The WSL has been well promoted this year as the buzz from the Euros continues and the league looks to capitalise on not only the success of the England national team, but the viewing figures and attendance records set throughout the tournament.
The final, which saw England beat Germany 2-1 in extra time, saw a record crowd of 87,192 fans fill out Wembley stadium, taking the total for the tournament to 574,875 – a per game average of 18,544.
At home, 17.4 million people watched the Lionesses victory on television making it the most watched women’s football match on UK TV.
So there were high hopes for the WSL this year, especially with so many of our Lionesses playing in our league.
However, it came as a blow when the opening weekend was postponed following the passing of the Queen, as a number of teams were due to play at the men’s stadiums which would have seen a much larger attendance.
The delay in the season starting meant a loss in momentum for most clubs and though the average attendance figures were up from last season it wasn’t the big boost that many had hoped for.
The biggest crowd was at Aston Villa vs Manchester City, which was played at Villa Park where 6,785 fans were in attendance. Their average attendance last season was 1639 but with the game being held in the larger stadium, some journalists had predicted a much larger turn out than what they got.
There were 5,315 fans at Leigh Sports Village to see Manchester United beat Reading 4-0 with three stands open instead of the usual two. This was a record for United at this ground and significantly higher than their average last season of 3,567 – the highest in the league.
Tickets sold for the game were in excess of 7,000 so the club had planned for a slightly larger turn out and put the infrastructures in place to manage this well, showing that the WSL is equipped and well prepared for the growth it so desperately wants.
At Prenton Park, newly promoted Liverpool hosted champions Chelsea and beat them in perhaps the biggest shock of the weekend and it was witnessed by 3,006 fans – the highest ever attendance at Prenton Park.
Elsewhere however, attendances were low for West Ham vs Everton with just 1,118 in attendance, over 300 below their average.
It is early days in the WSL and only time will tell over the course of the season how big of a wave the Euros has created. But early signs suggest that some teams have benefitted greatly from the Euros effect, United being the stand out, whereas others have seen very little if any improvement on attendances following the Euros success.
The trick for teams such as United who have welcomed their record crowd and Liverpool too who have seen a boost, will be to find a way of retaining these new fans.
Each year, clubs play a game at their men’s stadiums and we see a boost for that game, eg United hosted 20,000 fans at Old Trafford as they beat Everton but the following game week less than 2,000 returned to Leigh.
The WSL needs to crack the secret of how to tempt fans back to their home grounds and we await to see whether the Euros is the big event that the league needed to boost figures and wake people up to the world of women’s football.