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WSL targeting 6,000-strong crowds by 2024 as part of FA’s new women’s strategy

English national body's new strategy also wants top two tiers to achieve financial sustainability within five years.

10 November 2021 PA
The FA has has targeted increasing average WSL attendances to 6,000 by 2024

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  • New plan also includes average attendance target of 1,000 for second-tier Championship
  • The average WSL attendance this season up to the fifth round of matches is 2,282

The Football Association (FA), English soccer’s governing body, has targeted increasing average Women’s Super League (WSL) attendances to 6,000 by 2024 as part of its new strategy for the women’s professional game.

The FA says the aspiration overall is to see the top-flight WSL and second-tier Championship become ‘the most competitive, watched, attended and followed’ women’s leagues in the world.

The three-year strategy – which has been led by the WSL and Championship board in conjunction with clubs and other key stakeholders – states the main objectives being to ‘produce and attract world-class talent’, ‘maximise and engage audiences’, as well as growing commercial revenue and ensuring financial sustainability.

As well as targeting 6,000-strong crowds for the WSL, the new plan also includes an average attendance target of 1,000 for the Championship and the goal of selling out Wembley for the Women’s FA Cup final, by 2024.

The average attendance this season up to the fifth round of matches in the WSL – which is in the first term of a three-year broadcast deal that sees matches televised on the BBC and Sky Sports – is 2,282. The figure is 544 for the Championship.

Kelly Simmons, the FA’s director of the women’s professional game, was asked if she was concerned about current attendance levels and if she felt they had taken a hit due to the availability of games on television under the new broadcast deal.

She said: “We were at around 3,000 (for the WSL) pre-Covid but that was skewed by some really big attendances on the back of the Women’s World Cup (in 2019).

“I think when you pull those out, we’re sort of back to where we were in terms of the women’s grounds. We obviously want to keep building on that.

“Research we did [shows] there are still concerns amongst fans in terms of coming back to big live events and using public transport.

“We have a fantastic opportunity with Sky and the BBC to build that awareness and sign-post fans back.

“I’m sure there probably is an element of, for those maybe who are nervous, you have access now through BBC, Sky and the FA Player. But I think it’s more about recreating those habits and building the profile back up.”

The strategy also targets a minimum of 50 per cent of head coaches across the WSL and Championship being female come 2024. Currently in the WSL there are seven male and five female coaches, and each of the last four managerial appointments made by clubs in the division were men.

Simmons said: “I think all we can do is make sure we do everything to develop the pipeline of female coaches and give them the best chance to succeed. There’s lots of work going on behind the scenes.”

With regard to players, a new homegrown rule of eight in 25 has been introduced this season, and the strategy also states an aim is to ‘optimise and diversify the youth player pathway’.

When asked about plans to reach talent in less well-off or urban areas, Simmons said: “We’ve been in a process here of reviewing the youth player pathway and working with some pilot clubs around how we do that and make sure that is more diverse.

“We are currently just gone out to consultation on what that might look like for next season.

“What has happened, I think, is because of budgets, we tended to sort of put the talent centres in training grounds that can sometimes be in the leafy suburbs, and it’s not the most accessible for inner-cities and for making sure that we are accessible for all talent.

“It’s ultimately about making sure we’ve got a really wide base for girls to come in and access a quality programme and we can identify more talent, and then the role of the clubs around developing their academies. There’s more to come on that.”

The strategy also targets leagues being ‘financially sustainable within five years’ and clubs ‘investing for growth in the short term but working towards sustainability for women’s teams within ten years’.

It also said a target by 2024 was agreement on ‘the best future ownership structure to maximise the growth of the leagues’, with Dawn Airey, chair of the WSL and Championship board, saying that while a decision was “some way off”, it was “a very active conversation…being done hand in glove with clubs”.

The launch of the strategy – the targets of which Airey says can be achieved regardless of how England fare at next summer’s home women’s Euros – comes ahead of the third ‘Women’s Football Weekend’ happening in the next few days.

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