On January 6, Everton Ladies played away against Chelsea in front of a sold out crowd of 3,000 — a higher than average crowd for a WSL game. The turnout was due to Chelsea’s marketing efforts which included free entry and giveaways to fans.
When Everton heads back home, however, it’s a totally different story.
On March 31, only 230 people attended Everton’s game against Yeovil Town at their current home stadium, Southport. When Everton lost away to Yeovil Town in November, the Glovers had an audience of 732 fans. Attendance size and fan support matter and, unfortunately, the women’s side in a football-crazy city is not getting the numbers it deserves.
According to figures the WSL put out earlier in the season, Everton Ladies have the lowest attendance in the WSL by a long shot, averaging only about 200-250 people a game. Unfortunately, their attendance has gone down 56% this season from their 2017/2018 average of 466. The Blues are getting small attendance rates more typically seen in the second tier of women’s football.
It’s a far cry from when 53,000 people packed into Everton men’s stadium, Goodison Park, in 1920 to watch England’s unofficial women’s team, the Dick, Kerr’s Ladies right before the FA banned women’s football from 1921 to 1971 for being too popular.
In second to last place in WSL attendance rates are Everton’s Merseyside rivals, Liverpool, who also experienced a drop in attendance this season, although not as drastic. Their attendance went down 29% from 634 to 451.
On March 24th, Liverpool marketed their home game against Arsenal, allowing free entry to fans who had attended the legends charity match. BT Sport 1 provided live TV coverage and the attendance rates were increased to 570, which was still less than their 2017/2018 average and less than half of what Manchester City typically get.
Liverpool has always had some of the lowest attendance rates in the league, even in 2015 and 2016 while Everton Ladies were in the second tier after having been relegated.
Most WSL teams saw an average drop of 11% in 2017 after they switched from a summer league to a winter one but unfortunately for Everton and Liverpool, their numbers have continued to decrease while teams like West Ham, Yeovil, Arsenal and Brighton have experienced an increase this season. Attendance for front runners Manchester City and Chelsea has remained steady.
While Liverpool’s men’s side is battling for number one in the Premier League and Everton men are in the top half of the table after having spent record amounts of money, why do their women’s teams receive the lowest attendance rates in the WSL? Here are a few thoughts.
Both teams have dealt with match stadium issues. From 2014 to 2017, Liverpool and Everton both played their matches at Select Security Stadium, an artificial pitch 30 minutes away from Liverpool in Widnes.
In 2016, after Liverpool experienced a 10% drop in attendance, FA Director of Women’s Football Baroness Sue Campbell told BBC Sport, “For Liverpool, location is a real issue. We need to work better on making sure WSL clubs are at facilities that are appropriate and located near their local communities.”
Before the 2018/2019 season, it was announced that both Merseyside teams would be moving to different stadiums due to increased WSL standards.
Liverpool moved their matches across the river to Prenton Park, a 15 minute drive from Liverpool. Everton announced they would play at Merseyrail Community Stadium for half of their season, and then ended up there for the entire season — so we can only assume something must have fallen through.
Merseyrail Community Stadium is in Blowick and is a whopping 45 minute drive from Liverpool, which goes against Campbell’s recommendation of being closer to their supporters. Southport railway station is a little over a mile away and supporters bemoan the lack of parking and atmosphere.
In May 2018, BBC Sport reported that Everton was in talks to use a proposed North West football hub in 2020 that would be near Northwich, about 30 miles and almost an hour’s drive away from the heart of Liverpool.
There has been no update as to whether or not that is still in the works, but one would have to wonder if moving further away, albeit to a much nicer stadium, will help attendance grow.
Liverpool has experienced more success than Everton has in recent years, with a 5th place finish in the 2016 season a 4th place finish in the WSL1 Spring Series in 2017. But, they have not been able to break into the Top 3 like their men’s side currently has.
Manager Neil Redfearn resigned after three months on the job, in the beginning of the 2018/2019 season. After only 2 matches in charge, he was rumored to have been disappointed with the lack of resources from the club given to the women’s side. After a rocky start, the Reds are currently in 8th place out of 11 teams.
Everton was relegated in 2014 and then promoted back into the first tier for the 2017/2018 season, but have remained in second to last place since. Yeovil Town, however, went an entire season without a win and yet still received an increase in attendance before this season. Even though they have only won two games in 2018/2019, they still receive higher attendance rates than Liverpool and Everton combined.
This season has also not bode well for cup success for either the Reds or the Blues — and cup games tend to be where WSL teams can garner bigger audiences. The largest crowd for English women’s football during modern times was 45,423, for last season’s FA Cup final between Chelsea and Arsenal.
According to financial reports for the 2017/2018 season, wages & salaries for Everton were £450,236 for 38 employees, including directors. (That’s an average of £11,848 pounds a person.) Liverpool spent more than Everton, coming in at £676,228.
