Lisa Fallon: Women’s game can pull the crowds if it’s pitched properly

Attendences at matches are on the rise, but it’s important to keep the momentum going

If the Republic of Ireland women’s team played their crucial 2023 World Cup qualifier at home to Finland at the Aviva Stadium this September, I have no doubt it would completely sell out.

With Carles Puyol and Xavi in attendance at the Camp Nou and Kylian Mbappé and Juan Bernat at the Parc des Princes this week for Women's Champions League matches, it became clear and obvious that the women's game will sell if marketed correctly.

Between the 2019 Women's World Cup in France and the run-up to the 2022 European Championships in England, something significant has happened on the ground.

That World Cup was broadcast all across the globe, bringing women’s football into the homes of football fans. People tuned in because it was available to watch. Getting into taxis in Dublin was particularly enjoyable at the time as drivers enthusiastically discussed and analysed the teams. It was so refreshing but, more importantly, it connected people to it.

After such momentous coverage, it was important to keep the momentum going, but the pandemic hit and football stadia across the world fell empty.

There was a genuine worry that the gains from the 2019 coverage of the women’s game could be lost, but what we’ve seen in recent months tells us that the pendulum has swung and. with each subsequent swing, higher heights are being reached.

A legacy is only real if it stands the test of time and in recent weeks we are seeing tangible evidence that the women’s game has progressed beyond a significant threshold. Ticket sales for the Euros this summer have smashed previous sales records.

Sold out

The seats available at Wembley for the final on July 31st sold out in an hour. The previous record attendance for a women's European Championships final is 41,301 which was set in 2013 when Germany beat Norway.

It is also significant that the highest attendance for a men’s Euro final is 79,115, which was the 1964 decider in Madrid.

And yet, the 90,000-capacity crowd for that women’s European Championship decider this summer will not be the highest-attended women’s football match of 2022.

It’s incredible and fantastic in equal measure.

The year's biggest attendance, to date, was last Wednesday as 91,553 attended the Champions League quarter-final between Barcelona and Real Madrid in the Camp Nou. The evening's second quarter-final between Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich at the Parc des Princes drew a vociferous crowd of over 27,000.

Having the games promoted as real occasions and truly investing in campaigns to generate larger attendances worked. Having the games played in the main stadia will also have been a big part of the attraction.

When I was at Chelsea, the women's team played their matches at the Kingsmeadow Stadium and regularly had attendances of over 3,500 in the 4,850-capacity ground. At the start of the 2021/22 campaign, for the first time in history, Chelsea's season tickets for the women's team sold out.

Imagine being a little girl walking into that stadium in Barcelona on Wednesday night. Imagine how important that experience will be on the dreams she can now dream

Even back in 2019, the women’s team played their season opener against Tottenham in Stamford Bridge, with 24,564 in attendance on the day, as part of an initiative for the women’s teams to play in the official club stadia during men’s international windows.

Here at home, Tallaght Stadium has become the home of Vera Pauw's Republic of Ireland team, with crowds regularly surpassing the 5,000 mark.

Under-17

In the last week, we have seen crowds of over 1,000 attending the Republic of Ireland Under-17 European Championship qualifying matches. The group opener against Slovakia brought in an attendance of 1,153, which is hugely significant. It's not that long ago that this number would have been considered a good attendance for a senior women's game.

Things really are changing, there is an appetite for the game, but it must be marketed and promoted.

Imagine being a little girl walking into that stadium in Barcelona on Wednesday night. Imagine the power of how important that experience will be on the dreams that little girl can now dream. Imagine what she believes she can be.

With a massive game away to Sweden on April 12th, followed by a trip to Georgia in June, the next home match for Pauw's charges is Finland in September. With Sweden set to top the group, the battle for second place is between Ireland and Finland and the play-off spot on offer could hinge on this clash. Will there ever be a more opportune time to take a leaf out of everyone else's book and bring the women's national team to the Aviva Stadium?

Sure, Katie McCabe's team are still growing their loyal fanbase, but all the above attendances show what can happen with a turbo-charged marketing campaign. In 2019, a record crowd of 56,114 attended the All-Ireland ladies football finals in Croke Park so the audience does exist for female sport on this island of ours.

As the saying goes, if not now, when?

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