Arsenal Debate: How should the Women handle the rapid expansion in fans and interest?

Women’s Super League: with growing crowds come growing pains for Arsenal & other teams By Michelle

This weekend saw the Women’s Super League take the spotlight in English football, with the Premier League on international break for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and the England team beginning their campaign on Monday lunchtime, with a 6-2 win over Iran.

The WSL produced some spectacular football – Manchester United’s thrilling late comeback to defeat Arsenal 2-3 at Emirates, the fast-paced 3-3 draw between Liverpool and Brighton, and some great football as reigning WSL champions Chelsea beat Spurs 3-0.

The WSL also drew in impressive crowds.  Chelsea women broke their home attendance record as they played at Stamford Bridge for the first time since 2019.  More than 40,000 supporters were at Emirates Stadium on Saturday evening as Arsenal hosted Man Utd Women.

The Championship saw some good attendance too as Sheffield United Women drew a record crowd of 11,137 to Bramall Lane for their 2-0 defeat to London City Lionesses.

But how do we do this on a consistent basis and turn occasional fans into dedicated supporters who follow the WSL clubs week in and week out?

With growing crowds come growing pains..  

Chelsea’s home, Kingsmeadow, only has a capacity of 4,850.  Arsenal usually play at Meadow Park, which can hold a capacity of 4,500.

The success of the Lionesses at Euro 2022 saw interest in women’s football in England increase dramatically, but WSL teams are generally performing in their usual surroundings, which raises the question of how do we grow attendance when women’s home ground matches are already being sold-out on a regular basis?

LONDON, ENGLAND – MARCH 23: Jonas Eidevall manager / head coach of Arsenal cheers on Katie McCabe of Arsenal during the UEFA Women’s Champions League Quarter Final First Leg match between Arsenal WFC and VfL Wolfsburg at on March 23, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Let’s take a look at some WSL manager’s views:

Arsenal faced Tottenham at the men’s ground earlier this season, winning 4-0 in September in front of a WSL record-breaking crowd of 47,367.  After the match Eidevall said It is so important for growing the game to make sure that these occasions are not one-offs.  If you’re doing that, then I think the chances increase that you can repeat it again because of course, it’s not going to be a sustainable solution to give away tickets for games.  Let’s be honest, football clubs need revenues and ticket sales are important for revenues, he added.

Arsenal manager Jonas Eidevall said of the Emirates: I think it’s one of our two homes. And from the time I’ve been here, we feel more and more that this is our home.

Arsenal play their home Champions League matches at Emirates Stadium this season. While these games have drawn much lower crowds, they are ensuring the women’s club game at England’s biggest stadia is becoming normal.

At her post-match press conference on Sunday, Chelsea Manager Emma Hayes said: I’d like to be here [at Stamford Bridge] more.  I think we all know that solving the conundrum in the women’s game around what do we do from small stadia, is there a medium-term plan to go to medium-size stadiums before eventually everyone comes home to the large stadium?  I don’t know, but I’m absolutely certain we’re all outgrowing our small stadiums, that I’m sure of.

I think one of the biggest things that perhaps we don’t talk enough about is how cheap women’s football is, Hayes said. I really believe we have to increase the overall pricing structure if we’re to play more in these places, because there is a cost implication to it.

I think the audiences are there, not for every game, but certainly for maybe eight games, 12 games a year.  We have to be more ambitious for ourselves.  Is it too cheap to watch women’s football?  I think it is, especially for the top games.

Arsenal & Chelsea fans adult tickets generally cost about £8 to £9.  For bigger matches such as Arsenal v Chelsea at Emirates Stadium on 15th January 2023, adult tickets are still only £12.  Tickets are available to purchase here.

Reading boss Kelly Chambers, speaking before their 3-1 defeat to Aston Villa, played at Villa Park, she said: Off the back of the Euros, we knew the biggest change we wanted to see happen this year was getting more fans in the door, watching the games but not only that, grow the fanbase too.  It’s all well and good having fans turn up to the stadium every so often, but what we want is to ensure they are embedded into our experience and leave them wanting more.

A big change for this weekend’s big stadium matches was away ends.  Usually WSL crowds are mixed, but on Saturday night, the Manchester United players celebrated wildly with their travelling fans.  Manager Mark Skinner said of away ends, after the Arsenal – Man Utd match: Whether it’s concrete proof or not, if you give us away ends you will get a lot of fans through the door.  Tonight was a good indicator of that. We just had to go to them at the end, it was good to know where they were.

In summary, there is definitely a conundrum.. everyone wants more bums on seats for WSL games but nobody really has enough seats to put those proverbial bums on..

Away ends is a given in men’s football, shouldn’t it be the case in womens – particularly for the big games at least?

Ridiculously low prices need to increase, not to exorbitant levels like the men’s game but somewhere above single figures per ticket would be a marked improvement in helping to finance the women’s game.

Gooners, your thoughts would be appreciated on this one..

Michelle Maxwell

Follow Michelle on Just Gooner Women on Twitter for regular updates on the Arsenal Women’s Team!

Do you want to read more about the Arsenal Women’s Team? Click here….

1 Comment

  1. Great to see the game growing and becoming more inclusive. As a professional concern Arsenal should be at the forefront of maintaining high playing standards, participation rates and maintaining the Arsenal FC brand’s worldwide status.

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