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  • Writer's pictureSuzy Lycett

Getting women's football and its fans into the pub

Updated: Mar 14, 2023

On Sunday, a bunch of Red and White AWFC Gooners had a mega day of football. The Manchester United versus Chelsea women game followed by Arsenal men versus Fulham in the pub, then the evening Arsenal women game versus Reading at Meadow Park.

In the pub, we were rather loud. We were chanting, we were cheering. We were having fun. I dare say that we were louder than the (mainly) men watching the Arsenal men's game.

That same weekend, an article came out about Manchester City's Alex Greenwood asking for more pubs to show women's sports. So I thought I'd write this blog.

There is an audience that exclusively watches the women's games - myself included.

There are even more that are new to women's football, and are sticking around. Let's break it down:

  • 8.4 million people chose to watch Women's Super League games in 2022, but not Premier League matches.

  • 1.8 million watched the women's Euros, but not the men's World Cup.

  • There was an overall increase of 131% in the viewership of women's football in 2022 - and 46% were women.

  • Post Euros, 53% of those who were watching women's football for the first time then continued to watch it after we won the Euros final.

That's a huge growth in viewership, and a huge, new audience to tap into.

So let's throw in another stat: 7.8 million people planned to watch a WSL game in a pub in 2022, with 8.8 million aiming to watch a UWCL game in a pub too.

However, for those fans hoping to watch women's football in a pub atmosphere, the choice of location was limited in 2022. 82% of pubs didn't do anything to encourage customers to watch women's sports in their pubs.

Many pubs are missing out on that big opportunity.

"All broadcast opportunities are important and that starts at the grassroots level – it’s about taking that chance on women’s football," says Greenwood.

"Broadcasting more women’s sports matches in public places will help us sustain the momentum and continue this improvement."

Some pubs have already started to address this and recognise the commercial benefit of women's games. Greene King's research shows that 42% believe their local pubs are showing more women’s sport - yet 74% feel pubs could be showing even more.

The Good Companion was very accommodating about showing the women's game on their screens, once we asked.

Off the back of this, I got curious. I did some unofficial research in my local area - Finsbury Park, right next to the Emirates. I.e. Gooner land. I messaged five local pubs that are known to show football, to ask if they show the Arsenal women's games.

Three got back to me, saying that, yes, they'd be happy to.

One pub had the caveat that they would show women's games if it didn't clash with anything else.

When you consider the commercial pull of the men's games, this is a fair response. As much as there is growth in the women's game, pubs are still businesses and need to cater to their audience to maximise their profits - and men's sports will still drive those higher margins.

But this then leaves an "off-peak" time to show women's games. The response to my messages suggest that most pubs would be open to that. A couple of the messages suggested it would only be on request, while one said that they try to show "as many women's league games as possible".

The other caveat was that the women's game would need to be shown on TV.

Many of the matches are still streamed on FA Player, which I assume may be a logistic challenge for pubs to show.

Only 13% of women's sport in 2022 was shown on "key sports channels", such as BBC One, BBC Two, Sky Sports Main Event, Channel 4 and ITV. So that already poses a challenge to ensure regular coverage in pubs.

For the Women's World Cup this year, although ITV and the BBC are expected to secure a joint deal for the rights to show the games, their bids were originally rejected. This was due to “a lack of willingness” to pay what the women's games actually deserve - particularly post-Euros where its popularity was unquestionable.

Broadcasters need to get on board with the game to help make it a more regular occurrence in people's homes - and at pubs.

There's a final caveat that I'm going to add - as pure conjecture - that the price of the women's tickets may affect pub viewership.

To go to women's games is relatively cheap. I easily pay more travelling out to Borehamwood to watch the games than I do on the ticket itself - and Meadow Park is only a 30-minute train ride away.

While games are so cheap, if you're in the area, wouldn't you simply go to watch it at the grounds?

Meadow Park games are starting to sell out, with its limited capacity of 4,500.

That means there could be more of a need for pubs to show the games soon, to help those that miss out on tickets experience the match day atmosphere elsewhere.

However, for games at Emirates - which are most likely to be televised - the tickets are cheap and it's a big stadium. At this stage, it's unlikely to sell out. I know that, given the choice, I'd rather go and watch the game in person, rather than sit in a pub watching, while I'm in the area.

In other regions with Arsenal fans that can't travel to London, pubs may need to be asked to show the games, rather than it being a given - as was the case for us.

The Good Companion hadn't planned to show the Manchester United versus Chelsea game, but we were in North London.

That match might not be top of the agenda, whether the men's or women's game. We watched that non-local game in the pub - then went to the grounds to watch our team play. It's a very small sample size, I realise, but my experience proves my point.

Despite these caveats, pubs that jump on this opportunity will likely reap the rewards.

Like Nike's success as early advertisers and sponsors during the Euros, pubs that start to advertise and show women's games will be the early adopters - and it is likely to pay off in the long run.

The Women's World Cup is the perfect springboard to continue promoting a regular schedule of women's games. When the regular football season ends, a few of us already have plans to watch the World Cup at the weekends together.

We're that perfect target audience, waiting for pubs to reach out and tell us that they're ready for us.

I'm sure that there will also be families that might want to take advantage of that "family friendly" tag of the women's game to watch the games in the pub - in potentially less rowdy and a bit less sweary surroundings than a men's game.

I know, I know - we shouldn't infantilise the women's game. But, when the family friendly moniker means that it's associated with a safer pub atmosphere, I'm all for it. Plus, if watching in a pub can expose children to women's sports, to inspire them to play or just simply to get them to recognise that it's the norm, that's a win.

Maybe I'll do a follow up article after the World Cup, to see if pubs have recognised the long-term potential of women's football - or if they'll simply bask in the summer glory that the women's games will bring.

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