Euro 2022: Are UEFA and FA not selling enough women’s football because of smaller stadiums?

Demand, especially in Europe, has never been so high, so the stadiums chosen to host the Women’s European Championship, which is currently taking place in England, were surprised.

Critics argue that the English Football Association (FA) and UEFA, the governing body of European football, did not seize the moment.

While the 10 host venues include giants such as Wembley Stadium and Old Trafford, both of which will host one match, games will also be played at the 8,000-seat Lee Sports Village and New York Stadium. » with 12,000 seats in Rotherham.

The smallest host stadium is the Manchester City Academy Stadium, part of the English Premier League club’s state-of-the-art training facility, which seats only 4,700 people. As with Leigh Sports Village, which is located in Greater Manchester, capacity is limited due to rules against standing room.

England play against China during a friendly match at the Manchester City Academy Stadium on April 9, 2015.

“A bit disappointed”

The first of three matches to be played at the Manchester City Academy Stadium, home of the Manchester City women’s team, will be Belgium’s Group D match against Iceland on 10 July.

In April, Juventus and Iceland midfielder Sarah Björk Gunnarsdottir told Their Field podcast that she was “a little disappointed” with the choice of the stadium.

“This is shocking. When we play in England, there are so many stadiums, and we have a City training ground that takes what, 4,000 spectators? Gunnarsdottir said.

“It’s embarrassing. It’s not respect (we deserve it) Watch women’s football today, they fill the stadiums. You see Barcelona and Madrid, 95,000 spectators watching the game (at the Camp Nou). They are not ready for us to sell more than 4000 tickets.

“It’s a disrespect for women’s football because it’s so much bigger than people think. You think women’s football takes two steps forward, but then something like that happens, it’s just a step back.”

Rachel O’Sullivan, women’s football pundit and co-founder of news agency Girlsontheball, said the selection of two stages with a capacity of less than 10,000 people for a major tournament was “a bit ambitious”.

“There’s a habit in the women’s game of not expecting it to be this big and not expecting it to grow to be the way it is,” said O’Sullivan, who said she was “disappointed and surprised” when she saw the stadium selection. , said CNN Sports.

“If you look at the evidence, it’s growing exponentially – and the 2019 World Cup really showed us that. Many were surprised by the number of people wanting to get into and participate in football – and we shouldn’t be. We should have expected that.”

The Manchester City Academy Stadium is located next to the Etihad Stadium, home of the Manchester City men's team.

Growth

Since England bid to host Euro 2022 four years ago, the situation in women’s football has changed dramatically.

There was a World Cup that broke attendance and viewing records, suggesting a new dawn for international women’s football is approaching, as well as the huge strides being made in the club game, particularly in Europe.

World Cup 2019 was watched with approximately 1.12 billion viewers across all platforms, a record audience for the contest. The final between the USA and the Netherlands was the most watched Women’s World Cup match ever, with an average live audience of 82.18 million, up 56% from the 2015 final audience.

However, when the initial stadium selection process for Euro 2022 was underway in 2019, the FA struggled to find suitable venues as clubs and councils were reluctant to put forward proposals, as FA chief executive Mark Bullingham explained last month.

“The absolute truth is that we have held a tender in every major venue and in every city in the country, and very few have expressed a desire to host the Women’s Euro,” Bullingham said in an interview with Zoom reporters.

“We really had to convince a few clubs and cities to come forward, so we are very pleased with what we have achieved.

“We think we have some brilliant venues, but if you think people were knocking on our door to play matches, that wasn’t the case.”

Since 2019, women’s football’s revenue, fan base and audience have increased, pushing the sport into a different stratosphere.

In addition to Wembley (89,000), Old Trafford (74,000), Leigh Sports Village and Manchester City Academy Stadium, other host venues are Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane (30,000), St Mary’s Stadium in Southampton (32,000), Amex Brighton and Hove Albion. Stadium (30,000), Milton Keynes Dons MK Stadium (30,000), Brentford Community Stadium (17,000) and Rotherham United Stadium in New York.

Women’s football writer Richard Laverty said that if the selection process were happening now, perhaps for the upcoming World Cup, it could be a completely different story.

“I think if they were doing it now, maybe they would have chosen differently. I think the women’s game has gotten so big now and I think they probably underestimated the demand, maybe from traveling fans, neutral fans, English fans. ” Laverty told CNN Sport.

Given the sport’s rapid growth, O’Sullivan suggested that ambition was the only way forward.

“We need to expect it to grow and not be surprised every time, because if you look at the stats and look at the view numbers over the years and every tournament, it only gets bigger and better every time. And that’s what we should strive for.”

A general view of Wembley Stadium during the Euro 2020 semi-final between England and Denmark on July 7, 2021.

“Real Shame”

The layout of the tournament’s stadiums has also been criticized.

While there is a cluster of stadia in the northwest and south of England, including London, there are no traditional hotbeds of sport in the middle lane or northeast.

While the reluctance of councils and clubs to put forward their proposals limited the FA’s choices, O’Sullivan said it was “a real shame” that no one came forward in these regions, especially in the North East, a region with such a rich football history.

But host stadiums still include four Premier League venues, the country’s main stadium, Wembley, a recent top-tier stadium, and two stadiums that host Women’s Super League matches, criteria the FA wanted to include.

The sold-out Wembley final is expected to be the most attended Euro final in history for both men and women, surpassing the current record of 79,115 set at the 1964 European Men’s Championship.

Sue Campbell, FA Director of Women’s Football, said the Independent in June that the stadium selection process was balanced and they hope to learn from it.

So, are we on the right balance? We’ll look at it again, but you have a big stadium opening it, you’ve got a big stadium closing it at Old Trafford and Wembley,” Campbell said.

Old Trafford hosted the opening match of Euro 2022.

“We think we have the right balance. We’ll take a close look at it at the end and check it out, and that’s where we are at the moment.”

Despite the tournament having two stadiums with a capacity of less than 10,000, UEFA told CNN that it hoped it would be “the biggest European sporting event for women in history”.

More than 700,000 tickets are available for the 31 matches, according to a UEFA spokesperson. In the days leading up to the start of the tournament, over 500,000 tickets were sold, a record for the Women’s Euro.

In regards to matches played at Manchester City’s academy, UEFA and the FA said the stadium would “create a great atmosphere worthy of the Women’s Euro”.

“We are confident many matches will be sold out and look forward to more than doubling overall attendance at Women’s EURO 2017 in the Netherlands and hosting the best Women’s EURO ever,” UEFA told CNN in an email.

Given the capacity, small venues at least provide a better television spectacle than empty large arenas.

Both O’Sullivan and Laverty cited the under-attended games played in Nice at the 2019 World Cup.

Laverty did think there was “certainly some shortsightedness” when it came to the choice of stadium, but said that with good product on the field and stadium capacity, people would forget the arguments.

“I think when football starts and the stadiums are full people probably quickly forget about it because you focus on the product on the pitch and I think it will be the best women’s Euro.”