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Women’s football league attendances continue to grow, as understanding of fans builds across Europe

Posted on February 27, 2024 By Bettina Baer

🇩🇪German 🇩🇪
🇫🇷 French 🇫🇷

A promising trend across the top women’s football leagues in Europe is indicating sustained growth, following a period of expansion, according to attendance research conducted by Two Circles.

  • A surge in attendance, initially sparked by the success of the ‘Big Games‘ strategy applied by UEFA Women’s European Championship finalists 2022 Germany and England, has solidified into a sustainable trajectory of progress
  • The Barclays Women’s Super League (WSL) in England has established itself as Europe’s most attended league, boasting an average crowd per game of 7,308 – a testament to its robust year-on-year growth, evidenced by a remarkable 40% increase in attendance during the first half of the current season compared to the entirety of the 2022/2023 season
  • Equally noteworthy is the Google Pixel Frauen-Bundesliga in Germany, which has witnessed a commendable 6% rise in average attendance per game in the first half of the 2023/2024 season, reaching an average of 2,894 fans per game, showing a sustainable growth trajectory carried by a wide range of clubs across the league
  • Liga F and D1 Arkema in Spain and France, respectively, are also experiencing increases in attendance, with the domestic league of the current FIFA World Cup champions Spain recording an 8% uptick, and the French league observing a significant 14% surge
  • Federations and clubs are now investing more readily in order to gain a better understanding of women’s football fans and their route to fandom, which differ in consumption patterns and demographics, skewing more female and younger

Two Circles research last year showed that significant increase in attendances for the Barclays WSL and Google Pixel Frauen-Bundesliga in season 2022/23 is driven by strategic investments from league and top national football clubs. This application of a ‘Big Games’ strategy includes access to larger venues and more marketing power, expanding the women’s game into existing club fan bases.

The UEFA Women’s European Championship in 2022 and the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2023 have supported growth, with domestic leagues capturing more interest of these enthusiastic new audience. The increased popularity of the UEFA Women’s Champions League has further drawn attention to the sport and provided an additional stage for emerging talent and club brands.

Specifically the Barclays WSL and Google Pixel Frauen-Bundesliga have been effective in drawing in fans since their success on pitch at the UEFA Women’s EURO 22.

In the Google Pixel Frauen-Bundesliga, 40% of fans visited a women’s football league game for the first time in the 22/23 season, with 65% stating that interest was increased by watching the UEFA Women’s EURO 22 in England (Source: DFB Zuschauerinnenanalyse 2023). In February 2024, for the first time in history, Arsenal sold out the Emirates Stadium for a Barclay’s Women’s Super League clash against Manchester United, following a similar sell out for their UEFA Women’s Champions League semi-final against VfL Wolfsburg in May 2023.

The role of major events and national team success is important, but history shows that – in isolation – it is not yet a guarantee for increased interest and attendances in the respective domestic leagues. Half way into the 23/24 season, Spain’s Liga F stands at 1,501 average attendance per game, which results in a growth rate +8% from the full previous season for the current FIFA Women’s World Cup champions.

Although at smaller scale, French domestic league D1 Arkema is growing at +14% compared to last season. This growth is similar to what was seen last year at the halfway point of the season (+16%), which transformed into +42% once the full season had been completed. Growth numbers are positive, but remain behind other leading European leagues for absolute numbers.

Driving this significant increase in average attendances for the Barclays WSL and Google Pixel Frauen-Bundesliga, post UEFA Women’s EURO 22, is a more consistent application of the ‘Big Games’ strategy by a selection of clubs in both England and Germany.

These ‘Big Games’ – strategically chosen matches that take place in stadiums with a larger capacity than normal, and are promoted with higher marketing efforts – have led to higher average attendance and sustainable growth also for regular games.

