The rise of women’s soccer
By: Alejandro Echeverria
Oct. 25, 2022
Photo Credit: Associated Press
For years now, the world’s most popular sport has been men’s soccer. With events like the World Cup garnering huge viewership and attention, “The Beautiful Game” is ever present on a global scale. Now, with a rise in opportunities for women over the past few years, we have seen large growth in women’s soccer more so than other women’s sports.
According to a report by UEFA on the off-field potential for European women’s soccer, the fan base for the sport is expected to see huge growth: going from an existing 144 million fans to potentially 328 million fans in 2033. This growth can be partly attributed to the similarities in play between women and men within the sport. Unlike basketball, where we see a gap between men’s highlights and women’s highlights due to natural athleticism with things like dunking the ball, soccer relies less on athleticism and more on technical ability. This causes a lot more parity between the men and women’s games.
The first thing to point to in regards to the growth of the women’s game is the growth in viewership at both the international and club level. Beginning with the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2019, it drew a combined 1.12 billion viewers across all platforms, according to FIFA. The tournament final between the Netherlands and the U.S. drew an average live audience of 82.18 million viewers and a total of 263.62 million unique viewers, making it the most-watched Women’s World Cup game to date. These impressive numbers have only continued to trend upwards; the 2022 UEFA Women’s Euros, a smaller competition than the World Cup, also saw its most viewership ever, with a projected global live viewership of 365 million across TV, streaming, and out-of-home viewing. As for the Euro Final in 2022, this reached a peak TV audience of 17.4 million on BBC and 5.9 million streams across digital platforms, making it the most watched soccer match ever in the UK. Clearly, the sport is not only growing in the U.S., but in Europe too.
As for the club level, the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) has seen huge increases in viewership as of late. Having drawn no more than 190,000 viewers in its first seven years as a league, it has averaged almost 450,000 viewers in games shown on CBS this season. This past season in Europe, the FC Barcelona women’s team saw record attendance numbers, breaking the world record for the most attended women’s soccer match twice in one season, with their highest attendance being 91,648 people. This is a higher attendance than what we see in various men’s sports across the globe, showing the tremendous strides the sport has made. Additionally, in October, the Kansas City Current announced that they had broken ground on America’s first ever stadium for a pro women’s soccer team, massive news for the sport as it could cause a domino effect across the country.
Another way in which we can see the growth of the women’s game is at the individual player level. Alex Morgan, a prominent U.S. Women’s National Team player, is the most endorsed female athlete in all of U.S. sports, with 27 total endorsements. This shows a clear push from brands and sport-related companies to be a part of the growth of the women’s game. With greater investments coming at the player level and significant rises in viewership at the team level, it will be interesting to see how this affects future investment and broadcasting rights deals for the sport.
All in all, it is clear for the average sports consumer that women’s sports have begun to arrive in the mainstream, with more broadcasts, a greater social media presence, and continued endorsements for women’s players becoming the norm. Look out for the continued rise of the sport and how it may compare to other women’s sports leagues, such as the WNBA, that are also looking to grow women’s sports at a larger scale.