WSL attendances have risen sharply across the board this season, averaging more than 6,500 – including a new league-best turnout of 47,367 for the North London Derby in September. The bigger clubs like Arsenal, Chelsea and United use their men’s stadiums for special occasions – like European games or derbies – and have advertised them as such with great success.
Even excluding the crowds at big stadium games, the league average is still just under 3,000 – well above the less than 2,000 last season. But Reading is at the bottom end. Sunday’s low turnout dropped their average to 1,932 – which puts them 10th in the league – and they are proof that hosting in a larger stadium is no automatic guarantee of spectators. Even their all-time attendance record stands at just 3,660, set against Arsenal earlier this season.
Reading began playing all home games at the 25,000-seat Madejski back in September 2020, the first WSL club to move permanently to their larger stadium, which is normally occupied by men.
It meant they were finally playing at Reading, having previously played at Wycombe Wanderers’ Adams Park, and was also a progressive statement from the club to show their commitment to the women’s team. But as admirable as that move was, the club will have to work harder to actually fill the stadium.
“We still have work to do”
As a game day experience, the Echoey Ground is completely devoid of atmosphere with just a few sections in a crowded grandstand. Far too big for the crowds Reading attracts, this stadium shows that there is no formula when it comes to increasing crowds.
They’re not the only hosts on their men’s pitch, with Aston Villa and Leicester City doing the same. Both average more than 3,000 per game – not overwhelming numbers, but an improvement.
While big clubs with marketing budgets to match understandably draw more attention at the top of the table, it is also the case that those with lionesses in their line-ups will naturally benefit more from the Euro. For teams like Tottenham and Reading, who can’t plaster these players via promotional campaigns, the challenge of attracting more fans is a different one.
“I think that was a problem behind the Euro,” Spurs boss Rehanne Skinner told Telegraph Sport. “Obviously people see them on that stage and they’re attracted to players who play at that level. Winning for England at home this year made them do it [the Lionesses] well-known names.
“It’s fantastic for England and these players, but if we translate that into what we do, it’s about continuing to make sure we find ways to make our games appealing. Every club has a different story, so your fanbase is different and you need to find out what’s really on their minds.
“Every club has to find that out for themselves. Ultimately, it’s everyone’s job to increase the average attendance across the WSL. To be honest, I think we still have to work on that.”