This season, there have already been 12 games with attendance above 10K in the Barclays WSL and 5 in the Google Pixel Frauen-Bundesliga respectively. The group stages of the UEFA Women’s Champions League have also seen a remarkable 67% increase of matches with 10k+ attendees. In domestic leagues Barclays WSL and GPFBL, approximately 70% of games count attendances between 1-5k, and only a small proportion of games are attended by fewer than 1K spectators. This underlines sustainable attendance growth across the whole league, with more opportunity for fan interest to be sparked by “big moments”, converting to followership and return visits to regular league games.

Analysis in the distribution of games for Liga F and D1 Arkema tells a more developmental story, with average attendance pulled down across both leagues by a larger numbers of games being played in front of crowds under 1K fans. This is despite clubs such as FC Barcelona in Spain and PSG and Lyon in France repeatedly setting their own attendance records. However, D1 Arkema has witnessed an increase of 45% in number of games between 1-5K compared to H1 of last season, while Liga F has witnessed an increase of 7% in games moving into the 1-5K attendance bracket. Furthermore, there can be registered a decrease in “small games” (played in front of under 1K fans) of -2% for Liga F, and -17% for D1.

Sustainable growth can be seen across all leagues, with a big game strategy providing a tipping point for more direct fan experiences. When zooming in on the different leagues, it becomes evident that the greatest, most sustainable success comes from leagues driving attendances through more clubs, rather than just one or two ‘big game’ clubs. The increasing number of mid-sized clubs, especially in Germany, have now entered the “Big Game” and are driving higher average attendances as a result.

In Liga F and D1 Arkema, the curve drops quicker, as only a small number of clubs are attracting larger crowds. Delving further, one “big game” against an equally well-followed opposition – such as PSG vs Lyon – is largely responsible for a spiked average attendance. In fact, PSG’s average without their big home clash against Lyon, which drew a 15k attendance, would be nearly 10x smaller, while Lyon’s attendance is set below 1k because their recent home clash against PSG that drew over 20K fans, took place outside of our data window for H1. These “big games” emphasise the potential of attraction for a club, but can also serve to highlight the gaps in week-to-week attendances, with a more consistent required to sustain larger crowds throughout the season.


Knowing women’s football fans key to winning strategies

With interest in women’s football soaring to unprecedented levels, leagues and clubs must seize this opportunity. The collection of data on prospective buyers – and understanding that data – is imperative, serving as the bedrock for effective, engaging marketing initiatives. Ultimately, comprehending the diverse fan personas—ranging from devoted football enthusiasts and die-hard women’s team supporters to casual fans, and families—is essential. Understanding their motivations, expectations, communication preferences, and more, empowers clubs and leagues to craft customized marketing strategies aimed at reaching, engaging, and converting these audiences into regular ticket purchasers.

Clubs and leagues equipped with insights into their audience and the various pathways to fandom, coupled with tailored strategies, will rise above the rest. Recent data from the Two Circles Fan Origination Study shows differences among women’s football fans in demographics, consumption patterns, and their journey to becoming enthusiasts:

  • Women’s football audiences are younger and more female: Football fans who are more interested in women’s football are +26% more female than the audience segment that is more interested in men’s football (57% female vs. 31% female interested in men’s football). The average age is 35, while a men’s football fan on average is four years older (average age of 39). A similar pattern can be seen when analysing data from women’s football audiences in stadiums of domestic leagues, as well as for major events such as the UEFA Women’s European Championships and FIFA Women’s World Cup.
  • Men’s football is an important fan acquisition pathway: According to Two Circles research, 30% of women’s football fans started out as men’s football fans first (vs. 11% in basketball, or 7% in Tennis). With its long tradition and existing affinities, men’s football is proving an important origination pathway. In time, as a new generation of football fan grows up in a world where women’s football receives rising media exposure, we expect to see this 30% decreasing. For now, however, men’s football remains an important acquisition pathway.
  • More floating fans: Due to an influx of new fans to women’s football in recent years, there are more fans that ever yet to determine their affinities. Currently, 34% of women’s football fans do not support a club (vs. just 20% in men’s), and clubs will need to act quickly to ensure it is their club that these floating fans jump aboard with.
  • More fans back multiple clubs: While some remain floating fans with no affiliation, others fans are also likely to support multiple clubs. 41% of women’s football fans claim to support more than one side, vs. 24% of men’s fans. As a result, clubs need to be creative in engaging these multi-club supporters by investing in positioning of the women’s team, fan engagement and gameday experience to deepen connections and affinity to the club brand.


