Euro 2022, FC Barcelona and the growing interest in women’s football – ARNAUD DRIJARD

Returning to the central idea of ​​the previous column, this week we have witnessed two events that confirm the growing interest in women's footbal

Returning to the central idea of ​​the previous column, this week we have witnessed two events that confirm the growing interest in women’s football. On Monday, the UEFA released general sale tickets for the 2022 Women’s Euro Cup to great demand; the remaining tickets went on sale at 8am, and by 8.43 all available seats for the final on 31 July at Wembley had been sold out. And on Wednesday, the FC Barcelona Femení set a new attendance record for an official women’s football match with 91,553 attendees at the Camp Nou. Let’s see the details of these success stories.

The 2022 Women’s Euro Cup expects the largest influx of public ever seen in the championship. UEFA says it has sold more than 350,000 of the 700,000 tickets available, and has already broken the previous record of 240,000 tickets sold for the last tournament in the Netherlands in 2017. The tickets have been purchased by a diverse demographic and youth of residents of 89 countries. 48% are women, which means that it is not an event of exclusive female interest, and 34% are under 35 years old, the younger generations are interested in the product offered.

Chris Bryant, who is responsible for organizing the tournament for this Women’s Euro Cup, stated: “We are already breaking records for the event.” In addition, he expressed the legacy objective of this tournament: “We want people to enjoy watching the Women’s Euro Cup, but we want them to return to watch women’s sport again and again in the future. I think that journey can start for many people this summer. “. And looking at the ticket sales figures, it looks like it’s going to be a very busy trip.

Another event, the Champions League quarter-final match between Barcelona and Real Madrid broke a world record with 91,553 spectators! An unforgettable event for women’s football. The expectation was enormous since the match was announced; Tickets for the match at the Camp Nou sold out in 5 days. Women’s Barcelona usually plays at the Johan Cruyff stadium, at the club’s training headquarters on the outskirts of the city, and has the best average attendance in the Spanish league, with 2,938 spectators. If women’s football has opportunities, it will take advantage of them.

This success story was not easy at first. The club was originally founded as CF Barcelona in 1988. The women’s team was incorporated and renamed FC Barcelona Femení in 2002, and became fully professional in 2015. The club was runner-up between 2015 and 2019, with Atlético de Madrid being the dominant team. However, the institution always had a clear objective, as the sports director Markel Zubizarreta mentioned: “In seven years we have changed everything completely. We have to change the mentality and that mentality changed six or seven years ago”. Last season they won the first treble for a Spanish women’s soccer club.

Another element that has helped build such a successful team is the development of the academy; now, for the first time, there are young women living in La Masía. Only six of the 23 players on the women’s squad are foreigners, and there are players from the academy who are getting opportunities. The club has invested in infrastructure and resources to support the players, which has been reflected on the pitch.

The club’s philosophy is key to this success. Zubizarreta is proud of her “Our philosophy is special: when I speak to the players about coming here, I speak to them in a way that they have never heard before” When asked how the club has achieved this growing fan base, he says: “It’s not ‘Women’s football’ is football. If you turn on the television and you can’t see if they are men or women, you can see that it is a Barcelona team.”

The club has a clear identity on and off the pitch, which has attracted the attention of foreign superstars. Norway’s Ingrid Engen mentioned: “At Barcelona it’s not enough to win, it’s about how you play and that’s at the roots of this team.” And the numbers are there: the club has already sealed its third consecutive league title in Spain this season, winning all 26 games it has played and scoring 144 goals, conceding just 8. They are offering a high quality product to a demanding hobby, and it has been more than attractive.

And it is off the pitch where the players are delighted, Engen says: “We have everything you need; everything is taken care of. It is super professional, different from other clubs. They value us as much as the men’s team. Barcelona is a reference of how it should be Dutch superstar Lieke Martens, FIFA Women’s Player of the Year 2017, said: “It’s very nice to be part of this club because they really believe in women’s football, and they want to push it forward.” The perception is that FC Barcelona is proud of its women’s team.

Before Wednesday’s game, the Ballon d’Or winner and club captain, Alexia Putellas, confessed that she never dreamed of playing at the Camp Nou and declared: “I think that tomorrow can be the beginning of a new era. I am sure that many girls will dream of being those women in 20 years. We can open many doors for many girls, and I am very proud that Barça makes it possible because I think it will be a turning point in women’s football. Barça is a team I think we will send an important message.”

And they certainly passed it on. This is the most relevant achievement of these events, since it gives the girls the real hope of being the next Putellas and of playing in front of more than 91 thousand fans, something that other generations did not even dream of.

Women’s sports, women’s soccer, is definitely a growing market!