Why This World Cup Matters (Even After the Final Game)

The World Cup is one of the most incredible tournaments in existence, and every four years we get to experience another month of greatness unfolding before us, match by match, save by save, and goal by goal. But the 2019 FIFA World Cup has some really special things about it that make it one we’ll remember for many years to come — and not just for the introduction of VAR. Read on to remember the killer matches, the athletes and squads who made history this Cup, the booming fan bases, what still needs to be improved, and the road ahead for women’s soccer/football around the world.

Killer Matches

If you’ve had the pleasure of watching this year’s World Cup, you know there are some matches the world won’t soon forget. The US’s 13-0 victory over Thailand in their first match, shattering records in soccer (both men’s and women’s). That game also saw the highest number of players (seven) to ever score in a single game

  • The Australia vs. Norway upset, where Norway came out on top after tying in regulation and outscoring Australia 4-1 in PKs.

  • Italy, despite being ranked #15 in the world, beat Australia (Ranked #6) 2-1. This was also Italy’s first World Cup win in two decades.

  • Cameroon upset New Zealand (ranked #19) 2-1. Cameroon was ranked #46, but the win advanced the team to the knockout stage.

  • Argentina (ranked #37) drew 0-0 with Japan (ranked #7). This draw was especially notable because Argentina had not played at all 2015-2017 due to “blatant sexism” from Argentinian Football Federation.

One of the amazing things as we remember how these players and teams made history is seeing how women’s soccer globally is growing. The level of competition we saw this year is leaps and bounds beyond what we saw eight, twelve, sixteen years ago, with programs quickly improving, leading to more engaging matches, fiercer competition, and more exciting tournaments overall.

Welsh player Jess Fishlock who also plays for the NWSL recently tweeted this: – @JessFishlock on Twitter:

“There are good pro / semi pro leagues in all of the countries in this last 1/8. Some better than others & there are still ways to go for Every single league. But there are leagues. Bra – No / Aussie – too short / Canada = No

The key here is to invest in your LEAGUE. @nwsl”

 

History for Many Fantastic Footballers & Their Countries

This World Cup has provided the stage on which many of our female footballers have pushed the bounds of history.

Topping the list is of course Brazilian superstar Marta, who scored her 17th World Cup goal to top the list of number of World Cup goals on either the women’s or men’s side.  The previous record holder was Miroslav Klose, who has scored 16 goals in World Cup games. Marta at the same time inspired the world with her viral video, encouraging younger players to care for sport.

Alex Morgan scored five goals in the USWNT’s first game in the group stage (the one where they demolished Thailand, 13-0), and Christine Sinclair scored her 182nd career goal — edging closer to Abby Wambach’s record of 184.

Other highlights were Jamaica’s squad scoring their first ever World Cup goal, and Italy’s first ever advance through to the knockout round. AND, all of this happened on real grass – this was the first World Cup that the world’s best female footballers didn’t play the tournament on controversial turf fields.

 

Booming Fan Bases

Early on, the news came out that the first UWNT’s game attracted a bigger crowd than the first game for host nation France. For many, this was evidence of how much of a favorite the US squad was – and for good reason. But what’s almost as incredible is seeing the attendance at that France game – (45,261). Because, while women’s soccer has been growing steadily in the US for the past three decades, for a lot of the rest of the world, the explosion of this great game on the women’s side is a much more recent phenomenon. And for these (somewhat) smaller European countries, to have nearly 50,000 people show up to a match is just plain awesome. And is evidence of the momentum behind this sport, not just in the US, but for the rest of the world too.

Other Notable Numbers:

England:

  • 6.1 million – England’s first game against Scotland drew 6.1 million TV viewers – crushing the UK TV viewing record for women’s football.

  • 6.9 million – Another record-breaking audience watched England beat Cameroon to reach the Women’s World Cup quarterfinals.

China:

According to data provided by FIFA, China’s opening match was aired live by CCTV and averaged 12 million viewers. These viewership numbers broke the previous record for a Women’s World Cup match, which was set in 2015 when China faced the U.S. in the quarterfinals. That game had 8.5 million viewers.

Australia:

Australia’s opening match against Italy attracted approximately 570,000 viewers, beating the previous high for the World Cup — 345,000 tuned in for the 2015 quarterfinal between Australia and Japan.

Brazil: 

  • This is the first Women’s World Cup to be broadcast on the country’s main TV channel, Globol, and Brazil’s opening match against Jamaica averaged 19.7 million viewers.

