Women’s football has been steadily growing in popularity over recent years, but it still lags behind men’s football in terms of how many eyes are on each game. A Premier League match between Manchester City and Manchester United at the Etihad Stadium in 2022 drew in a packed stadium, with 53,165 viewers of the game. When City and United played in the women’s iteration of the game, only 5,317 people watched that match.
With a tenth of the viewership at the women’s game, there is clearly still a massive disparity between the men’s and women’s games. It should be remembered that the two sides will play their games in stadiums with vastly differing capacities. Despite this, the derby between Manchester City and Manchester United was unable to see the 7000-seat Academy Stadium filled as City ran out 1-0 winners on February 13th. While these numbers show that women’s football still has a smaller audience in this confined example, do they tell the whole story?
After all, the women’s game has continued to grow year on year and boasts some truly world-class talent. This has made the game itself even more popular, with girls and boys from across the world wanting to emulate their favourite women’s players. This begs the question, is women’s football on the rise?
Is Women’s Football on the Rise?
Over the last 10 years, many of the elite footballing sides across the globe have taken on women’s squads on a full-time basis, with this seeing the amount of eyes on women’s football continue to rise. This has come alongside a push to ensure that grassroots football teams are also promoting girl’s teams too. This is important as the future of women’s football is dependent on the increasing proportion of girls continuing to play football as they get older.
Sadly, the emphasis seems to only really be on enabling boys growing into men to continue playing football. For too long there has been a stigma around women playing football, with the incorrect assumption that playing a sport makes a woman less feminine. This is incorrect and has been damaging the women’s side of the game for years.
Funding Is Starting to Increase
The increase in popularity of the women’s game has seen a massive switch in how many professional teams there are. You would likely find it quite difficult to find a truly competitive professional women’s league before 2010. With an increase in popularity comes more funding. Unfortunately for the women’s game in the past, there have not been enough eyes on each game, meaning that the funding has not been there either.
However, with each passing year has come an increase in the desire to watch women’s football. In England, much of this has been due to the Lionesses. England’s national team may sit in eighth in the latest FIFA World Rankings, but they have inspired a nation with their continued success. After all, the best thing for a nation when it comes to sport is success. If anyone, man or woman, watches their home nation or club team succeed at a tournament or in a game, it will more likely prove to be more inspiring than watching a loss.
Popularity Grows After 2019 World Cup
The success of England at the World Cup in 2019 saw young girls all over the country grab a football and get out onto the pitch. Upon playing, they would finally be able to scream ‘Stanway’, ‘White’ or even the USA’s ‘Rapinoe’ as they looked to plant a volley in the top corner. Years ago, names like ‘Gerrard’ or ‘Scholes’ would have been the go-to for anyone down in their local park. Now, with the ever-improving popularity of the women’s game, girls everywhere have heroes they can look up to and try to emulate on the women’s side of the game too. This is incredibly important.
Where Is Women’s Football Popular?
There are some very archaic views out there that football is a ‘man’s game’. The very point of football is that it is a working-class sport, suitable for everyone from the ground up, regardless of age, class or gender. The small girls and boys that turn out for their schools or local teams across the week up and down the country and all over the world will have no thoughts about whether or not they should actually be playing each week, and neither should they.
The women’s game would be in an even better position if boys and girls were given equal funding and opportunity from the ground up. After all, there is a huge focus on grassroots football in England right now as the FA looks to promote young English talent, and why shouldn’t this extend to the women’s game too?
The Women’s & Men’s US National Team
On the women’s side of the game, the most well-known and successful side in the sport is the USA. Four World Cup crowns out of a possible eight including two in a row means the reigning world champions are someway clear of everyone else.
By contrast, the men’s national side has not ever won a World Cup and still languish below the top tier of world football. The disparity in what the two sides have won is huge, and yet the men’s team continued to be paid more due to the fact they are men. However, in a show of solidarity between the two teams, the US Soccer Federation offered the sides identical contracts. This was a huge step forward in the battle for equal rights in football and other sports and jobs.
This had followed a lawsuit from the women’s team in 2020, with the side looking to ensure equal pay. However, not everyone saw this move as a positive one. Indeed, the United States Women’s National Players Association described the proposal as a PR stunt via their Twitter page. While the contracts offered were the same, the potential prize money that men and women can receive is still very different. In 2019, the US National team received $4 million of the total $30 million on offer as winners.
