As the United States sees record TV viewing figures for the Women’s World Cup, what progress can be seen in Europe for the popularity of the women’s game?
Four years ago, hosts Germany also saw record TV audiences with domestic figures of just under 17 million viewers for their quarter-final loss to eventual winners Japan. Although seen as a huge disappointment for a team that went into the game as holders and favorites, the 2011 Women’s World Cup tournament was regarded as a watershed moment for the national sport. Major tabloid Bild wrote at the time that women’s soccer was now ‘finally accepted by the masses’ – the emotional journey of a nation experiencing compelling victories and defeat through new, female protagonists going a long way towards selling the whole show.
That’s not to say the battle has been fully won. Even at the time, leading periodical Der Spiegel complained that the tournament was over-hyped and showcased tactical imitations copied from the men’s game that simply weren’t attractive at the women’s slower pace. Earlier this summer, the Women’s Champions League final, staged in Berlin, even suffered the peculiarly German irony of being held on ‘Männertag’ – Men’s day, May 14. The public holiday has long been an excuse for young men to haul crate-loads of beer to the nearest park and drink with a hangover recovery safely in the bag due to the long weekend.
In actual fact, the date was perfect and the Women’s Champions League final was a huge success.
Although many of the young men dotted around the surrounding Mauerpark (‘Wall-park’, in which the venue sits) did not know the game was happening, the event was a confirmation of footballing power for the host country. Live on national television, a 92nd minute winner from super-sub Mandy Islacker saw FFC Frankfurt keep the title in Germany for the third successive year (Wolfsburg were winners in 2013 and 2014), and become champions for a record fourth time.
The general PR of the event was also a success. For the sixth year in a row since the women’s tournament dropped its two-legged format, the men’s and women’s finals were held in the same city, with Berlin following Madrid, London (twice), Munich, and Lisbon in building profile through UEFA’s shared branding with the men’s game.
Although the actual venue, as in the other host cities, lacked the prestige and capacity of the men’s final (Barca and Juve played at Berlin’s Olympiastadium in front of more than three-times Frankfurt and PSG’s live gate this year, and the Bernabéu, Wembley, the Allianz Arena and the Estádio da Luz were similarly exclusive), the women’s game is clearly capable of selling tickets.