How UEFA EURO 2022 Sky-Rocketed Women’s Football In England
In July 2022, England hosted the 13th edition of the UEFA European Women’s Football Championships.
Following a year-long postponement of the tournament due to the Covid-19 pandemic, 16 teams faced-off across eight cities, in the battle for continental glory.
What ensued was a dramatic, entertaining and nation-inspiring tournament, culminating in a final which will go down as one of the biggest moments in both women’s and English sporting history.
In this feature, we analyse how the tournament has impacted the top tiers of domestic women’s football in England, as well as delving into its bright future.
More fans than ever before
‘The Lionesses’ achievement in the summer saw them lift their first ever major trophy, in front of 87,192 fans at Wembley, a record for a men’s and women’s European Championship final.
Smashing attendance figures was a common theme throughout the tournament, as new records were set for a group stage game (England - Austria, 68,871), quarter-finals (England - Spain, 28,994) and semi-finals (England - Sweden, 28,624), as well as a number of records for games not involving the host-country.
The roaring success of the 2022 summer can now also be seen across club football in England’s top domestic leagues, as Kelly Simmons, The FA’s Director of the Women’s Professional Game, announced that average attendances in the Barclays Women’s Super League (WSL) have increased by 200%.
The first nine game weeks of the Barclays WSL season have seen almost 300,000 spectators attend games, with the average attendance just short of 6,000 fans per week.
In addition, the Barclays Women’s Championship, England’s second-tier of women’s football, has also seen average attendances increase by over 85%, compared to the same time last year - a true reflection of the impact of ‘The Lionesses’ seismic summer.
Clubs investing in women’s football
The financial investment in women’s football has been steadily growing since the inception of the Barclays WSL in 2011. Clubs like Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City have invested heavily through improved player contracts and star signings, and seen their investment pay off, with the clubs clinching the top three spots every year since 2014.
Clubs outside of the top three have also invested in the women’s game. Brighton and Hove Albion built a brand-new, £8.5m training facility for their women’s team in September 2022, as Tottenham and Manchester United also revamped their training pitches ahead of the 2022/23 Barclays WSL season.
As well as ensuring top-quality training pitches, clubs from across the women’s football pyramid are also playing more games at higher-capacity stadiums. It is understood that every WSL team has agreed to host at least one fixture at a men’s stadium this season, whilst lower-league teams, such as fifth-tier Fulham have also hosted the women’s team at their Premier League stadium.
Outside of the pitch, clubs are also investing in player welfare, with the FA announcing that as of the 2022-23 season, all players playing in the Barclays WSL and Women’s Championship will receive full pay for the first 14 weeks of maternity leave and then statutory pay for the following time.
From players to superstars
The life of a professional footballer is often depicted as glamorous and filled with stardom. Although this has certainly been the case for many male footballers, the story has been quite different for female footballers, with many living relatively normal lives outside the public eye.
The successes of the summer of 2022, as well as the steadily growing interest in women’s football, has seen the profile of female footballers, and the women’s game as a whole, reach new levels.
Many of England’s star-players from UEFA Euro 2022 have risen to new levels of fame. In September, 2022, England’s star midfielder, Keira Walsh, broke the all-time female transfer record, as she moved to FC Barcelona Femeni in a deal worth a reported £400,000.
Beth Mead, golden-boot winner at the tournament, has also seen praise for her heroic performances, as she became the first female footballer to ever win the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award.
Elsewhere, several of Mead and Walsh’s winning teammates have received critical acclaim and sponsorship deals, helping to raise the profile of the women’s game.
What to expect in 2023 and beyond
The UEFA Euro 2022 has acted as a catalyst for women’s football to push its upward trajectory to never-before-seen heights, but there is more to come.
In 2023, the FA will appoint a designated company to oversee both the Barclays WSL and the Women’s Championship. The company will be given an initial three year period and will operate independently of the FA, working very closely with the leagues’ clubs.
A key topic for the company to discuss, will be the negotiations of a new broadcasting deal, with the FA now entering the final 18 months of their biggest broadcasting agreement to date, with any new deal expected to benefit the league further.
In addition to a new broadcasting deal, clubs such as Arsenal and Chelsea, who regularly sell out their home grounds, may have to move to bigger stadiums to meet the needs of their growing fanbase, perhaps playing more games at their men’s team stadiums, leading to closer cooperation between the two teams.
As the Barclays WSL’s aim of achieving an average attendance of 6,000 spectators a week by 2024 looks set to be met as early as 2023, new and more ambitious targets can be set, with the future of the league and women’s football as a whole looking bright.