Meanwhile, on the men’s side of the game, World Champions France received a total of $38 million in prize money, with a total of $400 million on offer to the teams at the tournament. The disparity here is clear for all to see. The total amount on offer to all of the women’s teams was less than what world champions France walked away with. While there have been steps forward in the women’s game, there is still a long way to go before parity is reached.
Which Was the Biggest Game in Women’s Football History?
Despite the massive gap in prize money on offer in most major tournaments, the women’s game continues to move forward. Perhaps the best example of this came as Barcelona women hosted Real Madrid at the Nou Camp. The fact that El Clasico was to be played in the Champions League meant that interest was high, but could it better the previous record of 60,739 spectators at a club game? Of course it could.
A total of 91,553 fans crammed themselves into the Nou Camp to watch Barca beat Real 8-3 on aggregate in a scintillating match. While matters on the pitch were very exciting, the fact that the viewership for a club game was smashed was more important. Incredibly, Barcelona then went on to shatter their own record soon after. 91,600 fans watched the home side hammer Wolfsburg 5-1 in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final to show that women’s football is only going from strength to strength.
Do More People Watch Men’s or Women’s Football on TV?
While the temptation may be to claim that men’s sport will prove to be far more popular than women’s sport with regard to television audiences, this is not always correct. A report has found that almost 33 million people tuned into women’s sports across 2021. The Women’s Super League and the new cricket competition The Hundred helped to bring in a combined 11 million viewers across 2021.
Interestingly, it is claimed that just over six million people watched the WSL on TV without actually then tuning into the Premier League, showing that the interest in women’s football is growing.
Should Women’s Football Be Behind a Pay Wall?
This is a question that has rumbled on for years in the men’s game and is now doing the same on the women’s side of things. The likes of Sky Sports and BT Sport provide football fans with the chance to enjoy the biggest games across competitions like the Premier League and Champions League, but you must pay for it.
This has seen many people turned off the idea of watching the men’s game as it is seen as a commodity by most. Instead, they will look to watch the highlights later in the evening on BBC, with the cost of a subscription to Sky or BT too high for some.
With so much money already being pumped into the men’s game, perhaps they can afford to see viewership figures lower than they would be if games were shown on a free-to-air network. Is this the same for the women’s game though? Behind the Sky Sports paywall, a report showed that the average audience for a WSL game was around 110,000. When games are shown on the BBC, matches would average around 440,000 viewers.
Of course, it is not like the difference is a matter of millions, but the fact a free-to-air game outperforms the match behind a paywall by four to one is very important in the long run of a sport that is still looking to grow. Despite this, these numbers from a sport that has been pushed to the wayside in recent times are very impressive. Perhaps these numbers would be even higher if the majority of WSL games were available to an audience without the paywall.
Is Women’s Football Expensive to Watch?
The simple answer is no. As of the start of the 2021 season, the most expensive tickets in the WSL are from West Ham and Arsenal, with both sides charging £12. Arsenal’s tickets rise to £15 if you were to buy them on the day. Season tickets are also very cheap, with many coming in at just £40. The WSL has also made allowances in ticket prices for children too, with entry as cheap as £1 available.
These cheaper children’s tickets are likely to ensure that the future of the women’s game only gets brighter. After all, if teams like Chelsea, West Ham and Arsenal can cultivate a love of the women’s game for young girls, then there is a better chance they will take up playing football too.
By comparison, the price of a ticket in the Premier League is very high. Tottenham Hotspur have the most expensive season ticket in the league, with the top-priced season ticket costing an eye-watering £2,223, with Arsenal next up at just over £2000. The average price of the cheapest ticket in the Premier League is £29.63, with the average of the top-priced tickets in the league standing at £63.
While the answer to the above question was no from the start, the price of the tickets are made even more viable by how expensive a Premier League ticket is. Ultimately, it is far more cost-effective to go to watch a top WSL game than it would be to watch two teams from the lower part of the Premier League.
Will Women’s Football Ever Be on Par with Men’s Football?
This is something that most genuine football fans want to see happen, with the equal pay and distribution of women’s football something that will only see the beautiful game itself continue to grow. At the time of writing, women’s football has made huge strides forward, but there is still a lot of ground to be made up if they are to be on an even playing field with the men’s game.
The continued improvement of funding in the women’s game and the fact that many WSL matches and women’s World Cup games are readily available for people to watch on TV are big steps forward. With the continued increase in the desire to watch women’s football, shown through Barcelona’s ability to break the attendance record for a club game twice in quick succession, there is hope that the gap between both games will continue to shrink.