Lewes F.C.’s CEO, Maggie Murphy, on the rise of the Women’s game
1. What are the key factors contributing to the success of Lewes FC, both on and off the field?
Lewes FC has a big personality. Everything we do is focused on what’s best for the people– for our players, our fans, our staff and our community. We welcome brands and partnerships on board who naturally lean into the club’s values and who also enjoy being a partner in our growth, and for what we do to impact the wider game. We have staff who are here because they are committed to the values and goals of the club – not just as a stepping stone from their career. It means that when times get hard, we are all a united team and are able to face things head on, together. We’re truly blessed to have such incredible people in and around the club.
2. What are the further steps Lewes FC will be taking in 2024 thanks to support from partners and sponsors?
Lewes FC is a club that is built on heart, passion and purpose. We only partner with like– minded brands and companies, who want to support us and our position in the women’s game, but also those who want to support the growth of the whole ecosystem, not just generate visibility for themselves. For example, part of our relationship with our headline partner, Xero – the global small business platform championing Women’s Football, is the development of a set of toolkits that supports those in smaller, grassroots clubs to build and grow their own club environments.
3. How have the Lionesses had a positive impact on the growth of women’s football as a whole, particularly on grassroot level clubs such as Lewes FC?
Women’s professional football saw an uptick in attendances following the Lionesses’ Euros win in 2022. It contributed to an 84% uptick at Lewes FC Women’s home games, though the growth has evened out since then, even after a successful World Cup run in the summer of 2023. It shows how important hosting a tournament can be to national level growth, since England hosted the Euros in 2022, but the World Cup took place on the other side of the world in 2023.
Evidently the rise in attendances for Lewes FC was important, however it was smaller than the 200% rise at WSL level. Where new audiences in England are less aware of the rich history and culture of women’s football, there can be an assumption that well known men’s football clubs are the ones to research in order to find high quality women’s football. Eight of the Premier League teams don’t have a women’s team in the top two divisions, and only 2 teams in the women’s second tier are men’s Premier League clubs.
The default expectation that only men’s clubs can operate elite women’s teams means that independent clubs such as Durham and London City Lionesses, and smaller clubs such as Lewes FC may not benefit from the increase in interest, unless there is much better centralised storytelling and marketing that showcases these clubs’ incredible stories.
4. What are your predictions and insights for the women’s game in 2024?
Attendance records will continue to break, and not just the one-off “highest” attendance records, it will be the average attendances which will show much healthier and sustainable growth.
We will also start to be able to identify and split clubs who market and showcase their women’s teams well from those who don’t. That will be largely linked to how much autonomy and power the women’s functions have within their own club structure. Clubs like Arsenal are well-backed internally and are therefore able to be creative and unique (see for example their Stella McCartney shirts whose colours were well outside of the club brand book),but those who are stifled will still find it difficult to make (enough) noise and gain a presence.
Lastly, I think it will become more difficult for unique and independent women’s clubs to survive and prosper, as larger clubs understand that women’s football isn’t going away any time soon – especially since it’s actually the highest growth prospect for a club. Smaller clubs won’t have immediate cash at hand to meet the growing expectations and demands of fans, players and staff, despite having likely made a lot more money to date through necessity and effort. It would be good to see incentives for those who have been generating their own revenue to date, independent of the men’s side of the club.