The incredible U.S. ratings for Sunday’s FIFA Women’s World Cup final, the most-watched soccer match in American history and one that beat the NBA Finals, the World Series and more in total audience, are impressive in their own right, but they’re also just part of the overall success this tournament had. In Fox’s release about the ratings for the final, there’s a fascinating tidbit near the bottom about the overall tournament ratings:
The 2015 tournament averaged 1.824 million viewers per each of the tournament’s 52 matches across all networks (FOX, FOX Sports 1 and FOX Sports 2), +21% over 1,511,000 averaged on ESPN and ESPN2 for the 32 matches played in 2011.
That’s remarkable, especially when you consider the profile of those networks. Yes, Fox is a broadcast network, which gives it an edge over ESPN, but Fox Sports 1 carried the majority of the matches (29 of the 52), and the oft-mocked Fox Sports 2 had seven. The cable networks did well on the ratings front, too, especially with the 2.3 million viewers Fox Sports 1 drew for the Japan-England semifinal despite an early 6 p.m. Eastern start. Fox Sports 1 at the very least seems to be in enough homes and where enough people can find it that it will be watched when there’s a compelling event, and there’s a case that Fox Sports 2 is making headway as well.
Of course, some of this growth over 2011 (which, remember, set its own host of records at the time) is thanks to these games being in the friendlier time zones of Canada as compared to Germany. That doesn’t account for all of it, though. As our Dan Levy wrote before the tournament, there were lots of strong reasons to think that there wouldn’t be great ratings, especially for matches that didn’t involve the U.S. team. Viewers tuned in to the non-U.S. games, though, and they did so in big numbers. What’s perhaps really remarkable is how the audience changed; ahead of the final, the men’s audience in the 25-54 demographic had risen by 21 per cent over 2011, but the female audience in that demographic was up 91 per cent. That’s an important audience to capture, and it (together with the success of other events, such as the Women’s College World Series) suggests there can be a significant audience out there for women’s sports. That audience really tuned in this time around in a way they didn’t in 2011.
This ratings growth didn’t just happen in the U.S., either. This Women’s World Cup was the most-watched one ever in Canada, with 2.1 million viewers watching the final and 20.8 million tuning in on TV during some part of the tournament, four times as many overall viewers as the 2011 edition. Canada’s games averaged 2.3 million viewers, with their quarterfinal loss to England pulling in 3.2 million, much higher than what the Stanley Cup Finals drew in that country this year. In Japan, the final performed well, pulling in 16 to 22 per cent ratings in a variety of cities. The timing of the final didn’t draw well in England, with just 500,000 viewers tuning in (but that was still 13 per cent of the TV audience at that time), but an average audience of 1.7 million, a remarkable 32 per cent of the available TV audience, watched the English semifinal loss to Japan. The BBC also drew well during the group stage, as did China, Japan and France. Add that to the remarkable American ratings, and it looks more and more like women’s soccer’s stock is continuing to rise.