The Football Association’s Kelly Simmons feels the “unique” opening to the new Barclays FA Women’s Super League season must be capitalised on but that plenty of work remains.
Crowds of more than 24,000 for both the matches at the Etihad Stadium and Stamford Bridge saw average attendances soar to 10,487 across the weekend.
With no Premier League matches because of the international break, the timing of the WSL launch certainly captured interest and saw a much-raised media profile.
Some 31,213 watched a 1-0 win for City in the Manchester derby against United on Saturday, with 3,041 at Ashton Gate for Bristol City against Brighton, while on Sunday a crowd of 24,564 saw Chelsea beat newly-promoted Tottenham.
However, the turn-out at Damson Park for Birmingham’s fixture with Everton was just 873 – a statistic which highlights the challenges ahead.
Simmons, the FA’s director of the women’s professional game, is confident it can provide a platform to help drive the game on.
“What the weekend showed really was the work we did with the clubs to select the date to launch the league in a FIFA men’s window, therefore the ability to plan games in the men’s stadiums, and obviously the success of the Lionesses helped to raise the profile of the women’s game,” Simmons told the PA news agency.
“We averaged just over 10,000 across the games so from this time last year, it is a massive uplift – but it is week one and obviously there is still a lot of work to do to continue to build on the attendances.”
Simmons added: “This was a unique weekend in the sense we were launching, there was no men’s Premier League football and we had the opportunity of the games in the big stadiums. Now we will revert back to predominantly where the women’s teams usually play.
“What it has done is really help raise the profile of the Women’s Super League, having (sponsors) Barclays on board is a huge bonus as well, with unprecedented levels in helping us market the league and games.
“Manchester City, Chelsea and Bristol City will all now have really good data on their fanbase which is interested in women’s football and engaging more in it. Now it is about converting some of those into coming more regularly each week at the women’s clubs.”
Simmons added: “The next round (of WSL fixtures) will look different because we have not got games in the men’s stadiums, so it is about continuing to work with sponsors, our broadcast partners and with the clubs to grow attendances week in and week out, to build on the work we have started.”
The WSL hopes another targeted weekend of key games during the November international break could help generate another round of bumper attendances.
“We have deliberately put some of our biggest fixtures in that slot,” Simmons said.
“Tottenham have announced they are playing (Arsenal) at the men’s stadium, so that is where we hope to see the next big spike.”
Former Arsenal and England forward Ian Wright hopes an impressive opening weekend to the new WSL season can provide a springboard for the rest of the campaign.
“It’s fantastic to see them in a stadium like this (at Chelsea), with that many people here, but it really is vitally important that the game was good enough that people will want to come back,” Wright, who is a Barclays football ambassador supporting the FA Women’s Super League, told PA.
“They won’t be playing at Stamford Bridge every week so you are hoping that the stadiums they do play in will fill it out and that people will go and watch it because there was quality football on show.”