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The popularity of the women’s game is on the rise - will Sunderland Ladies see the benefits?

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Sunderland Ladies may not be in the national spotlight, but the game has undoubtedly profited from the performance of the England national team at the World Cup in the summer. Will our lasses see the benefit of the increase in popularity in women’s football?

SAFC.com

The opening set of games in the Women’s Super League began last weekend, with the legacy left by the summer World Cup fully evident throughout. During France 2019 the BBC reported record viewing figures, with 28.1 million people tuning in to their online and television coverage. Further still, England’s semi-final game against the USA attracted 11.7 million viewers, the highest live TV audience so far this year.

The FA’s attempt to capitalise on this interest paid off in the opening fixtures - this past weekend saw record attendances, televised games on BT Sport and some matches played in men’s stadiums. Manchester City’s ground, the Etihad Stadium, hosted the first ever Manchester derby with City winning 1-0 in front of a record crowd of 31,213.

Down south Chelsea offered fans free tickets to support the side in their clash against Spurs at Stamford Bridge. Although this turnout was less than City’s, 24,546 attended - the jump in figures is massive compared to last season.

Manchester City Women v Sunderland Ladies - WSL Photo by Tom Flathers/Manchester City FC via Getty Images

Although it’s in the FA’s best interests to promote the WSL much like they promote the Premier League, you can’t help but wonder what the World Cup legacy necessarily means for third-tier Sunderland Ladies.

Generally speaking, hopefully football fans will actively search to find their local women’s team, whether that be the counterpart to the club they follow or simply whoever is nearest to them. Sunderland have been proactive in promoting the #OneClubOurClub hashtag, with the main Twitter account keeping followers updated with men’s and women’s fixtures.

However, for Sunderland, there has been more interest in our women’s side as a result of the World Cup due not only interest in the women’s game, but also because of the sheer number of former SAFC players in the England squad.

As well as that, the work done by Sunderland through its online and social media presence in order to captivate this new audience for women’s football has been fantastic. Followers on SAFC Ladies Twitter account have drastically shot up due to the increased coverage, which indicates more people are actively taking an interest in what is going on. There’s also been plenty of new content on the club’s website about the Lasses, such as match previews, team news and opposition profiles alongside the usual match live-tweeting.

Millwall v Sunderland: WSL 2 Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images

Pricing for women’s football is also far more attractive than the men’s game. Some WSL fixtures may be only slightly higher than further down the leagues, but the prices are more than reasonable. Sunderland generally charge £3 for adults and £1 for concessions for their home games, an affordable price to see some top-quality local football.

Whilst the promotion of the women’s game is great, the question must be asked of what happens when the legacy of this World Cup starts to dwindle. The Daily Mail’s Chief Sports Writer, Oliver Holt, made the point that last season’s WSL attendances averaged at 833 compared to 1,128 in the aftermath of the 2015 World Cup. In the same article Arsenal Women’s boss Joe Montemurro commented that whilst interest continues in the game when matches are on television or playing in their male counterparts’ stadiums, there’s also an importance of filling the stadiums and grounds that teams are already playing in to make a statement.

Sunderland Ladies pulled a similar stunt, though that was more out of necessity due to fire damage at their home ground at Eppleton. They faced Newcastle at the Stadium of Light last month, winning 3-2 in front of a crowd of 1168. Like Montemurro says, having a one-off fixture at these stadiums is fine, but the focus has to be on filling the regular grounds used by these teams.

With the World Cup legacy still fresh and the usual affordable ticket prices in place, I’m fairly certain the Lasses will be seeing a lot more new faces through the turnstiles this season to cheer them on.