On the front foot

Rankings: Women's World Cup winners

On July 7th America was crowned champions of the women's football World Cup for the fourth time. The match against the Netherlands drew large audiences from around the world. Indeed this year’s tournament has smashed TV viewing records. The final was the most-watched women's football match in Dutch history, with 5.5m people tuning in, or 88% of Dutch TV viewers. While in America more people watched the women's cup final than the men's last year. In Britain, England’s semi-final match against America, with nearly 12m viewers, was the most-watched TV programme of the year. France’s quarter-final match (also against America) attracted 10.7m viewers, making it this year’s most-watched French TV programme, too. Indeed, numbers are up across the board. In 2015, 750m people tuned in to watch the tournament on television; 86m watched on other platforms. FIFA has estimated viewership across all platforms reached 1bn (the men’s tournament in 2018 was watched by 3.5bn people).

The blockbuster audiences can be attributed in part to better-quality play. According to Opta, a sports-data firm, in this year’s women’s World Cup, the average number of passes per game—a measure which tends to be higher among higher-skilled teams in more competitive leagues—has increased to 830, up from 750 in 2015. That 10% increase exceeds the rise in any major men’s competition over the same period.

Money is another factor. Between 2013 and 2017 the number of professional and semi-professional female players in Europe nearly doubled, to 3,600. In 2017, the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), which governs football in Europe, unbundled sponsorship rights for women’s football from the men’s, opening a pathway for brands to enter the market. According to Deloitte, a consultancy, around 60% of major women’s football teams have front-of-shirt sponsors that are different from their men’s team. By the next World Cup in 2023, the company reckons that figure could reach 100%.

This extract is from our Graphic details blog.