Ahead of Friday’s tournament curtain raiser between hosts France and South Korea, Jeevan Jeyaratnam of Abelson Info crunches the numbers on the growth of the women’s game, and how France 2019 could break previous records when it comes to engagement.
The Women’s World Cup has continued to aggregate momentum since its inception in 1991. The inaugural tournament, held in China, featured just twelve teams and four host cities. FIFA, reluctant to dilute the strength of their “World Cup” moniker, named the competition the 1st FIFA World Championship for Women’s Football for the M&M’s Cup.
With average attendances of nearly 20,000, and featuring 99 goals across 26 matches (3.81 per game), despite each game only lasting 80 minutes, nobody could say the action was either boring or unsupported. That said, four years later, the second tournament- this time bestowed with the “World Cup” privilege and featuring 90-minute games – saw average attendances drop to around 4,300, this despite each game, again, averaging 3.81 goals. Maybe Sweden just wasn’t the place to stage the event. The Swedish Allsvenskan (the top men’s league) runs throughout a northern hemisphere summer and could well have taken some of the impetus away.
Perhaps FIFA took this on board, as the next tournament was hosted in the USA, victors of that opening World Championship in China. Average attendances, over an expanded 16-team format, hit 37,400, and with each match featuring an average of 3.84 goals, the entertainment factor was suitably high. In fact, the first 0-0 games in this, albeit nascent, history of the competition came in the final and third place play-off of the USA hosted tournament. That meant that 82 games had played without a 0-0 final score, this would be deemed very unusual in the men’s game, where goal expectancies are generally at least one goal lower.
Perhaps high scoring tournaments are symptomatic of a sport still in an embryonic state, the average goals per game total remained high until the 2011 finals in Germany. This was the first tournament to feature less than three goals a game (2.69, to be exact). Canada, four years later, also struggled to reach the lofty heights of old, averaging 2.81 goals, despite being the first to feature 24 teams. Generally, an expanded tournament increases the chances of some of the lowlier competitors facing a hammering, a rise in total goals, is a fair expectation. It is possible that this trend was stunted because the Women’s game was making huge improvements in quality and standards.
A good barometer for measuring increasing interest levels in a sport are the cost of the media rights. In 2019 host country France, channel TF1 have paid approximately €10M for this year’s edition of the tournament. That is more than ten times the fee paid, by French TV, for the 2015 event in Canada. Naturally, hosting will ratchet up interest, and so perhaps this is to be expected. Maybe a better illustration of the increasing power of the women’s game is the price the BBC have paid this time around.
They have doubled their 2015 spend, the new fee rising to €1M. Logically, TV rights are worth more when time zones are favourable, and there is no doubt that this is the case this year. However, in the USA, where the time zone is a little off-putting, Fox Sports has committed to showing each game live. Rumours are that Fox will be sending a bigger delegation of media to France than they did to the men’s tournament in Russia last year.
FIFA themselves also realise the potential they have on their hands; work is underway to split commercial advertising packages up from their “peg” to the men’s product. Prize money for this year’s competition has doubled to $30M, with the winners taking home $4M for their efforts.
From a bookmaking point of view, this tournament is sure to break records for wagers on the women’s game. As soon as the BBC announced they will be showing with each game live on BBC in the UK, we, at Abelson Info, were asked if we would produce goalscorers for the tournament. Each and every one of our GPS feed subscribers have now signed up to full coverage of this football feast. The momentum has well and truly built up behind the women’s event, let’s hope the players and teams in France deliver a tournament worthy of the growing support for the women’s game.