WSL attendance rates soar after Euros boost

Attendance rates at Women’s Super League (WSL) games have soared this season following England’s Euros triumph in July.

WSL average attendance is currently at 7,230 which is more than double the previous record of 3,016 set in 2019/20, and in seasons prior to that, crowd averages rarely topped 1,000.

The spike two years ago was a result of the 2019 Women’s World Cup, but WSL attendance rates dropped in 2020/21 after the coronavirus pandemic forced games behind closed doors.

A graph showing the spike in attendance at WSL games this season

Chester Bates, a member of Chelsea Women Supporters Group, said: “After the World Cup in France, we definitely noticed an increase in WSL attendance rates but it wasn’t as much as we all wanted it to be.

“However, the Euros were incredible and the success of the Lionesses in the tournament has definitely been a massive factor in getting more people along to the games.

“I think it helped get people involved who didn’t really have an interest in the women’s game before and it gave them an opportunity to go and see a different type of football.”

Arsenal fan, Emma Nicholls explained that it was the Euros that encouraged her to watch Arsenal Women play for the first time.

She said: “I found all the England players really inspirational and from that point on I started watching all the Arsenal matches.

“The atmosphere in the stadium was amazing. I loved it.”

Main Stadia Matches

Euros fever has pushed WSL clubs to hold more matches at their main stadiums and in practical terms this has provided the space for attendances to shoot up.

Last weekend over 30,000 people watched Manchester United thrash Aston Villa 5-0 at Old Trafford and 47,367 people turned out for September’s north London derby at the Emirates when Arsenal beat Tottenham 4-0.

Previously spectator growth at women’s games was limited by the size of the grounds that female sides play at.

Chelsea Women FC’s regular stadium, Kingsmeadow, has a capacity of only 4,850 and Meadow Park where Arsenal Women FC usually play can hold 4,500 at most.

These numbers are small compared to Stamford Bridge which has space for 40,343 fans and the Emirates which at full capacity can seat over 60,000.

A graph showing the difference in capacity between women’s stadiums and main stadiums

This season every club in the WSL has committed to holding at least one game at their main stadium and some have committed to more.

Reading Women host all their games at the 24,000 seat Select Car Leasing Stadium and have done so since 2020.

Mitch Parris, marketing manager for Reading FC Women, said: “I think Reading Football Club’s decision to play at the Select Car every time is not just a recognition of the need to boost the women’s game up as much as the men’s, but it also shows the growth that the women’s game has been on over the past few years.

“The impact of the Euros on attendance has also been absolutely massive.

“Last season our highest ever attendance was 1,500 people against Manchester Utd in January but this season we’ve pretty much broken that in every home game apart from one.”

WSL Attendance Disparities

Even if you remove attendance data from the ‘big stadia’ matches, the league average is still nearing 3,000 fans which is way up from the 2021/22 season average of 1,850.

However, scratch below the surface and it is clear that most of the growth in attendance is concentrated at the top of the league.

A graph showing the different attendances at home games of WSL clubs in the 2022/23 season

Chelsea, Manchester Utd and Arsenal who are currently ranked one, two and three in the table respectively, also lead by a significant majority when it comes to fans attending their matches.

Arsenal has an average attendance of 19,826, followed by Manchester United on 18,191 and Chelsea with 12,492.

Whereas West Ham and Everton who are both in the lower end of the table have not seen large increases in attendance this season.

West Ham are currently averaging 1,572 fans and Everton 1,668.

Ultimately fans attending home games at either Arsenal, Chelsea or Manchester United constitute 64% of the total number of fans that have attended a WSL game this season.

Pie chart showing the percentage of attendance that was at the top three clubs compared to the rest of the league

Sophia Axelsson, women’s general manager for AFC Wimbledon said: “Obviously you can see the huge spike in interest when you have the WSL clubs playing at the big stadiums like the Emirates and Stamford Bridge which is absolutely fantastic.

“I do however think that most of the growth in terms of visibility, audience and spectators is stuck in the top end of the table or the top end of the pyramid.

“Unless you have a men’s side that gains a lot of traction it is still difficult to get huge attendances.”

Understandably big clubs at the top of the table are going to attract more attention from fans and it is also the case that sides with Lionesses in their line-ups are naturally set to benefit more from the Euros buzz.

Therefore, for teams that cannot rely on players to use in ad campaigns, the challenge of attracting more supporters has an extra layer of complexity.

Nevertheless, the WSL remains in a unique place and it’s certainly a positive one.

With the Premier League on hold as the World Cup continues in Qatar, the women’s game has once again been thrown into the spotlight of English football and attendances at games are only set to rise.

Featured Image Credit: Katie Chan via Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 4.0 License

Related Articles