The Women’s World Cup wrapped up this Sunday and so that means, hopefully, most of the Women’s leagues around the world are looking for how to capitalize on the support for the biggest tournament in the sport. That includes Kelly Simmons, the FA Director of the Women’s game, who is attempting to build on historic support in England for the women’s team. The semi-final against the United States drew a record 11.7 million viewers and Simmons’ job now is to turn those viewers into butts in stadiums. Simmons went on the BBC Radio 5 Live’s Sportsweek show to talk strategy and her first suggestion? Double-headers with the men’s games.
“That will be tried as well,” Simmons told the hosts when asked whether double-headers could be on the agenda. “But even in the standalone games in the men’s stadiums we have already seen when we have done that before a big uplift and a big crossover of fans, so we will see more of that this season.
“We have already announced the fixtures for the first game and you will see coming out of that there will be a series of games in men’s stadiums as part of trying to build an audience.
“We know that there is a massive potential audience of fans coming across from the men’s game and the men’s clubs across to their women’s team, we are seeing very much a one-club ethos.
“There is a massive chance for the game to pull those across this season with the Women’s Super League and get more people coming to games.”
The suggestion may be well intentioned, but considering much of the problems with getting people into the stadiums for Women’s games comes from competition with the men’s games, it’s hard to feel optimistic about basically forcing the women’s teams to piggyback on the men’s teams - as if they don’t deserve their own matchdays, or the support to grow their own matchday attendances. It’s the same kind of thinking that encourages things like Liverpool bringing the Women’s team on the pre-season tour and yet only letting them play for “specially invited guests.”
Simmons went on to further suggest that a special “series” of fixtures hosted in the men’s stadiums, which sounds slightly more promising. The opening matches of the WSL have already been announced but the full schedule comes out this upcoming Wednesday. The marquee match is obviously the first ever Manchester Women’s Derby, with Manchester City facing a newly promoted (and created) Manchester United, while Liverpool will face Reading, on the weekend of September 7th and 8th.
“The opening fixture is Man City v Manchester United and that will be on television and that will be announced [on Monday] where that is,” Simmons continued. “It is up to Manchester City to announce where they decide to put that game but there will be a series of fixtures in men’s stadiums and that is going to be fantastic for the women’s game.”
She added: “You will see over the next week a series of announcements around fixtures, around games in men’s stadiums.
“We have really focused on putting top women’s games when there is no men’s football. We have got a series of live games on television across the season and we are hoping fans will come across.”
The claim that they have “really focused” on putting women’s games where there is no men’s football is laughable, considering there have many many times where the Women’s teams have played right up against the men’s teams, causing a really unfortunate conflict for fans (having experienced this firsthand). It’s really hard to feel optimistic about all these efforts, even as they might be from (I guess) the right place.
Now the real question is how Liverpool FC will go along with these changes, considering Peter Moore is all about that “two teams one club ethos.” Our suggestion? Just let the women play, in their own stadiums, on their own grass, give them the space and the time and the finances. Clearly, the viewership means that people are watching, regardless of the men’s teams.