As American awareness of the existence of overseas leagues grows, there are more questions about how the leagues themselves operate. Leagues overseas are structured differently than pretty much any professional league in the United States. Weak central organization in most countries means that individual teams pursue their individual goals independent of the other teams. For some clubs, that means the pursuit of winning without regard to revenues or expenses. The most successful clubs can have virtually no fans in the stands while others charge low prices or let in fans for free for atmosphere, not expecting to use that money to fund the team to any significant level. Of the major leagues, the one in France is the most like an American league, possessing some central control and some degree of regulation, making it the deepest league even if it is not the strongest overall. As a result, most of their teams have the features of a revenue-seeking enterprise, including an actual website and organized ticket sales. Even then, the teams do not generate enough attendance to rely on fans for the money needed to run their clubs all season long.
There were 159 league games played at home sites this season, including 127 regular season games. Attendance data was reported for 144 of them, with 2 of the 15 missing games being in the postseason. Tarbes is responsible for 9 of the missing games so their data will be ignored with the 3 games they reported averaging 1,067 spectators. Lyon and Landerneau each have a pair of games with no data and Charleville and Hainaut contributed one missing game apiece with Charleville’s being their Game 3 quarterfinals win. Attendance is taken from league boxscores and there has been no other verification of figures or methodologies used by teams to report information.
The list above is the regular season average attendance of all teams other than Tarbes, only including games with data. Traditional powerhouse Bourges led the way by more than a thousand fans per game. Both finalists were the only two teams to average three digits in attendance. Champions Lyon had tried a number of measures to boost attendance in the previous season after being brought under the same corporate umbrella as the successful local men’s team, including doubleheaders and a public effort at breaking the national record for attendance for a single women’s game, but that appeared to not have much effect this season even with greater success. Now that Tony Parker, the public face of the club’s ownership has retired from playing, there may be more focus on achieving all of the publicly declared ambitions for both teams. More recent news that club has also taken on new minority ownership from the club that has had the longest demonstrated support of women’s soccer at the highest level in Europe should also be beneficial.
The French league does not relegate strictly based on regular season performance, which is different from many other leagues that demote teams after each season. The bottom four teams each played one another twice after the regular season and this year was uncommonly exciting as Mondeville recovered from their dreadful regular season and nearly escaped before a loss in the last game condemned them to the second division for next season. The threat of the drop had differing effects on each team, all of which had generally steered well clear of danger in recent seasons. Mondeville’s attendance rose by 250 per game to 1,368 as they attempted to rally from the bottom spot. Nantes also had a mild rise for their last three home games. Villeneuve, which had been used to contending for a championship in recent seasons, dealt with a drop by nearly a third from 1,516 to 1,023. Hainaut also saw a drop from 1,703 to 1,474.
The chase for a championship also saw attendance rise. Only Bourges had a quarterfinal game with an attendance below their regular season average as only 3,000 fans made it to the deciding game of their series. Both semifinals were sweeps so each team only hosted once. Bourges packed in over 4,500 fans for their game while the other teams were more than 500 above their average as Charleville led with 2,580 while Lyon had 1,500 and Lattes Montpellier had 1,400. Those amounts only grew for the finals as Lyon had 1,500 in the stands for their first two home games and then 1,700 in Game 5 as they won the championship while Lattes Montpellier reported 1,600 for each of the games they hosted.
Attendance leaders Bourges has season tickets priced at 300 euros, with that reducing to 250 euros each if a pair are bought together. Those prices include postseason games so for the past season, that meant 21 home games. WNBA season tickets generally only include 17 regular season games. Five WNBA teams offered no season tickets cheaper than the rate for Bourges, which is the same price throughout their recently renovated 5,000 seat arena. One thing to keep in mind is the difference in market sizes for these teams compared to WNBA teams. Only Lyon and Villeneuve play in markets with more than a million people while the WNBA markets other than Connecticut are all much larger. Lyon is offering a special reduction in season ticket prices for next season that includes tickets for as low as 50 euros for a total of 18 domestic league and EuroLeague regular season games with the most expensive seats going for 10 euros per game.