Women’s game gets big boost at Euro
ENSCHEDE, Netherlands — The six-goal final of the women’s Euro in the Netherlands capped an outstanding tournament, proving female soccer is growing across the continent.
An increase in the number of participating countries from 12 to 16 raised overall attendance to more than 240,000 spectators at the 31 games, up from 217,000 four years ago — with all Dutch games sold out, UEFA said.
“We wondered how big the tournament would be. We knew it would depend on how we performed, but we could hardly have dreamed it would be this big,” said Netherlands coach Sarina Wiegman.
The final drew a crowd of 28,000, which was much less than in 2013, but fans who paid exorbitant prices for tickets on the internet attributed this to the limited capacity of Enschede arena.
“In Amsterdam or Rotterdam it would be better, also for the women, if they could play at a bigger stadium,” Dutch fan Thea Mussche told AFP before the final in which the host doubled Denmark 4-2.
She and her husband got their tickets for 80 euros ($95) each, against the highest official price of 60 euros, but prices on the internet climbed well over 100 euros on the day of the match.
Television ratings grew as well, and “record women’s Euro audiences have been achieved in many markets, including the Netherlands, Denmark and the United Kingdom,” UEFA said in a statement before the final.
Euro newcomers Austria, which made it to the semifinals alongside England, sparked women’s soccer fever in the country, with millions watching the games and thousands of fans showing up for a triumphant welcome in front of Vienna’s city hall.
“It is incredible that women’s football has finally found a place in society,” beamed Austrian captain Victoria Schnaderbeck.
“We are incredibly proud because it hasn’t always been like this.”
Dutch striker Vivianne Miedema said she noticed increased interest from the public.
“We’ve seen already in this tournament if we had a day off and we went on the street that a lot of girls and a lot of other people recognized us,” said Miedema.
“The tournament has been really big, with all the little fans, it’s just amazing that they wear the little T-shirts with our names on their back.”
Wearing an orange hat and holding a Dutch flag, fan Maria Kentin said it was “very good that (women) get more exposure”.
“Men’s football is not doing really well at this time so everybody likes women’s football now,” she added, pointing out the Dutch men’s failure to qualify for Euro 2016 and struggling in 2018 World Cup qualification.
Female soccer can hardly compete with the men’s game in terms of money. A survey published last week put the women’s tournament budget at $9.5 million compared to $360 million for the men’s Euro 2016.
The survey found 50 percent of female players were not paid by their clubs, and 35 percent of international players received no financial compensation for representing their countries.
But the growing popularity suggests the trend might soon change. Earlier this year in the United States, protesting female players forced their federation to approve a deal for a substantial pay hike.
Besides, the quality of the women’s game has grown remarkably in recent years, said England coach Mark Sampson.
“Ten years ago, there was a significant physical difference between the best teams and the rest of the teams,” he said.
“What’s happened in recent years is that the teams physically have matched up so the technical skills, the game and the standing have become incredibly important.”
His Danish counterpart, Nils Nielsen, said the increased competition was “very beneficial”.
Vivianne Miedema scores the Netherlands’ fourth goal during Sunday’s 4-2 triumph over Denmark in the Women’s Euro final in Enschede, the Netherlands.