To compare, Brighton, who during that year was in the second tier of women’s football at the semi-professional level, came in at about £500,000. Birmingham, a club with their men’s team in the Championship, spent about £523,000. And Manchester City reported a loss of £1 million because the club is steadfastly committed to growing the women’s game.
Lack of Big Name Players
Everton and Liverpool both have quality players, but none of them are likely to make the Lionesses’ roster for the upcoming World Cup.
Liverpool has fared better in this category as recently as 2017, when they had four senior England players, including goalkeeper Siobhan Chamberlain. But, they all left in the summer of 2018.
To compare, Manchester City has nine England Lionesses on their squad, including captain Stephanie Houghton. Chelsea has three; Arsenal two.
When Carli Lloyd visited Liverpool in January of 2017, they filmed a video of her meeting captain Jordan Henderson and she spoke about her passion for the club. It was obvious that she would have loved to play for Liverpool but a month later, she joined Manchester City on loan, a club that could more readily afford her sticker price.
The biggest game of the season is the Merseyside derby and due to a schedule change, it happened on the same day as the men’s derby — but in separate stadiums. The two teams played each other again soon after for a Continental Cup game, a tournament that both teams crashed out of, with both failing to advance out of the first stage.
Liverpool & Everton are geographically close to each other
One could argue that because the fan bases are so close to each other, that perhaps proximity could be a factor. But even when combining the two attendance averages, the figure still comes in below six of the WSL teams.
It’s also hard to argue this when they now play at separate stadiums that are quite a distance from each other. Additionally, Manchester City and Manchester United have attracted some of the largest crowds in women’s English football and they are 30 minutes away from each other. Manchester United is a brand new team and they broke the attendance record for the Continental Cup when 4,835 supporters watched them play Reading in August and Manchester City consistently comes in second place behind Chelsea for most supporters in the WSL.
The FA ban has certainly left quite the lasting impression on the public, with some men moaning to this day that football isn’t for women. While this type of caveman mentality exists all over the world, some people have found the British culture to be one of the most stifling.
Given that any progress made by women is usually met with an equal or even stronger backlash, it’s not much of a stretch to argue that the city where women’s football had been the most popular historically is where the ban to women’s football has had its most enduring effects.
Suggestions on how to increase attendance
More cohesion within the club
Manchester City has done an amazing job of connecting the men’s and women’s sides by combining their social media accounts into one, which increased levels of fan involvement and attention to the women’s team.
Everton has put out a few slick promotional videos that involved both female and male players this season that were excellent. LFC TV has an LFC Women’s Show. More efforts like this are always welcome.
As Manchester City manager Nick Cushing told BBC Sport, “We wear the same kit. It has the same badge on it and we have the same passion and desire to be successful.”
More match streaming
The WSL is looking into a broadcast deal in the near future. Currently, BT Sport and BBC typically carry England Lioness games or Manchester City, Chelsea or Arsenal matches.
Some clubs like Chelsea provide streaming to matches through an app or online. Liverpool Women games can be streamed on LFCTV (free for Brits, but for other fans around the world, LFCTV GO costs £7 per month).
Broadening the audience means more exposure to fans all over the world, so if match streaming could become available to Everton fans as well, that would be very beneficial for their future.
Both teams have increased their marketing, social media and support of the women’s sides, but there is always room for improvement. Of course, more money would help Everton and Liverpool to be more competitive in the WSL, which would hopefully cause more people to attend games.
There are grassroots efforts that could be done as well, like growing the supporters groups and holding more fan events. Everton has partnered with blogger Sarah Halpin for match day coverage and connections like these can make a lasting impact with fans.
With the Barclay’s WSL sponsorship deal, more marketing will be done for the WSL, and hopefully that will lead to more fan interest.
Holding a women’s derby at Goodison Park or Anfield
Some teams around the world have found success by holding a women’s game right before a men’s game at the same stadium. Why not try this for a Merseyside derby next season at Goodison Park or Anfield? If it’s not possible to host two games in a row, hosting the women’s derby at one of the men’s stadiums works fine too.
A record 60,739 fans turned out to watch Barcelona beat Atletico on March 17. A week later, 39,000 attended a Juventus match at Allianz Stadium, the largest crowd for a women’s football match in Italy. Certainly, England could be next to make headlines for record attendances?
After former Everton player and current England Lionesses manager Phil Neville called for Premier League clubs to also open their stadiums up to their women’s sides, Manchester United and Manchester City are looking into hosting at Old Trafford and The Etihad next season. If they can do it, why can’t Everton and Liverpool?
With this summer’s World Cup, women’s football is going to be center stage — and it will increase fan interest. Merseyside clubs should work to restore the rich history of women’s football in their city. It’s time for the women’s teams in Liverpool to get the support that they deserve.