Suc­cess mea­sured by com­pe­ti­tion and cash

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - KEVIN BAX­TER ON SOC­CER kevin.bax­ter@latimes.com

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.

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