It’s one thing to have arguably the most corrupt sports governing body on the planet dismiss women’s soccer and its premier event. It’s another to have your home country’s soccer federation accept hundreds of millions of dollars from broadcasters to do the same.
FIFA has made no secret that it feels it’s saddled with women’s soccer. Deposed FIFA Chairman Sepp Blatter, who considers himself the “godfather” of women’s soccer, once suggested female players wear tighter shorts to “promote a more female aesthetic.” (The godfather was just about booed out of the 2011 women’s final as a result.) FIFA dictated that all of this year’s Women’s World Cup matches should be played on artificial turf, leading U.S. captain Abby Wambach to blast that decision for much of the year and prompting teammate Sydney Leroux to post pictures of her turf-torn legs looking like ground beef.
But that’s to be expected from such an organization. By comparison, U.S. Soccer exists to do everything in its power to build soccer culture here and promote its teams when they play both at home and abroad.
On paper, that’s happening. Through the first eight games of the Women’s World Cup, Fox FOX, +0.21% notes that viewership increased 73% from the same games in 2011 (1.05 million viewers this year vs. 598,000 then). As Awful Announcing points out, that’s better than the 41% and 46% increases ESPN saw during the men’s World Cup group stages in 2010 and 2014, respectively.
We’re also reminded that the 3.3 million who watched the U.S. women’s opening match against Australia was triple the viewership for the U.S. opener in 2011, while the 4.2 million who watched the next matchup with Sweden and the 5 million who saw the group-clinching win against Nigeria earlier this week rank among the largest audiences in U.S. women’s soccer history. That’s true, but, for perspective, those are still smaller audiences than the 7.2 million that the U.S. men’s team managed for a friendly against Mexico on both ESPN and Univision last year. In fact, the U.S. women’s peak group stage audience was still less than a third of the 19 million the men’s team drew on a Monday against Ghana during last year’s World Cup group stage.