A Step Forward: The Netherlands Seek New Horizons For Women’s Football

Time has passed, and not everyone mentions it, but, after making it through to the Round of 16 at the FIFA 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada, being crowned European champions on home soil in 2017 and then finishing runners-up at France 2019, the Oranjeleeuwinnen (Orange Lionesses) and women’s football in the Netherlands are certainly on an upward trajectory.

In fact, the success of the national team has played a major role in making women’s football the fastest-growing sport in the country. Kirsten van de Ven, Manager of Women’s Football at the Royal Dutch Football Association (KNVB), in an interview with FIFA this week, said:

“We had EURO 2017 which already made women’s football more visible for a wider public, but the World Cup topped it off with, for example, pre-shows before the games.”

“With the World Cup 2019 we reached 79.2% of the Dutch population. Almost 80% saw or read something of the World Cup. And [the fans] have seen a lot of changes that they actually liked, that women’s football was positive and that they loved the energy.

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Since The Netherlands became semi-finalist in the 2019 Women’s World Cup at France, its popularity has grown; yet, they are still far from the impact other major women leagues as the NWSL or the WSL have.

“They got to know the names of the players and the stories behind them. If we talk about the legacy of France 2019: 16 games at the World Cup had more than one million viewers on TV. Not only when the Dutch team played. The pre-shows had 700,000 people watching on average. People also see the potential and the power of women’s football,” explains the former Dutch international who hung up her boots in 2016.

This potential now needs to be incorporated into the Women’s Eredivisie. To raise the competition’s profile and increase its economic and social value, the eight clubs in the league have joined forces with the KNVB for the first time in the history of women’s football in the Netherlands.

“However, the corporation did not really work and made everybody realise once again that we really have to do this together, the FA and the clubs,” explains Van de Ven, who came third at the EURO in 2009 with the Oranjeleeuwinnen and then helped the team to the Round of 16 of the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2015.

“The two entities have come together to find things such as naming rights and media partners, to promote greater public awareness of the league.”

“We’re looking to create more visibility and also that people [come to] see a game. There are still some people saying that the league is not good – when they haven’t even seen the league once. The Eredivisie must be staged as a place where young girls dream to play. In order to do so, we need to extend the commercial value and use the potential we see with the Oranjeleeuwinnen.

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The question is: How much potential does The Netherlands have?

“When they became more visible, people really started to love them, resulting in a big fan base. We need to take the next steps to improve the football. We want to create more income that we can invest into sports.”

To accomplish this, one of their main priorities should ensuring that young talent do not leave the country but instead become the stand-outs of the local league; the fact that the experienced trio of Mandy van den Berg, Stefanie van der Gragt and Sari van Veenendaal have returned to the Eredivisie will no doubt help in this respect, but the main aim is still to “create new stars.”

“There’s a lot of talent in the league that people don’t know yet. We want people to get to know them by making the league visible. We are not hoping that all the players can come back. We just want to show the country how much talent we actually have on our pitches.”

It’s maybe a bit too soon to say, especially with how things are going because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but, if The Netherlands FA and the Women’s Eredivisie are capable of use the “mediatic boom” the national team has created in the past four years wisely and effectively (all together), the Dutch women’s game could grow to a point that it could become a sensational acquisition to women’s football across the world.

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