Damson Park Dames

The Women’s Super League is behind the times with merchandise

FOUR million people tuned in to see England’s Lionesses play in the European Championship semi-final earlier this month.

You would think this number would be cause for celebration, which of course it is, but there are still issues ahead that could stunt the growth of women’s football.

Thirty-seven years ago, a man by the name of Bert Patrick sealed a deal to allow his company Admiral to sell replica shirts for the England national team.

Since then replica kits as well as other merchandise has become big business in the world of football.

Manchester United’s record shirt deal with Chevrolet brings in a massive £53 million a year for example.

But with the Women’s Super League (WSL) still in its infancy, the clubs involved are yet to have fully capitalised on the interest in merchandise.

Liverpool Ladies announced their first shirt sponsorship deal earlier this year with the comestic company ‘Avon’.

For fans of Birmingham City Ladies this is nothing new of course. The club has experienced a series of different shirt sponsors over the years with ‘Maple Products From Quebec’ the latest of them.

Men’s football clubs offer a wide range of merchandise for the hardcore fanbase be it an adult or a child.

But merchandise specifically for fans of a women’s team is sparse at best.

I looked into each of the 10 clubs in the top flight of the WSL and was disappointed by what I found.

Out of the 10 teams in WSL1 only four teams offered any kind of team-specific merchandise.

What I mean by this is merchandise, such as shirts or jackets etc, that are specifically designed for fans of the women’s team.

Only Arsenal, Bristol City, Manchester City and newly promoted Yeovil Town fitted the criteria.

I spoke to fans over the course of the past few days and discovered both a desire for merchandise and a general sadness for the lack of it out there.

“What’s on offer is paltry compared to the men,” said Houston Dash supporter Laura Parchman.

Even for the clubs that do offer merchandise it appears to be a very recent change.

“Arsenal are really good at having the women’s specific merchandise,” said Arsenal Ladies fan Jamie Grubb.

“It’s great they’re starting to sell shirts with the women’s players names on the back.

“But if you’d have gone in last season and asked for the ladies team stuff they’d have pointed you to the ladies fashion section.”

Something that is also overlooked at many WSL clubs is the idea of dual loyalty.

As I’ve discovered there are a great number of women’s football fans who support different teams in the men’s game.

This can lead to issues when it comes to wanting to support the club by buying merchandise but also not wanting to support a rival unintentionally.

With Man United still without a women’s team it is only natural some of their fans would gravitate towards the only WSL team in Manchester.

But this can lead to issues with one particular United fan, who wishes to remain anonymous, was the target of abuse from both sides because of their support for Man City Women’s team.

“United have been incredibly stubborn in their decision not to have a women’s team,” they said.

“Whereas City treat the women’s game seriously and put a huge amount of effort in to supporting them.

“As for merchandise there is absolutely and unequivocally not enough avaliable.

“When I finally found and bought a City women’s scarf from the store a few years ago, it was more expensive than the men’s one.

“We do have it lucky in that the City store does have ready-made shirts with women’s names on the back but I know that we’re unsual in that aspect.”

Another fan who crossed the divide to support Man City Women believes sizing can also be a factor in putting fans off.

“There was an issue last season when the women’s shirt had a ridiculous large open neckline design,” said Amy Grange.b0397dbcf31b2c13077c39284e6aba5d

“I’d like to see the women’s match day shirts on offer instead.

“At the moment it is either too hugging to your body or it doesn’t fit properly.

“It can force many female fans to go out and buy the men’s shirt instead.”

I also spoke to a fellow Birmingham City Ladies fan who grew up a fan of the Aston Villa men’s side.

The recent change from the original women’s badge to the Birmingham men’s one has put off some fans from purchasing the new replica kit.

“I have always been an Aston Villa supporter and at first I was very put off from going to Brimingham City Ladies matches,” said, Heather Bailey.

“But after the women’s world cup I was desperate to attend a women’s match and Birmingham happen to play a lot closer to me than Aston Villa Ladies do.

“As a fan the lack of merchandise bothers me.

“I want to support the team but at the same time I really dislike the Birmingham men’s side.

“Because of that there a lot of things I just won’t consider buying from the club store.

“It took me a while to accept it but after the FA Cup Final defeat to Man City I was ready to buy an away shirt.

“I figured with red instead of the traditional blue and the ladies specific badge I could get away with wearing it.

“I really wanted to have a shirt with my favourite player, Ann-Katrin Berger, on the back of it.

“But I left it too late and now they’ve changed the badge on the newest shirt to the men’s one.

“I more than likely won’t be buying one now as a direct result.”

I too have an issue with the recent badge change.

During my time at Swansea University I was one of a long line of sports editor for The Waterfront student newspaper.

Towards the end of my time there I complied a list of all the editors that had come before me. BJ7HeMgCIAAarTG.jpg large

History matters.

Birmingham City Ladies is the oldest club in the WSL and to me that is something that should be honoured.

It is quite a remarkable feat for a club that began as a group of friends playing local friendlies back in 1968.

By replacing the badge with the men’s you are effectively painting over the club’s history.

While Birmingham recently were integrated into the men’s club on a more formal basis it doesn’t mean our identity should be forgotten in the process.

Football fans identify with their team as we make our journey to the game every week be it by car or by train.

Dressed in shirts, in scarves, in hats and whatever else we decide to throw on we feel a part of something bigger.

The lack of options can put some off as I have detailed above.

But above all else it is an untapped resource to boost popularity further in the women’s game.

Selling more merchandise will mean a greater exposure of the club to the country and with it more potential fans.

It is time to strike and give the fans what they want.

Just remember to temper your desire for money with reasonable prices for the fans who adore women’s football.

You wouldn’t want to do more harm than good at such an important time in growing the game.