournament’s record breaking viewing figures in the UK reflected in the FA WSL’s average attendance figures; there was a 34% increase in the 2019/20 season from 2018/19.

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Beyond the 2019 scorching summer in France, there has been an increase of marketing women’s domestic football to attract consistent fans to matches week in and week out.

The FA exploited the weekends where men’s football was on an international break and domestic football could be focused on the women.

Promoting the WSL in bigger stadiums, on bigger platforms and more frequently saw the increase of WSL attendances from the start of the 2019/20 season when Chelsea hosted Tottenham for their opening match at Stamford Bridge in front of 24,564 fans.

Etihad Stadium hosted Manchester City’s opening match with a record crowd (at that time) of 31,213 fans.

This was the first Manchester derby in the WSL as Manchester United just achieved promotion from the women’s Championship in their first season in the league.

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The average attendances displayed in the graph above exclude showcase matches, these include opening day matches played in Premier League stadiums, matches played during Women’s Football Weekend and special derbies.

Women’s football weekend was created in November 2019, which saw six WSL matches played in Premier League and men’s Championship stadiums.

It attracted over a total of 70,000 fans throughout the league.

Spurs, hosted London rivals, Arsenal, at the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in front of 38,262, a new WSL record.

Anfield hosted the Merseyside derby between Liverpool and Everton with 23,500 on lookers, the first time the notable Liverpool stadium has hosted a WSL match.

Away from big stadiums, Chelsea hosted Manchester United at Kingsmeadow in front of 4,790 fans and set a new WSL attendance record of a match held in a non-Premier League Stadium.

If big stadium attendance numbers were calculated into the season’s average, the 2018/19 total attendance number was already surpassed by December 2019.

Women’s football is seeing progressive growth and the 2019 summer played a pivotal factor in this positive change.

The global success of the 2019 Women’s World Cup paved the way to show the nation that the players they saw on their screens play just in their back gardens.