The 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup kicks off in Canada in less than 2 weeks. Are you excited? If the answer is no, you probably fall in the majority of sports fans. But the marketing push leaves a lot to be desired. Women’s professional soccer has historically been a tough sell since the memorable U.S. Women’s National Team World Cup victory in 1999, and 2015 is no exception.
During last year’s FIFA Men’s World Cup, Nike and Adidas aggressively fought each other over ad space and staged media events to draw attention to new soccer jerseys and products. It is very unlikely to expect this level of competition during this year’s event due to the lack of interest building around the competition. Possibly the most publicity surrounding the tournament came from the controversial choice of colors to be worn by the U.S. Women’s National Team. For the first time, the team will not be wearing a uniform that resembles the American flag. Instead, the team will don white uniforms with hints of black, as well as neon green socks and cleats. The topic was trending nationally for hours.
Fox Sports, the broadcast rights owner of this event has attempted to hype the games through a 100 day, $10 million dollar promotional push. You can see the video that starts this push below. The goal of the campaign is to convince viewers that the U.S. Men’s National Team has “passed the torch” to the U.S. Women’s National Team after their disappointing World Cup defeat to Belgium last year because “The U.S. has a score to settle.”
While a 6 venue tournament in Canada will almost definitely have a different feel on television to the surreal scenes we saw in Brazil during the Men’s World Cup, FOX Sports still sees the potential for great success. 5 out of the 16 matches to be aired on FOX will be aired during primetime, including the two group stage matches of the U.S. team. 29 games will be shown on FOX Sports 1. Time will tell if viewers care about the tournament, and if the tournament can impact the success of the U.S. professional women’s league as expected.
According to SB Nation, the average attendance in 2014 for the National Women’s Soccer League (America’s top-tier women’s league) was 4,139. If you subtract the exception to the rule, the Portland Thorns who average 13,362 fans per game, attendance decreases drastically to 2,986. In fairness, the Seattle Sounders of MLS also help boost average attendance figures by acting as a clear outlier to the rest of the league.
Perhaps even worse news is that professional women’s soccer leagues in the United States have a history of folding after 3 years, first with the WUSA in 2003, followed by the WPS in 2011. This year marks the fateful third year of operations for the NWSL. As a result, success in this World Cup by the women’s team could be crucial for the existence of the league. Star power from household names like Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach combined with a U.S. Women’s World Cup victory will need to equate to consistent attendance figures in NWSL games, or the league might face the same repetitively grim fate of its predecessors.