The FIFA Women’s World Cup™ provides an obvious quadrennial boost for women’s football. It is a tournament that not only allows the sport’s elite athletes a platform on which to compete for the globe’s greatest prize, but brings massive attention to women’s football and provides a vehicle for young fans to engage with role-models.
Previous editions were clearly successful, even if based purely on TV and spectator viewership at the time. So too, the competition provided a legacy that echoed around the world with varying degrees of impact. Some levels are more obvious than others. Japan’s breakthrough achievement at Germany 2011 put the sport on the map in that country, with the players enjoying rare levels of attention for female athletes amid booming crowds. Some of the globe’s bigger national leagues commenced immediately following the surge brought about by a Women’s World Cup. England’s WSL and USA’s national competitions were re-launched either side of Germany 2011, as was Australia’s following China 2007.
Like some previous FIFA Women’s World Cups, the 2015 edition in Canada was a success by almost every conceivable measurement. Massive numbers were achieved in terms of spectators, TV viewership and social media, and these proved to be just some of several headline accomplishments. Canada’s national team even enjoyed the biggest crowd to witness a national team in any sport, male or female. The hosts' five home matches during the tournament attracted an average of 48,380 spectators per match, while four of the six stadiums set provincial records.
*Global reach *
Now, over three months on from that memorable finale in Vancouver, some of the impacts from the month-long women’s football jamboree are becoming clearer. England were among the best performers at Canada 2015 thanks to a breakthrough run to the last-four and a third-place finish, and TV and media interest in the Three Lionesses reached almost unimaginable levels back home. Upon the players’ return, crowds were up 83 per cent on the first weekend, and 25 per cent since.
Meanwhile, Japan - who edged past England in a dramatic semi-final - is another country whose women's scene has been boosted by the national team’s achievements. They may have lost that final as USA ended their 16-year drought in spectacular fashion, but the *Nadeshiko *performed superbly simply by reaching the decider – their third world final in succession.
The legacy of that achievement is clear to see. Since Canada 2015, crowds in Japan’s Nadeshiko League are up by nearly 50 per cent. But the Japanese are renowned for future planning, and they are certainly not resting on their laurels. In 2007, the Japan Football Association (JFA) set-up ‘Nadeshiko Vision’, which detailed some ambitious goals. Besides national team success, one of the original targets was focused on participation figures exceeding 300,000. The most recent count listed 385,000 female players participating in JFA-operated events. Now, with some unlikely targets met, the JFA - again showing trademark vision - have relaunched their Nadeshiko Vision with heightened goals across their grassroots, youth and senior national team programs.
*Stateside boom *With a long and relatively ingrained culture in women’s football, USA’s success was celebrated widely across the States. The team have been feted at every turn since being crowned world champions. They became the first women’s sporting team to enjoy a ticker-tape parade through New York City’s grand streets, and just this week were hosted by President Obama in the White House. This forms a priceless level of exposure for the game Stateside.
A more tangible benefit has been attendance figures. USA have set several local record crowds in their home matches over the past few months. Importantly too, there has been a significant impact on the national league, one which was intertwined with Canada 2015 given the tournament involved 57 NWSL players from 11 different countries. There were also some impressive numbers by season’s end in the NWSL. Eighteen of 44 matches sold out, while average attendance increased by 29 per cent since the end of Canada 2015, helping the league set a new single-season average attendance record of 5,046 spectators per game.
Last week the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) expanded with the addition of a tenth team, suggesting a prosperous competition following a couple of false starts over the past two decades. “The signs are very encouraging that this is a deeper and more impactful opportunity than just a one-off,” said NWSL commissioner Jeff Plush.
Now the challenge is to maintain this momentum across the world leading into the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France, and beyond.