Arsenal CEO Vinai Venkatesham writes exclusively for the matchday programme about his ambitions for this pioneering football club and the wider women’s game.
I want to start by saying how incredible it has been to witness the amazing levels of support we’ve had for this game already.
Writing this a few days before the weekend, we have sold more than 47,000 tickets. Let’s see where we end up by kick-off, but we can say for sure that it will be a new record attendance for the WSL, so you are all part of history today!
Great credit is due to the numerous people at the club who have worked so hard to maximise sales, but of course the real credit goes to you, our supporters, who are grasping this opportunity to come and watch the team play at Emirates Stadium. And even though it’s still early in the season, this is a really important game, so your support is much appreciated by Jonas and his team.
The way the women’s game has continued to grow over the last few years has been very impressive, across all areas. I think the BBC and Sky deserve real credit, because they have done a fantastic job of broadcasting the women’s game in such a high-quality and engaging way.
They are bringing the game to huge audiences across the country every week. We’ve seen commercial interest from sponsors develop and grow, and we’ve seen ticket sales continue to increase – and not just for this game. We’ve sold out of season tickets for our games at Boreham Wood, and I was at our home match against Brighton last Friday which was a complete sell-out. But of course, the key reason for the growth has been the quality of what we see on the pitch in the WSL.
We announced some time ago that we are playing at least six games at Emirates Stadium this season and we are already seeing strong demand for the games against Manchester United and Chelsea that will be here at the Emirates. Those tickets are on sale now by the way, so don’t forget to get yours, because we would love to see many of you back here again.
In talking about the last few years, let’s not forget that women’s football has been a key part of Arsenal ever since the team was founded in 1987. We’ve won 50 major trophies plus a lot of others in that time, so we have got a magnificent history, and we want to build on that as we see a bright future ahead.
It’s a really exciting time in the sport, and clearly, the success of the Lionesses in the summer at the Euros has ignited interest in a whole new group of people. We’re so proud here of what Leah, Beth and Lotte did with England, and also of Rafaelle, who captained Brazil to the Copa America trophy. The summer has provided a further catalyst to a sport that was already growing rapidly.
At the club, we see a huge opportunity ahead and we continue to invest heavily in women’s football – in infrastructure, staff and players – to drive the team forward. Our new building for the women’s team at our London Colney training ground will open soon and will represent another significant step forward. But as ever with opportunity comes challenges, and it is important that we are open about these and work to resolve them.
For example, collectively with governing bodies and other clubs, we need to find ways to make the game more financially sustainable. This will require a better balance of costs and revenues, and the reason to highlight that is because we need to encourage more clubs to invest in women’s football by taking away barriers. A more competitive field will provide an even more vibrant Women’s Super League and an even more successful national team.
We also need to balance maximising broadcast audiences and matchday attendances, recognising that the times that work best for those watching on TV don’t always match the times that suit families to attend live matches. We also need to strike the right balance of games at Boreham Wood and the Emirates as the game grows. Boreham Wood continue to be an important partner to us, but of course, we would love Emirates Stadium to be the long-term home of Arsenal Women.
For that to happen there are challenges to overcome around scheduling, the playing surface and operational issues. We of course also need to get to the stage where demand justifies playing at Emirates rather than Meadow Park.
There are huge opportunities opening up, which rightly should be the focus, but we just need to be mindful of the challenges as well – both as a club and also in wider discussions within the sport.
But let’s get back to our immediate aims for this season, and of course, at Arsenal that’s to compete to win major trophies. We came so close to the WSL title last season, and I’m hoping that disappointment can push us on.
What we do know for sure is it’s going to be a really competitive season. One of the reasons we didn’t get over the line last season was the dropped points at Birmingham City. Already this season we have seen unexpected results, and that highlights that the league is getting more competitive. Every match matters and every point is hard won. We are ready for the fight and I’ve got full faith in Jonas and the squad.
We go into the season full of optimism, and confidence is high. Looking to the squad, keeping Viv was obviously important for us, as was extending Leah’s contract at the start of the year. We’ve made additions too, and we’re ready to go. We know every game is going to be a battle, this season more than ever, but together as a club – including all of our fantastic supporters – we are raring to go, and hopefully we can get the result we want today. Thanks for your support.
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