The 2023 Women’s World Cup kicked off in Australia and New Zealand a few weeks ago with a bang. The United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) hoped to defend their 2019 World Cup triumph and win a fifth World Cup. Hot on the tails was a red-hot Canada, Germany, Netherlands, Australia, England, and France. Coupled with the USWNT transitioning eras, it was a dramatic World Cup.
Women’s soccer in North America has seen exponential growth. From being the first American soccer team to win a major international tournament to establishing the world’s best women’s pro league, it will get bigger.
A variety of factors contribute to the popularity of women’s soccer in the States and Canada.
Lights, Camera, Action
Media exposure has played a significant role. The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) is one of the first women’s leagues to operate for over a decade after two other failed leagues.
In 2020, NWSL inked a savvy media rights deal with CBS. The media giant also has rights to the Union of European Football Association’s (UEFA) competitions, Serie A in Italy, South American leagues, and other lower-level leagues. Having primetime spots on Paramount+, CBS’s streaming service, and CBS Sports Network has brought substantial awareness around top players, especially those in the USWNT.
Photo Courtesy Washington Spirit
Also, CBS Sports has committed ample resources to expand the media coverage of women’s soccer. CBS Golazo — the soccer side of CBS Sports — created Youtube shows and social media pages dedicated to NWSL and the ladies’ national team coverage.
NWSL’s popularity skyrocketed during the pandemic. It was one of the first sports leagues to return to play in North America following the lockdowns.
The Challenge Cup in June 2020 drew 572,000 viewers on CBS. A year later, the 2021 NWSL Championship averaged 525,000 viewers. In 2022, the championship match garnered 915,000. Rating outlets don’t count streaming views, so the number could be higher than previously thought.
Stars Mark Sport’s Popularity
The NWSL boasts many star players in the USWNT and CWNT. A data set shared with The Business Download showed that the public is taking a serious interest in the players. Casino.ca, a Canadian gambling forum, commissioned a digital study using Google Trends to show who was the most-search women’s players heading into the 2023 World Cup.
Megan Rapinoe, Trinity Rodman, and Sophia Smith were some of the leading ladies for American players searched, while Jordyn Huitema and Quinn, a non-binary player, led the Canadian searches. All these players are extraordinarily talented at football, and Rapinoe and Quinn advocate for social causes.
Photo Courtesy Canada Women’s National Team
Women’s soccer has benefitted from the legalization of sports betting. Sports betting has encouraged the viewership of non-traditional sports. With the NWSL season played in summer — alongside the MLS — fans are attracted to a high-flying sport. They’ve developed a passion for the game and for betting prospects. Remember: if you choose to gamble – do it responsibly.
It’s not just North American soccer that is growing. Across the pond, Barclay’s Women’s Super League (WSL) in England is enjoying massive success. Some American players have even joined Manchester United and Chelsea women’s teams. The WSL is getting serious air time, too. The English Football Association (FA) inked a deal with Atalanta Media for WSL matches on NBC in the U.S. and subscription service DAZN in Europe.
The stadiums are selling out, too. More than 87,000 fans packed Wembley Stadium in England to watch the Lionesses beat Germany in the UEFA Women’s Euro Final. Meanwhile, over 90,000 watched Barcelona Femeni beat Wolfsburg in the UEFA Women’s Champions League semifinal.
The 2023 Women’s World Cup may set a record for the most-attended women’s sporting event. FIFA president Gianni Infantino said more than a million tickets were sold for the event. Despite reports of tickets being given away for matches in New Zealand, it’s a tremendous feat.
Photo Courtesy ComBank Matildas
Highlighting Pay Gap
Some hope the Women’s World Cup can fix the inequality in pay between men and women’s football. The USWNT made history when it settled with the U.S. Soccer Federation for equal pay. But that is one win in the fight for global sporting equality.
The Australian women’s team called out FIFA for having a $310 million gap between the men’s World Cup prize pool in Qatar versus the women’s in Australia/New Zealand. More attention to the women’s game may garner more public support for equal revenue distribution.
In the U.S., networks are looking to cash in on the popularity of women’s soccer. Following the success of the 2015 Women’s World Cup, Fox Sports saw the potential of women’s professional football. The 2015 Women’s World Cup final is the most-watched American soccer match. Fox reportedly sold 90% of its ad sales for the Women’s World Cup broadcasts. It also helps to have former USWNT star Carli Lloyd enter the broadcast booth this season.
The 2023 Women’s World Cup is in full swing, with many nations not typically watched getting a spot at the table. The NWSL is also planning on expanding, as investment firm Sixth Street intends to invest over $125 million into a Bay Area expansion franchise. The new franchise will be owned by former USWNT players Brandi Chastain, Leslie Osborne, Danielle Slaton, and Aly Wagner. All these moves boost women’s soccer profile.
The U.S. ladies, unfortunately, hit the end of the road, falling to Sweden on penalties in the Round of 16 on August 6.