For England, the Women’s Football Euro is a sure success. Not that the “Three Lionesses” are certain to win the competition. But the national team has already won the battle for popular support. All his meetings are sold out. As well as the final, scheduled for Wembley (London) on July 31. Sign of a projection of the supporters towards a coronation? In any case, confirmation of the country’s interest in women’s football and the weight gained by it in recent years.
However, the host nation of the 2022 European Championship has a clean record. So far, the national team has failed to do better than third place at the World Cup in 2015 and second place at the Euros in 1984 and 2009. clubs, if Chelsea played – and lost – a Champions League final in 2021, we have to go back to 2007 to find traces of an English club victorious in the flagship competition, Arsenal in this case.
For five years, however, English football has not skimped to give itself the means to become a stronghold of the discipline. In March 2017, the Football Association (FA), England’s football federation, unveiled a roadmap for the “growth of women’s football”, with three main objectives set for 2020: doubling the number of clubs, the number of supporters and ensure that national teams maintain a constant level on the world stage. This overhaul plan, from the base to the top level, is beginning to produce its effects.
A professional championship
It is essentially on the development of the Women’s Super League (WSL), the national championship, that efforts have focused. Created in 2011 in a semi-professional way, this championship suffered from a lack of visibility, in particular because of its format: nine semi-professional teams, with posters distributed between March and September, often disputed during the summer in stadiums ringing hollow.
The reform, enacted during the 2017-2018 financial year and applied the following season, consisted in obliging clubs wishing to continue in the WSL to pay players at least on contracts of sixteen hours per week or to have a women’s team. aimed at young people.
The twelve teams in the championship have, since 2018, professional status. Ten of them come from a club playing in the men’s Premier League. If they have their own stadium, the women’s teams can take advantage, during certain shocks, of the hypermodern settings usually reserved for men.
Crowds, audiences and funding
Results ? The WSL seduces. Evidenced by the crowds and audiences. In stadiums, league matches attract on average more than three thousand people: in November 2019, the London derby Tottenham-Arsenal gathered 38,262 spectators, the latest record. On the screens, the online platform WSL-TV had attracted 270,000 viewers for a Chelsea-Tottenham in September 2019, unheard of.
For the WSL, this attractiveness is also verified financially. Barclays bank, present since 2001, renewed its partnership for the period 2022-2025, for a sum close to 35 million euros. Above all, since March 2021, the women’s championship has had its own television rights: a three-year broadcasting agreement, starting from the 2021-2022 season, has been concluded with the BBC and Sky Sports for a record amount of 8 million euros. annual euros.
It is the first time that the rights to the WSL have been sold separately from those of men’s football, and the top twelve clubs will receive a share of the revenue. “What is remarkable, in addition to the financial aspect, is the visibility. Sky Sports has millions of subscribers. forty-four matches broadcast on Sky and twenty-two on the BBC, that will give incredible visibility. It’s a wonderful double money-exposure shot,” notes sports rights expert Pierre Maes.
Waiting for results on the ground
It remains to confirm this improvement on the ground. On the European scene, clubs have not succeeded in recent years in breaking the yoke of Olympique Lyonnais and German clubs. After losing in the 2021 Champions League semi-finals to Barcelona, Chelsea have not progressed beyond the group stage of the competition this year, while Arsenal have failed in the quarter-finals.
The national team, meanwhile, stopped at the gates of the final at the 2019 World Cup, as at the 2015 World Cup and Euro 2017. The competitiveness and financial power of the championship have, however, made it possible to retain the best players in the country and to develop them at a level close to that with which they are confronted during international games. In addition, the reform of the WSL has offered exceptional status to several internationals, who benefit from “central” contracts guaranteeing them a minimum annual income each season.
In the absence of a title, “the results of the last two Worlds have aroused the interest of supporters for the matches of the selection or the championship, whether at the stadium or in front of the screens”, underlines Marzena Bogdanowicz, commercial and marketing director women’s football in the English federation.
The matches of the “Three Lionesses” gather an average of 24,105 spectators (compared to 22,000 initially targeted with the federation’s 2017 plan). The country broke its record in November 2019 in a friendly against Germany: 77,768 people at Wembley. On the screens, the semi-final lost against the United States at the 2019 World Cup brought together 11.7 million viewers.
The authorities launched a second development plan in 2021. The goals are a little more ambitious: to provide the best players, to ensure commercial revenue growth and to make the WSL the world’s leading professional women’s football competition by 2030. By then, the national team hopes that its success will not be limited to the stands alone.