You’ve seen the celebrations everywhere. First, there was the homecoming in Los Angeles. Next, there was the appearance on Good Morning America. Then there was the heroes’ welcome of a parade in New York, covered everywhere on television from FOX to ESPN. Finally, there was the on-stage appearance at a Taylor Swift concert, the Kodak moment. The euphoria from the Women’s World Cup will clearly last a long time, and the party has already been extended a week. But can the party carry into the NWSL?
We won! The USA is #1 in women’s soccer for the first time in 16 years. And what a way to do it. The first 20 minutes of the game with an incredible hat trick from superstar midfielder Carli Lloyd was not only a magical moment for soccer fans, but also great television and great advertising for first-time soccer viewers. Monday morning conversations at offices across America were littered with “Wambach, 5-2, and 1999.” But in the end, what does this do for soccer in America?
Quite a bit actually. We saw a renewed excitement not just by girls but by boys who couldn’t care less if it was men or women playing. We saw new heroes, record TV numbers, and rising stars. According to NPR, the United States/Japan final at its peak was viewed by 22.86 million viewers, the most watched soccer game in U.S television history, eclipsing the 2011 final by almost 15 million viewers.
Fox garnered approximately $17 million in ad revenue from the one match, and according to the Washington Post, the ratings for the U.S. women’s games averaged higher than both the NBA Finals and Stanley Cup Finals. Univision even broke records with 1.27 million viewers of the Spanish language broadcast, making it the most watched women’s soccer game in the network’s history.
While these are tremendous feats, and huge steps for not just women’s soccer, but soccer as a whole in America, there are still important issues that need to be addressed when it comes to women’s sports. According to multiple sources, including ESPN’s Randy Scott, the total winnings won by the World Champion U.S. Women’s Soccer team was $2,000,0000. In comparison, the German team that won the men’s version of the FIFA World Cup last summer shared $35,000,000. Some teams that lost in the first round earned $8,000,000.
The United States is currently the gold standard for women’s soccer. According to World Soccer Talk, while women’s soccer players in the National Women’s Soccer League can’t expect to make enough money to live on that salary alone, the talented athletes selected to represent the country can expect to realistically get by. Few stars like Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach can even expect to earn six to seven figures after sponsorships are taken into account. If there is one thing we learned from this World Cup, it’s that progress has been made. But there is still a long journey ahead before equality is reached.
According to FOX Sports, the Friday Women’s World Cup clash between the U.S. Women’s National Team and Sweden drew an average of 4.5 million viewers, eclipsing the record for any soccer game every broadcasted by the network. This is huge news not just for the women’s game, but also soccer as a whole as it continues to see an image boost in the United States.
The larger TV audience for this game was possibly helped by the pre-match drama created when former U.S coach, now Sweden coach Pia Sundhage made some insulting remarks about a few of her old players to the media. Since the game ended in a 0-0 draw, both parties escaped with their reputations intact, at least temporarily, and the audience did not see any fireworks that might have been expected from these comments. The crowds in Canada have also looked impressive, particularly from the presence of the American Outlaws fan supporter organization in Winnipeg, where both U.S. games have been played. According to NPR before the World Cup, 700 members of the club were expected to make the trip north, but on TV, the overall turnout looks even better than expected with near sell-out crowds for both matches.
According to FOX and the Washington Post Soccer Insider, in addition to the record breaking average audience, the peak audience was 6.4 million viewers, and the top 5 markets for viewers were in Richmond, Las Vegas, Milwaukee, Columbus, and St. Louis. The first match of the tournament for the U.S. drew 3.3 million viewers on Fox Sports 1, more than 3 times higher than the opening game for the team in 2011. The next game for the U.S. is on a Tuesday night against Nigeria with less drama, so it will be intriguing to see if the number of viewers continue to increase.
According to FIFA, American TV audiences aren’t the only ones breaking records. In Canada, a record 1.8 million viewers tuned in to see their hosting team play the opening match, and in China 2.3 million viewers watched the same game, up from 1.3 million viewers in the highest watch game at the last World Cup in 2011. As the Women’s World Cup continues, it will be very interesting to see just how many more records are broken. FOX Sports should be very happy with the results and excited for the future as they own the English-language broadcast rights to all Men’s and Women’s FIFA World Cups in the U.S. through 2026.
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.