With the showcase venues idle for over a month this winter, it was the ideal opportunity to promote the women’s game over several matches, argues Martin Whiteley.Embed from Getty Images
European giants Barcelona and Wolfsburg may have performed in front of record-breaking crowds at their respective main stadiums within the past 12 months — but both have been denied the chance to further boost women’s football while the Camp Nou and Volkswagen Arena sit idle for over a month during the winter World Cup.
Usually, when the November men’s international break takes place, only one weekend of league fixtures is missed before the action returns. The women’s sides relegated to satellite grounds are afforded the chance to play a big showdown at the main stadiums, boosting attendances and showcasing their considerable talents to a wider audience, before swiftly returning to their usual residence to welcome their next opponent.
This campaign, the top men’s leagues are shutting down for not one, not two, but five weeks to allow for the World Cup to take place in Qatar. With the main stadiums vacant for such a lengthy spell, this would have been the perfect opportunity for many clubs to promote their women’s teams over several games.Embed from Getty Images
When teams play their Women’s Champions League matches in elite stadiums, it’s sometimes argued that they are giving up a certain amount of home advantage since they’re competing in unfamiliar surroundings. The size and quality of the playing surface come into question, with some suggesting it might even favour their opponents and that the vast expanse of space could make the atmosphere less intense. But the more you play in large stadiums, the quicker it becomes second nature.
With over 90,000 fans cheering Barca on last season, it quickly become a great advantage to the side that would become Primera Division invincibles. But they have not returned to the Camp Nou since setting the world record attendance for a women’s football match when 91,648 spectators watched their European clash with Wolfsburg last April and the latest scheduling will see them return to the big stage for only two Champions League home games against Bayern Munich and Rosengard before the end of the year.
Their recent impressive performances mean the Spanish giants top Group D with a goal difference of 12 ahead of Bayern and they’re well positioned to capitalise on the exceptional fan support they received in the spring. A 9-0 win over Benfica got last year’s runners-up off to the perfect start this time around and they continued their good form by beating Rosengard 4-1 in Sweden last Thursday.
The champions offer plenty of ticket packages for their women’s team. Passes, which include all the remaining league matches and up to four more Champions League games, are currently on sale for around £106 (€123); and they also offered half-price match tickets as part of a special Halloween promotion. So, Barca chiefs know how to market the team and get bums on seats.
With no league game set to take place at the main stadium during the World Cup break and work for the renovation that could be rescheduled, the question remains: have even Barcelona missed a trick here by not trying to increase their average stadium attendance for the games due to be played at the just 6,000-seater Estadi Johan Cruyff?
Over in Germany, a record crowd of 21,287 saw Wolfsburg beat Bayern Munich 2-1 in their Frauen-Bundesliga clash at the Volkswagen Arena recently. Their previous two home games at the AOK Stadium attracted 2,619 and 1,706 fans respectively for a league game against Bayer Leverkusen and their opening Champions League Group B clash with St. Polten.Embed from Getty Images
Like Barca, the German champions sit top of their European group, having built on that 4-0 win with a 2-0 victory over Slavia Prague last Wednesday. But as it stands, Wolfsburg will not return to the Volkswagen Arena again this year, despite having a run of four straight home matches from December 3-16.
But the Frauen-Bundesliga will need to have a serious rethink over locations next season after announcing a new domestic television deal that will run from 2023/24 until the 2026/27 campaign. This agreement would see the pool of money increase to around £4.5million (€5.17m), which is 16 times more than the current rights are worth. Free TV will also show 32 of the games live.
In addition to the subscription service MagentaSport, DAZN will now show every game live behind a paywall and Sport1 will broadcast 22 live Monday night matches a season. In Spain, DAZN also shows Liga F games, which at the start of October became the Finetwork Liga F for the next three years. They are also committed to providing Champions League coverage.
Sponsors and television companies have shown they are willing to put money into the women’s game. The clubs need to continue that commitment to attracting more fans inside the ground. When a new attendance record gets set at the women’s team’s regular home ground, it is often on the back of one recent visit to the club’s main stadium.
If only one game at the club’s showcase venue can generate a few hundred or even a thousand extra people, imagine the difference three or four games on the bounce might make…
Follow Martin on Twitter @673martin