Success measured by competition and cash
MONTREAL — A Women’s World Cup that started with a record 24 teams three weeks ago is now down to four. And once again, they have rounded up the usual suspects with Germany and the U.S., the only two-time winners, and defending champion Japan among the survivors.
The only interloper is England, which made it past the quarterfinals for the first time by holding off host Canada, 2-1, on Saturday.
But before we get to the teams still here let’s talk about some of those that are gone. And why they left.
Not surprisingly, money is at the heart of that story. Because in drawing up the brackets for this tournament, FIFA and local organizers looked at the balance sheet as well as the competitive balance.
“Similar to previous draws for Women’s World Cups, teams are ... allocated into specific groups for ticketing and promotion reasons,” a FIFA spokesperson said. “Filling the stadia is a key objective for FIFA and the host association. The allocation of terms to venues, the ticketing and promotion plan and the ticket-price strategy are among the key factors for the overall success of the event.”
Translation: Canada, the home team, was purposefully placed in the lower half of the bracket, where it was able to reach the quarterfinals despite scoring just twice in open play. Germany, the U.S., France and Sweden — four of the top five teams in the world — were all drawn into the other half.
Only one of those four could go to the final, of course. Germany has already knocked off Sweden and France, winning the second game on penalty kicks in a quarterfinal some here have called “the early final” because it may have matched the World Cup’s two best teams.
“They’re both great teams,” said midfielder Morgan Brian of the U.S., which gets Germany next. “It kind of stinks that they had to knock each other out. “But it’s good for us.” It’s good for the organizers too because it sets up a U.S-Germany semifinal that could come close to selling out the 61,000-seat Olympic Stadium. Sure, that matchup would be a great final too. But the final is already sold out, no matter who plays in it.
So what if the organizers manipulated the brackets to sell tickets to many of the other games?
Remember, this is the Women’s World Cup. Yes, the play has been spectacular at times and many of the women are tremendous athletes.
However, countries aren’t exactly lining up to stage the event.
Canada, in fact, was the only one to bid on this tournament. Only France and South Korea bid for the next one. And if organizers aren’t given a chance to make a profit from the event, few countries will bid in the future.
The only way that would happen in Canada was for both the U.S. and the host country to go deep into the tournament, because 95% of the tickets for this World Cup were purchased in those two countries.
And both teams have rewarded that logic by selling out multiple games — with Canada twice breaking the record for largest crowd to attend a national team game.
Compare that to “the early final” between Germany and France, which filled fewer than half the seats in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, or the other quarterfinal between defending champion Japan and Australia, which drew fewer than 20,000.
Great competition, it seems, doesn’t always translate to great ticket sales.
But jingoism does. And the more games Canada and the U.S. play, the closer Canadian organizers get to wiping out the debt they incurred to put on the event.
With only four games left, the tournament, which has expanded to 24 teams and 52 games for the first time, has drawn more than 880,000 fans. The attendance record for a Women’s World Cup was set at the 1999 event in the U.S., when nearly 1.2 million spectators attended 32 games.
But with Canada now out of the tournament and tickets for the final all sold, the Women’s World Cup finally becomes all about football.
France will be missed. Sweden a bit less. Brazil is gone too but that was Brazil’s fault because it lost a knockout-round game it should have won.
No matter what it took to get here, though, it’s hard to argue with a final four of Germany, the U.S., Japan and England. Whoever wins will have reason to celebrate.
And so will the tournament’s organizers.