‘Immensely proud’: the years of work behind sold-out Women’s FA Cup final | Women’s FA Cup

The fervour and excitement of the crowds milling around a packed Olympic Way. The music from Boxpark Wembley reverberating around as fans of all ages gather in the fan zones and beyond, full of anticipation for the 90 minutes ahead. These scenes, rare less than a decade ago, are now customary in women’s football as the sport continues to go from strength to strength.

Another landmark will be reached, another record broken with Sunday’s Women’s FA Cup final. For the third time this season, Wembley will be sold out for a women’s game. Chelsea and Manchester United will walk out in front of about 90,000 fans, almost double the previous record for the final, set last year.

This feat comes a year ahead of the target set by the Football Association in 2020. “We are immensely proud to have achieved this sell-out,” says Marzena Bogdanowicz, the FA’s head of marketing for women’s football. “[It’s been] a team effort across the whole of the FA and also the two finalists, who have showcased the importance of the fixture and the occasion to their fans.”

Building such an audience has not happened overnight. It is the result of years of work done both at FA and club level to understand the best strategy to market the sport. Since bringing the final to Wembley in 2015, attendances have been building, helped by England’s success on the international stage.

“A home Euros with sold-out matches, even before the tournament began, allowed us to build from a base of some previous successes,” says Bogdanowicz. “The incredible achievement of the Lionesses was then a major catalyst in the incredible interest we are currently seeing.

“We were confident internally that we’d see a shift in perception and engagement following the tournament triumph and there was infrastructure in place to help sustain it. We have developed a really dedicated workforce who have looked to capture the momentum that has been generated and highlight what’s special about the women’s game.

“We’ve really wanted to market it to a broader audience and ensure there is something for everyone … the fan experience on the day is one of the best at Wembley. Whether it is the fan zones pre-match, the music, half-time show or the atmosphere, it all scores very highly on our post-match surveys. We adapt our fan engagement and marketing to the audience that attends, we learn from the insights we gain each year and improve wherever we can.”

This focus on fan engagement is crucial. Attendances have risen across the board, with all but one Women’s Super League club hosting matches in their main stadium. Successes include Old Trafford, Goodison Park, Stamford Bridge and, of course, the Emirates, where Arsenal sold 60,000 tickets for their recent Champions League semi-final.

Arsenal fans at the Women’s Champions League semi-final against Wolfsburg
Arsenal sold 60,000 tickets for the Women’s Champions League semi-final against Wolfsburg. Photograph: Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC/Getty Images

Arsenal are another example of an organisation working cohesively to capitalise on the interest in and success of the team. With support from the top, the club’s wider marketing apparatus has been involved in eight Emirates matches this season (the initial promise was six).

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Anticipating a boost after the Euros, they opened sales for the north London derby between the semi-final and final, resulting in 16,000 tickets sold in the week around England’s victory. That crowd would then set a WSL record of 47,367. This forward-thinking was repeated when the club put tickets for the Wolfsburg semi-final on sale as soon as the team beat Bayern Munich. This resulted in the sale of 8,000 tickets in just 24 hours, and a full sell-out in around a month.

Data capture and insights have been conducted between games, giving them a deep understanding of their audience, tapping into their community and strengthening connections with their supporters. Excitement and interest around women’s sport in general is clearly on an upward trend.

Capitalising on this and having the structures in place to maximise its accessibility are, as organisations such as the FA and Arsenal show, crucial. Sunday’s Women’s FA Cup final, another watershed moment, will be a prime example of how this hard work on building foundations behind the scenes can pay off. The fervour and excitement of the crowds milling around a packed Olympic Way.

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