The Return of the Domestic Game
England’s highest level of domestic football, the Barclays Women’s Super League (WSL), returns on October 1st as Manchester United travel to Aston Villa for the first game of the season.
Going into its 13th full season, the league will be looking to build on a hugely successful 2022/23 which saw the Barclays WSL become the most followed women’s professional football league in the world.
The league’s new status has meant clubs have had a busy summer, with many attracting star players from around the globe. One such player is USA forward Catarina Macario, formerly of Lyon, who has joined reigning champions Chelsea, whilst Manchester City have broken their club record transfer fee to sign former Wolfsburg midfielder Jill Roord in a deal in excess of £300,000.
Last year’s third place finishers Arsenal have also brought in star signings through two time UEFA Champions League winner Laia Codina as well as forward duo Alessia Russo and Cloe Lacasse.
Following a four month hiatus which made way for the record-breaking FIFA Women’s World Cup, the Barclays WSL is back and expected to be bigger than ever before.
The Impact of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023
For many football fans the break between seasons can often drag on and on. Luckily, this summer had something extra special in store as millions of fans were treated to the unbelievable scenes at the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 in Australia and New Zealand.
In its new 32 nation format, the tournament saw 94 Barclays WSL players represent their country, the most of any league, as Spain were crowned world champions for the first time.
And the Barclays WSL stars weren’t just there to make up the numbers as they contributed to 22% of the tournament’s goals, with new summer signings Amanda Ilestedt (4 goals), Jill Roord (4) and Alessia Russo (3) showing their new clubs what they can expect in 2023/24.
Elsewhere, tournament top scorer Hinata Miyazawa (5) caught the eye of Manchester United as she joined last year’s runners-up in early September. Miyazawa’s new teammate and golden glove winner Mary Earps also shined on the world’s biggest stage, along with fellow Lionesses Lauren hemp and Lauren James, as well as West Ham and Australia’s Mackenzie Arnold.
Off the pitch, the FIFA Women’s World Cup broke yet more records as 1.98 million fans attended live games and more than $570 million of revenue was generated through the highest broadcasting and sponsorship deals in women’s football history.
The Barclays WSL has already seen the impact that major tournaments can have on the domestic game through the UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 and will be hoping that this summer’s festival of football has a similar boost to the league.
A Closer Look at the Fans
A fascinating aspect of the Barclays WSL’s rapid rise in recent years has been the influx of new fans to the league, with Women’s Sport Trust’s (WST) report from 2023 finding that the league’s attendance grew by 227% in 2022 compared to 2021.
With quickly growing match attendances and WST also reporting a further 16 million people tuning in to live Barclays WSL fixtures across the calendar year, it begs the question, who are the fans behind women’s football meteoric rise in the UK?
Global Web Index’s (GWI) 2023 data shows us that there are more than 13 million regular followers of women’s football in the UK, with 39% of these fans being women, compared to 36% in the men’s game. GWI’s data also shows that women’s football is followed across all age groups, but 59% of the fans are aged between 16-44.
Professionally, women’s football fans hold an important position for many brands, as they’re more likely to have work seniority with one in two being university graduates. This prominent position also extends to their home lives where 52% live with a partner and 38% have at least one child.
UK women’s football fans’ position as a young, influential and more highly educated audience than men’s football fans is one which reflects itself in the global women’s football fanbase, with both FIFA Women’s World Cup and UEFA Women’s Champions League fans following similar trends.
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Women's football fans in the UK
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Of women's football in the UK are female
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Of Women's football fans in the UK are University graduates
Women's football fans in the UK
Source: Global Web Index
Brands and Broadcasters
And it’s not just the fans who are helping to propel the women’s game to the next level. Some of the biggest businesses are investing heavily in women’s football in the UK with many wanting to build their brand alongside the growing industry.
The Barclays Women’s Super League’s unique fan base plays a major part in this investment, with businesses from around the globe wanting to work with a league which captures the attention of key demographics and household decision makers.
In addition, the league’s perceived position as being a friendlier, less aggressive and more family-oriented experience, compared to the men’s game, is one which many brands find easier to connect to their consumers through.
Brand investment has been heavily helped by key recognition from some of the region's biggest broadcasters. In 2021, Sky and BBC agreed a landmark broadcasting deal with the Barclays WSL worth up to £8m a season.
The first year of the deal both broadcasters saw a marked uplift in their women’s football audiences, with Sky’s increasing by 72% and BBC by 38%, with further increases expected for 2023.
Barclays Women's Super League partners and broadcasters
Bigger and Better Than Ever
In any sport, the dawn of a new season always brings with it a palpable air of excitement. The promise of new hope and the whispers of ‘what if…’ deliver optimism to any fan, and although hope and promise often flicker and fade for many, the sporting spectacles typically provide sparks of brilliance.
Fans in the Barclays WSL have all of this usual new season excitement to look forward to as they eagerly await the 1st of October, but they also have something extra special to be excited for this season.
Year after year, season after season, the Barclays WSL is growing. More fans are attending games, more clubs are investing in players, more brands and broadcasters are getting involved and it just keeps getting bigger and better.
It’s a great time to follow the Barclays Women’s Super League - BRING ON 2023/24!