Women’s Bundesliga – Europe’s strongest female league?

Bayern Munich v HSV DuisburgSo what makes the Frauen-Bundesliga one of the best leagues in Europe? On Saturday 29 October, I attended Bayern Munich’s match with HSV Duisburg at the Grunwalder Stadium to find out.

Bayern, who are back-to-back German league champions, won the game 3-1. The result was not a huge surprise with Duisburg struggling near the bottom of the division but they made the hosts work for the victory. Vivianne Miedema opened the scoring for the home team just before half-time, while Lara Hess equalised for Duisburg in the second period. But goals from Gina Lewandowski and Melanie Behringer sealed a third straight league win for the Bavaria side.

Something which really stood out was the dedicated home support. On a cold, damp and grey afternoon the fans, complete with drum, created a lively atmosphere throughout. On average in 2015/16, the division attracted 1,076 fans per game with only the English Women’s Super League reaching similar figures in Europe. Bayern Munich are the most followed side with an average attendance of 1,672. The club has fully incorporated the female team in their vastly successful brand. Previously they have jointly celebrated men’s and women’s titles with supporters. The two squads both train at Sabener Strasse, Bayern’s world class training complex.

Säbener Strasse
Sabener Strasse

Interestingly not all Frauen-Bundesliga clubs are affiliated to men’s Bundesliga counterparts. Teams are able to standalone and do not require the backing from the male game. In fact, two of the most successful clubs; FFC Turbine Potsdam and FFC Frankfurt – with 13 league titles between them – are both specifically female clubs.

Strength and depth

The division is hugely competitive, with teams recently only dominating for short periods. Although Bayern have won the last two Women’s Bundesliga titles, before them VfL Wolfsburg claimed back-to-back league wins. There have been four different champions in the last ten years. In that period a team has won at least two consecutive titles. German clubs have dominated the UEFA Women’s Champions League with nine previous winners in the 15 editions of the competition. This has come as a result of the strength in depth of their domestic game.

Bayern Munich’s 18 matchday squad included nine Germans and nine non-German players. This gives the team a core of home-grown talent combined with contributions from other cultures. It is clear the Frauen-Bundesliga is an incredibly strong division and as a result attracts the best players. Many European leagues are seeing a rise in numbers of foreign stars entering. Although there’s a danger this will damage the growth and development of youth at national level, the men’s game does a great job of minimising this – with almost 50% of starters in the Bundesliga being German.

Bayern Munich v HSV Duisburg

Ahead of the 2016/17 season the German television channel SPORT1 announced a deal to broadcast the Frauen-Bundesliga live until the 2017/18. Taking over from Eurosport, the station will broadcast up to 22 live games across the season on free-to-air television and online. The fact the Women’s Bundesliga is shown on free TV is significant when reaching and inspiring vast audiences. In England, the WSL is shown on BT Sport which is a subscription channel and cannot compete with the figures of free-to-air. Dirc Seemann, Chief Editor and Director Content of SPORT1, described the league as being “highly attractive,” and fitting “perfectly,” in their current live sport offering.

Sponsorship is also helping the Frauen-Bundesliga stay ahead as it further supports the league, clubs, players and staff. The German Football Association recently increased funding by selling the naming rights of the division to Allianz until 2019. The deal will contribute around nine million euros.

German national team

It is no surprise the female German national team is so successful because of the quality of their national league. They are two-time world champions, winning the 2003 and 2007 tournaments. They have won eight of the eleven European Championships, claiming the last six consecutive titles and are unbeaten in the tournament since 1993.

Ultimately, success at international level is key to inspiring and improving the female game within a nation. It creates a cycle; as an international team succeeds it inspires more to take up and follow the sport. As a result, this improves the strength of the league which in turn improves the national team. A stronger division also attracts the world’s best players, further progressing the standard.

Having experienced a match firsthand, I can see why Germany leads the way in Europe but the English game is gaining on its old rival. Manchester City Women, who won the WSL in 2016, saw attendances increase by 50% to 2,253 in 2016. City went throughout the season unbeaten and have impressed in their first year in the Champions League campaign. Will further competition result in more equal leagues, a greater standard in Europe and further player movement? We will have to wait and see but stronger competition can only continue to improve the overall standard of the women’s game.