What is the state of women's football attendances after recent records?

By Alistair MagowanBBC Sport
Atletico Madrid set a club world record attendance when 60,739 fans watched their match against Barcelona
Atletico Madrid set a club world record attendance when 60,739 fans watched their match against Barcelona

Record attendances at recent women's football matches fly in the face of claims that 'no-one cares about women's football'.

Last month a new world record for a club attendance was set in Spain as Atletico Madrid welcomed 60,739 fans for the visit of Barcelona, while Juventus packed in 39,000 for the visit of Fiorentina to break the Italian record.

And last weekend the domestic record tumbled in France as well, as Lyon won the Division 1 Feminine title decider against Paris St-German in front of 25,907 fans.

Juventus striker Eniola Aluko believes big crowds can become the norm in women's football and now Manchester United have been promoted to the Women's Super League, a first Manchester derby could allow English football to follow suit.

So are these numbers here to stay and how do they compare with regular crowds during the season?

How well supported are Atletico and Juventus?

Although some of the tickets were discounted or free, the crowds at Atletico and Juve demonstrated there is an appetite for big one-off games.

They were marketed well, with Atletico offering free tickets to their members, and charging from five to 25 euros for non-member tickets, which amounted to 27,000 seats sold or 45% of the attendance.

Both clubs also chose games against traditional rivals in an attempt to draw new fans to women's football and played them at their men's team's stadiums.

Their regular attendances are significantly lower: league leaders Atletico have averaged about 600 fans per game this season, while Serie A Femminile leaders Juve have an average of about 450.

Atletico's cup encounter with Barcelona in February, however, drew 3,800 fans.

How do team attendances compare across leagues?

Other leagues can call upon larger fan bases.

Showpiece games are already popular in England, where a record 45,423 watched Chelsea beat Arsenal in last year's FA Cup final.

In the Women's Super League, Europe's only fully professional women's division, Chelsea and Manchester City enjoy the biggest crowds, averaging 1,864 and 1,409 respectively last season.

In France, newly-crowned champions Lyon are a dominant force, and their success makes them the best-supported team in France with an average of 1,428 fans last season, while second-placed Paris St-Germain averaged 1,010.

In Germany, two-time Champions League winners Wolfsburg are the best supported team with 1,689 fans on average last season, but there are also four other teams whose average is more than 1,000.

But European teams are dwarfed by NWSL teams in the United States. Portland Thorns attracted an average of 16,959 last season, making them the best-supported team in major women's football leagues.

How are leagues faring?

Portland Thorns' whopping crowds contribute to an NWSL average of 6,017 fans per game across the league last term, the highest it has been for four seasons and up by about 1,000 since 2015.

That contrasts with the WSL, which has seen a dip since the 2015 World Cup, and also coincided with a move back to a winter season. Last season the average crowd was 833, compared to 1,128 in 2016.

In Germany, there has been a similar drop since a league high of 1,185 in the 2013-14 season. After two further seasons with an average above 1,000, it dropped to 849 last season.

In France, hosts of this summer's World Cup, the average attendance at Division 1 Feminine games is 609, down from 708 the previous two seasons.

In Italy, where most teams are amateur, the league says the average attendance among smaller teams tends to be about 200-300 whereas at bigger teams it is about 800.

Chelsea full-back Claire Rafferty takes on Wolfsburg
Chelsea played their Champions League tie against Wolfsburg at Stamford Bridge in 2016 in front of 3,783 fans

Can England learn from European clubs?

England boss Phil Neville is among those who say English clubs should follow Juve and Atletico Madrid's examples and "throw open" their stadiums for one-off games.

The Football Association says it is in talks to host games at men's stadiums next season, and a first Manchester derby in women's football would not be a hard sell.

Crystal Palace are set to play the last game of this season's Championship (the tier below the WSL) at Selhurst Park on 28 April against local rivals Charlton.

But games will need careful consideration. In a congested market, there is plenty of football already available to watch, so pricing, timing and location all need to be right.

Some people have suggested playing women's games before or after men's fixtures at the same stadium. This already happens on occasion in rugby union.

When Chelsea staged the home leg of their Champions League tie against Wolfsburg at Stamford Bridge in 2016, it was watched by a crowd of 3,783.

Blues defender Millie Bright, who played in the 3-0 defeat, told BBC Sport: "The atmosphere wasn't great because the crowd was all on one side of the stadium.

"My worry with offering free tickets is that it attracts one-off crowds, but we want to make the game fund itself. There needs to be a balance between crowds and ticket sales."

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