Tuesday 28 July 2020, 05:00

Dutch seek to leap even higher with Eredivisie integration

  • The eight clubs in the Women's Eredivisie and the KNVB have joined forces

  • The aim is to raise the league’s profile and increase its economic and social value

  • "We want to bring through new talent"

After making it through to the Round of 16 at the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015™ 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. Indeed, the success of the former has doubtless played a major role in making women’s football the fastest-growing sport in the country.

"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," said Kirsten van de Ven, who is Manager of Women’s Football at the Royal Dutch Football Association (KNVB), in an interview with FIFA.com.

"With the World Cup 2019 we reached 79.2 per cent of the Dutch population. Almost 80 per cent 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.

"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.

"After the EURO in 2017, the clubs were united in a corporation. Everybody saw the popularity of women’s football and that we should be able to utilise this for the league as well.

"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.

"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."

One of the priorities is 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," Van de Ven continues.

"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."

Did you know?

  • The first Women's Eredivisie match was played on 29 August 2007, when FC Twente lost 3-2 to SC Heerenveen. The first champions were AZ Alkmaar.

  • 21 of the 23 players in the nation's FIFA Women’s World Cup squad began their professional football careers at an Eredivisie club.

  • By 20 March, more than 15,000 tickets had been sold for the show-down between PSV and Ajax, but the match was unfortunately cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This would have broken the previous record attendance set by the Willem II - lAZ match in 2009, which drew 10,000 fans.