How to tackle the challenge of selling out a big stadium
Clubs are increasingly turning to effective strategies to fill the seats and increase revenues in large stadiums, drawing inspiration from the successes of renowned clubs like Arsenal. By embracing data-driven insights, tailoring ticketing products, extending sales windows, and crafting compelling narratives around big games, these clubs are revolutionizing the way matches are marketed and experienced.

The most successful strategies to sell out a game in larger stadiums, implemented by clubs such as Arsenal, involve:

  • Data-driven understanding of fan segments
    Overcoming historical data limitations in women’s football, clubs now leverage transactional and behavioural data to gain deeper insights into fan preferences. This data-driven approach supports the refining of fan research to better target subsequent marketing efforts.
  • Tailored ticketing products and pricing
    We see ticket products emerging that are tailored to the women’s football product, e.g. Arsenal selling bundled tickets for all their games being played at the Emirates. Offering hospitality packages at competitive rates compared to men’s games has proven highly popular, contributing to increased matchday profitability. Augmented by discounted group tickets tailored for schools or local communities, the matchday experience and atmosphere are significantly amplified, enticing more attendees to fill the seats.
  • Longer sales windows and early-bird-ticket pricing
    Initiatives to drive early ticket sales bring multiple advantages, despite challenges posed by scheduling constraints linked to men’s calendar events and availability of stadium infrastructure and resources. Clubs mitigate uncertainties by offering tickets with flexible dates, while incentivizing early purchases with discounted “early-bird” rates, rewarding proactive fans and creating favourable purchasing habits.
  • Focussed marketing and promotion efforts for big games
    Recognizing limited marketing budgets, clubs prioritize high-profile fixtures and concentrate promotional efforts accordingly. Leveraging various channels including personalized email marketing, social media (with Instagram and TikTok emerging as prominent platforms) and paid media, as well as in-stadium promotions that amplify engagement for selected games. Conversations and engagement using first party data proves to be the most cost effective form of promotion.
  • Compelling narrative for the big games
    Building a strong and distinctive narrative around marquee women’s matches elevates their significance, attracting greater attention and enthusiasm from fans. This narrative-driven approach fosters anticipation and excitment, enhancing the overall game experience.

In conclusion, the surge in attendance figures, initially catalysed by successful strategies like the ‘Big Games’ initiative, has solidified into a sustainable trend across the major European leagues. The spotlight on fans as the driving force behind consumption underscores a pivotal shift towards a fan-centric approach, paving the way for the development of innovative products and economic models.

The Barclays Women’s Super League and the Google Pixel Frauen-Bundesliga stand out, boasting remarkable increases in attendance, indicative of robust year-on-year growth. Strategic investments by clubs, coupled with a deeper understanding of fan personas and consumption patterns, are driving engagement and conversion, laying the groundwork for continued expansion. The most successful marketing strategies to promote games underscore the importance of knowing fans intimately and leveraging first-party data to fuel growth. As clubs continue to refine their marketing strategies, focusing on tailored ticketing products, extended sales windows, and compelling narratives, they are poised to further elevate the commercial value and prominence of women’s football on the European stage.

Arsenal’s record-breaking attendance in the Barclays WSL and the diverse representation in the UEFA Women’s Champions League quarter-finals signal a growing appetite for women’s football across both major and emerging markets. The highest attended game in the group stages of the UEFA Women’s Champions League also saw 20,413 fans to witness Dutch club Ajax take on FC Bayern Munich.

As the season progresses, these trends will paint a vibrant picture of a sport on the rise, poised to captivate an even greater share of the global sports audience in the months and years to come.

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