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Can women's football capitalise on Barcelona’s record-breaking Camp Nou Clasico?

12:00 GMT+4 03/04/2022
Barcelona Women 2021-22
Wednesday's Champions League clash with Real Madrid drew a historic crowd of 91,553, proving that there is massive interest in the women's game

Talk to any American female footballer who is old enough to remember the 1999 Women’s World Cup and they will cite the final, played in front of 90,185 fans at the Rose Bowl in California, as an inspirational moment.

Of course, that was the official record attendance for a women’s football match until Barcelona drew a crowd of 91,553 to Camp Nou for Wednesday's Champions League quarter-final clash with Real Madrid.

It’s an achievement that cannot be applauded enough.

The game, which Barca won 5-2 to progress to the semi-finals 8-3 on aggregate, sold out in three days and, with some of those tickets given away for free or a small fee, the club did an excellent job in ensuring people turned up.

As well as hyping the game up massively with constant promotion, tapping into the reach of big personalities on the men’s side as part of that commercial push, there was a lot of engagement and encouragement to get those attending excited for the big event.

Or, at the very least, remind them to pass on their tickets to someone else if they were unable to make it.

All of this was built on the club's strong foundation of having already put the women front and centre of its marketing campaigns for a long time, as well as the incredible talent and success the side can boast.

Indeed, it's no wonder so many fans wanted to attend, either, given Barca have been bringing its female players onto the Camp Nou pitch during men’s games for some time now, whenever they have a title or individual accolade to celebrate.

Wednesday night, then, was proof that the right mixture of marketing, communications, support and platform brings big results. Like the Rose Bowl, this will be a moment that many will talk about for years.

Alexia Putellas, the 2021 Ballon d’Or winner whose face hangs from the Camp Nou on a banner sporting the words ‘La Reina’ ('The Queen'), said it would spark a new era and inspire young girls across the world.

The challenge is for the women’s game to ensure that she is right.

Before the outbreak of Covid-19, there was real momentum building in the sport.

England welcomed 77,768 fans to Wembley for a friendly against Germany in late 2019, a few months after 60,739 people watched Atletico Madrid lose 2-0 to Barca at the Wanda Metropolitano.

With the 2019 Women’s World Cup final attracting 57,900 fans in between those two games, three of the top five most attended women’s football matches before Wednesday’s record-breaker had come in 2019.

The pandemic stunted the women's game's growth – but, as lockdowns and restrictions have been eased, momentum is building again.

As well as Barca’s success, Paris Saint-Germain welcomed a record number of fans to watch its women’s team in the Champions League this week, with 27,262 at the Parc des Princes.

Lyon also surpassed the 20,000 mark and both Wolfsburg and Bayern hit five figures.

But there are still sobering numbers out there. Arsenal welcomed just 5,018 fans to the Emirates for last week’s game with Wolfsburg, despite the ground having a capacity of 60,260.

The Arnold Clark Cup in England in February also attracted a total attendance of just 1,245 across the three games that the Lionesses weren’t involved in.

Ahead of the Euros this summer, to be hosted by England, it was both concerning and disheartening to see just 249 people turn up to the tournament opener between Germany and Spain, some way away from the record-breaking Clasico crowed many of the latter would play in front of just a few weeks later.

Not every game can be built up in the same way as a Barca-Madrid showdown at one of the most iconic stadiums in the world, of course, but there is a responsibility on those in the game now to ensure that Wednesday night does not prove a flash in the pan.

Opportunities to play at a large stadium should be exploited to the maximum, while average attendances at the club’s usual grounds should be a big focus of growth.

Building a loyal, regular fanbase is something that doesn’t make the headlines as much, but is almost even more important.

Barca Femeni returned to its permanent home, the Estadi Johan Cruyff, on Saturday for a league game against Villarreal.

The team attract between 3,000 and 4,000 fans there each week, a much bigger number than the 500 to 1,000 that watched them in their previous venue – the Mini Stadi, which was next to Camp Nou. At the weekend, 3,999 watched on as they won 6-1.

Big moments like a Clasico are not just about making history and giving players an experience they absolutely deserve.

They’re also about visibility and attracting more people on a regular basis. All the tools used to pack big stadia can be replicated in similar ways to steadily grow that audience.

Barcelona sent a message this week to the whole world: if you create excitement and execute promotion well, you can be successful.

They showed everyone that women's football is something that people care about. Now, it’s about how the rest of the sport responds.

With the Euros this summer, then the World Cup next year, this was the perfect moment to have made such a statement.

What's essential now, though, is that the women's game in its entirety reacts to the bar Wednesday night set - and that they do so in a way fitting of the show Barca put on.