A generation that came of age with soccer and women’s sports now tuning in to World Cup
A generation of American women who grew up playing sports because of Title IX now makes up the television audience that advertisers covet.
Today’s adults were young, impressionable fans when Brandi Chastain ripped off her jersey to celebrate the winning penalty kick at the 1999 Women’s World Cup, and even earlier when the buzz of soccer landed in the United States for the 1994 men’s tournament.
Now those grown-ups are tuning in to this Women’s World Cup — with their kids alongside.
Viewership is up big for this summer’s tournament, with a major assist coming simply from geography. With the event in Canada, the most important games air in prime time in the U.S. on Fox’s networks during the first North American Women’s World Cup since 2003.
But patterns within the viewership numbers reflect deeper trends for interest in soccer in general and the women’s sport in particular.
A significant source of audience growth comes from what may seem like a surprising place: female fans. Among men ages 25- 54, viewership is up a healthy 21 per cent from the 2011 tournament in Germany — but it’s risen a whopping 91 per cent among women in that demographic.
When soccer was more of a niche sport, it made for an audi- ence that was predominantly male. The more mainstream it moves, the broader the interest. The viewership growth for last summer men’s World Cup was also boosted by more women tuning in.
The audience for this Women’s World Cup is 38 per cent female, still well below half but higher than the one-third or so typically seen for major U.S. sports. The average women’s college basketball game during the 2013-14 season had 39 per cent female viewership, compared with 31 per cent for men’s basketball, according to Nielsen. Mike Mulvihill, Fox Sports’ senior vice-president for programming and research, suspects wider societal trends are also drawing more women to the tournament. Title IX, the educational gender-equity law that led to the surge of girls sports, passed in 1972.
Sunday’s rematch of the 2011 final kicks off at 7 p.m. on Fox on the night of the week with the largest available audience for TV.
In this June 30 file photo, U.S. fans cheer on the team before the team’s semifinal against Germany in the Women’s World Cup soccer tournament in Montreal, Canada. With many matches in prime time, this Women’s World Cup has set all sorts of TV viewership records in the U.S. Sunday’s final could break some more.