  • Brazil-France brought the largest domestic (Brazil) TV audience ever for women’s soccer game with 31.2 million people watching. This breaks the previous record USA audience for USA vs Japan final in 2015

Spain:

Real Madrid has agreed to start a women’s side in 2021 – read more here and check out the tweet below.

Bea Redondo‏ @Iniyi

BIG NEWS IN #ESP: Spanish Federation will invest 20M euros in women’s football in Spain during the 2019/2020 season. ALL First Division matches and at least three Second Division games per matchday will be on TV/streamed. Spanish league to be available on UEFA’s OTT.

USA:

The USA vs Chile match in the group stage averaged 5.4 million viewers on FOX, which was the highest ever for a US group stage game in a women’s World Cup.  And that’s not all. My midway through the tournament, views of online Women’s World Cup streaming content has seen a spike of 310% compared to 2015. Viewership was so impressive that in the final days of the World Cup, ESPN and the US National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) reached an agreement for the rest of the season’s games to be aired on TV again (they were previously only available by streaming yahoosports.com).

In addition to breaking viewership record, the Women’s World Cup home jersey became Nike’s best selling soccer jersey ever.

France:

Host Nation France set many of its own records – The TV audience in France for the opener drew 10.65 million viewers. During that match, 48% of all TVs in use were tuned to watch France take on South Korea. This is compared to the previous high of 4.2 million who tuned in for the 2015 quarterfinal match. When the French men played in the 2018 World Cup, an average of 10.2 million tuned in to watch them at the group stage.

Argentina: Showed the world a welcome home to remember.

We believe strongly in #equalplayequaldisplay – and this World Cup is one that set the best female footballers on the platform they deserved, to inspire and be loved by all who watched around the world.

Pay Gap Momentum

While we’re on the topic of numbers, let’s talk pay. A few months before the WC started, the USWNT filed a lawsuit against U.S. Soccer claiming gender discrimination against the team, and seeking equitable pay and equal treatment. That is an important step in the fight for equality and other players from around the world have supported it. ICYMI, here’s a peek at some of the differences between the money male and female soccer players make.

This year we saw a lot of corporate sponsors step up – Luna Bar and Hulu earlier in the year, followed by Visa, Verizon, Coca-Cola, Volkswagen, and more. (See more.)

And for all of those that have argued the men should make more because their games bring in more money — numbers released this June proved that to be untrue, showing that, since 2016, the US Women’s National Team games have brought in more revenue than the men’s team ($50.8m vs. $49.9m).  (Check out our recent insta post.)

So this year, we’ve seen big sponsorships, pay and bonuses increased, and a lot more momentum behind the issue.

Of course, while the women have seen heightened pay this tournament, the men have as well – perpetuating instead of closing the pay gap between men and women. (And all the while, these very notable differences between the teams’ performances also persist.)

But There’s Still A Lot to Improve…

While there have been many things to celebrate throughout this World Cup, there’s still a lot of room for improvement from FIFA itself. Stay tuned for more on this, but here are a few highlights we should keep in mind:

  • The ticketing debacle – fans received tickets with their parties separated a month before the tournament; day before got sent emails saying tickets needed to be printed and brought to the stadium (which made it especially hard for people traveling)

  • Pay for women’s was doubled from last World Cup but the % difference between women’s and men’s actually went up – in 2015, the women’s prize was $15 million and the 2018 men’s was $400 million. In 2019, the women’s was raised to $30 million and the 2022 men’s is expected to be $440 million. Increase of women’s was $15 million, increase of men’s was $40 million.

  • Lack of transportation to and from some of the games in France – people discouraged from attending games because they didn’t have a way back to their hotel after the games ended

  • Lack of merchandise tables at games – will hurt “revenue” numbers that women’s tournament brought in because not as much sold – because not as much available

  • VAR: great addition to the tournament but had too many issues because it was introduced at the World Cup – they could have eliminated as many headaches, questionable reviews, stoppage of play if it had been implemented and tested out at an earlier tournament.

The Greatest Stage

Like the Olympics and other international competition, the World Cup is on the world stage. Which means each player is not only representing her country in each match, but is taking part in something bigger than her country. When different countries come together for a common purpose, for fierce competition, it reminds us that no matter where you’re from, we can be united in competition, in progress, and for the love of the game.

For more on this year’s World Cup, check out our World Cup Recaps on She Plays: The Podcast

And stay up to date on women’s soccer, as well as other fantastic professional sports by subscribing to She Plays: The Bulletin for fun, informative, and important weekly updates. Subscribe now!

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