The Women’s Super League attendance record is set to be broken on Saturday with more than 51,000 tickets sold for Arsenal’s derby against Tottenham at the Emirates Stadium.
The record of 38,262 was set in the reverse game in 2019 when the league got a boost from England after reaching a World Cup semi-final the previous summer.
This summer, Arsenal centre-back and England captain Leah Williamson implored fans who had followed the team’s triumphant Euro run to come to WSL games. “We got everyone together,” she shouted at the camera. “We have people at the games. We want them to come to the Women’s Super League – the legacy of this team will be the start of the journey.
The message was heard loud and clear at Arsenal. “We followed Leah’s lead,” said commercial manager Juliet Slot, who was at Wembley when Williamson lifted the trophy and teammate Beth Mead won the Golden Ball and Golden Boot. “We thought, ‘Well, come on, we too, as a club, have to tell people that we want them to come.'”
Arsenal are one of four WSL clubs playing at their main club stadium this weekend, meaning the combined attendance for a series of fixtures is also set to be crushed. Liverpool face Everton at Anfield, Brighton face Reading at the Amex and Leicester face Aston Villa at the King Power where they host all their matches.
Arsenal were one of the last WSL sides to host a league game at their main stadium, but have pledged to play six games there this season and have given season ticket holders for the men’s team the option to integrate them. Slot says the decision to move matches was taken before it started last December and reflects a women’s football strategy at Arsenal to invest in players, facilities and marketing.
“Part of the reason I was brought to Arsenal is because I’m used to selling tickets,” she said. “Premier League football clubs traditionally don’t have to work very hard to sell tickets. I come from racing, where you have to work very hard for every ticket, even at Royal Ascot. So one of the things what I said is that we need a different mindset and mentality and an ability to sell tickets to a new audience.
“We invested in these other areas and the final piece of the puzzle was my entry and exit: ‘Here’s how we can commercialize it. Because at the end of the day, we want it to be sustainable. We want our women’s teams to make a profit and fill the stadiums. »
How, however, did the club achieve over 50,000 ticket sales, temptingly close to the 1921 record for a domestic women’s game of 53,000 with tickets still on sale and walk-in available?
Last season, in the 60,260-capacity Emirates, 8,705 fans watched Arsenal’s curtain-raiser against Chelsea, 13,438 came to the Champions League against Barcelona and 5,018 attended the quarter-final. of the Champions League against Wolfsburg. The North London derby was also due to take place there on March 26 but was postponed after a Covid outbreak at Tottenham. Arsenal were on course for a crowd of over 15,000.
Much of the increased momentum can be attributed to winning the Euros, but being ready for that momentum really allowed Arsenal to capitalise. “We thought the England team would do well, and it was great that they won, but we had a plan in place already,” Slot said. “We establish our budget in January-February of each year. So we planned that this game would be in the Emirates, that we would spend a certain amount of marketing spend on it, and that I would build a team.
Last season Slot had one person working full-time and one part-time on Tottenham’s game at the Emirates. From now on, a female steering group covers all areas and brings together the communication and operations teams.
“You don’t just have to say, ‘If you build it, they’ll come,'” Slot says. “You have to keep telling people about the opportunity. The key message this week is that tickets are available even without an appointment, which you would never assume for a men’s game. So it’s about educating the public.
Only about 100 tickets were distributed through the club’s community program. “You find that a lot of people take the tickets and don’t show up,” Slot says. “So I’m very aware that you have to put a value on experience.”
Clubs learn from each other and share their successes. Connecting with Barcelona after consecutive record attendances at Camp Nou is ‘on the agenda’ for Slot. She acknowledges that there is “a lot of work to do” and says: “We are talking and working with all the other clubs who really focus on women’s football and try to develop the game sustainably together.”