Commentary

Post-Women's World Cup: Big crowds in Manchester and London contrast with sparse turnouts elsewhere in Europe

What kind of boost has women's pro soccer gotten across Europe from the 2019 Women's World Cup in France?

The tournament drew record television viewerships in many countries, but how has that translated into ticket-buying fans?

Manchester City shattered the English WSL record with 31,213 fans at Etihad Stadium on Saturday for its opening game against Manchester United. The previous record was 5,265 for a game last season when Arsenal clinched the league title at Brighton & Hove Albion.

The record was expected to be broken on Sunday when Chelsea hosted Tottenham at Stamford Bridge. All 40,000 tickets had been distributed for free, but only 24,564 fans turned out.

That was still almost five times the next largest crowd in Europe's four major women's leagues that have kicked off. (Italy's Serie A begins next weekend.)

The next largest crowd was 5,413 fans for Barcelona's 9-1 win over Tacon -- the future Real Madrid -- at its new 6,000 Estadi Johan Cruyff.

Of the 38 games played so far in England, France, Germany and Spain -- France and Germany have played two weeks -- 22 drew crowds under 1,000 and 11 were under 500. The smallest crowd: 211 fans for the Marseille-Guingamp game in France.

Promotion of the new season in England in particular has been extensive. Friday's Telegraph offered a 12-page pullout preview of the new WSL season. In 2019-20, BT Sport will broadcast at least 30 live women’s matches -- WSL matches, as well as England national team matches and matches in the English FA Cup and League Cup.

In France, the women's league has a title sponsor for the first time -- chemical company Arkema -- and Canal-Plus will carry every D1 Arkema game on one of its platforms, offering prime-time coverage on its main channel on weekends when there's no rugby.

In Spain, a new media rights deal will pump 3 million euros ($3.3 million) a year into the Primera Iberdrola.

But the small crowds present a huge barrier. In Britain, the BBC plans to stream one WSL game a week but won't commit to broadcasting WSL matches. “We wouldn’t be showing men’s sports if we only had 1,000 people attending," Barbara Slater, BBC's director of sport, said recently at a women in sports conference in Edinburgh.

All across Europe, women's teams are relegated to playing at nearby training complexes or in out-of-the-way stadiums they share with other teams.

In the shadows of the Groupama Stadium, site of the Women's World Cup semifinals and final, Lyon, heralded as women's soccer's model club, opened before 1,976 fans at the Groupama Training Center.

English champion Arsenal drew just 1,795 fans for its opener against West Ham United at 4,500-seat Meadow Park it shares with semipro men's team Boreham Wood FC from the fifth-tier National League. Bristol City plays at a 1,500-seat stadium it shares with the Bristol Aztecs, an American football team.

Sandrine Soubeyrand, the head coach of French club Paris FC and the all-time French women's record-holder with 198 caps, told L'Equipe after Paris FC drew 253 fans for its season opener against Dijon at the Stade Bobin in Bondoufle, located 20 miles outside Paris, that all the ingredients are there for clubs to draw.

"That does not mean that fans will pay to drive 30 or 40 kilometers," she said.

The Telegraph noted that Sunday's crowd of almost 25,000 at Chelsea's Stamford Bridge was more than five times higher than the Blues' previous women’s record crowd at Kingsmeadow, the 4,850-seat stadium it shares with League One AFC Wimbledon.

Kingsmeadow is just 7.4 miles away from Stamford Bridge but seemingly an eternity away on public transportation. Getting to Kingsmeadow means staying on the District Line train, which stops at Fulham Broadway next to Stamford Bridge, all the way to Wimbledon for 12 more minutes and then spending either 43 more minutes on a pair of trains or 28 minutes on a bus.

According to the Telegraph, Chelsea still managed the highest average attendance in the WSL, drawing 2,040 fans a game in a league that averaged just 1,010.

Barclays FA Women's Super League (England)
Week 1 attendance:
Man. City vs. Man. United 31,213
Chelsea vs. Tottenham 24,564
Bristol City vs. Brighton & Hove Albion 3,041
Arsenal vs. West Ham United 1,795
Liverpool vs. Reading 1,445
Birmingham City vs. Everton 874
Average: 10,489.

D1 Arkema (France)
Week 1 attendance:
Lyon vs. Marseille 1,976
Paris SG vs. Soyaux 1,610
Bordeaux vs. Fleury 668
Guingamp vs. Metz 322
Montpellier vs. Reims 299
Paris FC vs. Dijon 253
Average: 855.
Week 2 attendance:
Reims vs. Lyon 3,147
Metz vs. Paris SG 1,913
Dijon vs. Bordeaux 942
Soyaux vs. Paris FC 479
Fleury vs. Montpellier 441
Marseille vs. Guingamp 213
Average: 1,189.

Flyeralarm Frauen-Bundesliga (Germany)
Week 1 attendance:
FFC Frankfurt  vs. Turbine Potsdam 2,550
Freiburg vs. Bayern Munich 2,412  
Wolfsburg vs. Sand 1,948
Essen vs. Bayer Leverkusen 1,254
FC Cologne vs. Duisburg 574
Jena vs.  Hoffenheim 487
Average: 1,538.

Week 2 attendance:

Turbine Potsdam vs. Jena 1,400
Bayern Munich vs. FFC Frankfurt 762
Sand vs. Essen 587
Duisburg vs. Wolfsburg 537
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Freiburg  375
Hoffenheim  vs. FC Cologne 280
Average: 657.

Primera Iberdrola (Spain)
Week 1 attendance:
Barcelona vs. Tacon 5,413
Coruna vs. Espanyol 1,000
Valencia vs. Real Sociedad 800
Huelva vs. Atletico Madrid 700
Madrid vs. Real Betis 600
Levante vs. Athletic Club 550
Sevilla vs. Granadilla 376
Logrono vs. Rayo Vallecano 250
Average: 1,211.

Photo: Nikola Krstic/Actionplus/Icon Sportswire

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