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Record crowds show women’s football is ready for bigger stadia, says WSL chair

City AM logo City AM 9/28/2022 Frank Dalleres

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24: Leah Williamson of Arsenal celebrates following their side's victory in the FA Women's Super League match between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur at Emirates Stadium on September 24, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images) © Provided by City AM LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24: Leah Williamson of Arsenal celebrates following their side's victory in the FA Women's Super League match between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur at Emirates Stadium on September 24, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

The growth of women’s football was in evidence at Arsenal last week when a WSL record 47,000 attended a north London derby © Provided by City AM The growth of women’s football was in evidence at Arsenal last week when a WSL record 47,000 attended a north London derby

Women’s football is ready to move to bigger stadia as it redoubles efforts to become profitable, says Women’s Super League chair Dawn Airey, after the sport saw a series of record-breaking crowds.

Last week’s new WSL high of 47,000 spectators for Arsenal’s north London derby with Tottenham Hotspur followed the Women’s Euro 2021 final attracting  a record 87,000 fans and Barcelona drawing more than 90,000 for a Women’s Champions League tie in April.

It is a trend also visible in other sports, as England rugby chiefs acknowledged this week by announcing the Red Roses would play a standalone fixture at Twickenham for the first time in next year’s Women’s Six Nations. 

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“There is no reason why women’s football matches at the highest level cannot fill stadia the size of Premier League clubs and we’ve seen the demonstration of that,” Airey said on Wednesday at the Leaders Week sport business conference at Twickenham Stadium.

“I think that the women’s game is at an inflection point. It needs to be on the bigger stages. A lot of the women’s grounds are slightly out of town. Give us a bigger stage and we can absolutely compete on it.”

Women’s sport and football in particular received a huge boost from England’s European Championship victory during the summer, yet the game still faces a challenge to become self-sustaining.

Despite beginning a groundbreaking broadcast deal with Sky Sports and the BBC last year, the WSL’s revenue is less than one per cent of their male counterparts, whose most recent TV contracts are worth more than £10bn over three years.

The Football Association, which owns the WSL, is in the process of establishing a new company for the league in a move that it believes will help it to become a more successful business.

Women’s football ‘in the foothills of greatness’

“The WSL has been in existence for 10 years and the FA and clubs have an integrated strategy. We’re very clear the WSL is there to inspire positive change but we’re also here to make this a successful and profitable league,” Airey added.

“We are literally in the foothills of greatness. But it’s nowhere near breaking even.

“The focus is on getting the league to be structured so it is completely and utterly focused on delivering against the strategy of being the most successful league in the world and getting to profitability. 

“To do that we believe there needs to be a separate company. At the moment it is housed in the FA. It is unusual for a regulator to run a league. We’re working closely with the clubs to set up a separate body.”

The decision by the Rugby Football Union to stage England’s Women’s Six Nations match against France in April at Twickenham comes as it prepares to host more games at the venue at the women’s Rugby World Cup in 2025.

“To have a standalone Red Roses fixture at Twickenham Stadium is exciting and a real marker of where the game is at,” said head coach Simon Middleton. 

“We know there are some big targets to sell-out the stadium at the 2025 World Cup and it’s great we have the opportunity to draw a big crowd two years out.”

In football, Wembley sold out all regular tickets for the Lionesses’ friendly against the USA next month within 24 hours, meaning the attendance could eclipse the record crowd at the Euro final. 

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