The 2015 Women’s World Cup has been producing record ratings in both the U.S. and host country Canada (at the expense of the NHL playoffs), but its growth extends far beyond North America. As Reuters’ Emma Thomasson wrote Wednesday, audiences have doubled or tripled in numerous major markets, and that’s leading to surges in both advertising revenue and corporate investment in women’s soccer. Where’s that growth coming from? Well, a Reuters article from last week spotlights some particularly strong points:
In China, viewership nearly doubled for the country’s first game while 16 percent more Japanese – 4.2 million – watched their defending champions beat Switzerland in the opener than watched them in the semifinals in the last tournament.
A showdown between France and England drew roughly 1.5 million viewers in each country, a third more French viewers than last time.
The figures, while far below the average official rating of 188.4 million viewers per game in the men’s World Cup in Brazil last year, highlights the growing momentum in the women’s game.
There’s a long way to go to reach FIFA’s pre-tournament hopes for 1 billion total viewers across 187 countries, but they might get there. The ratings have been way higher than they were for the previous Women’s World Cup in Germany in 2011, and that pulled in an estimated 400 million viewers globally. It’s notable that there are eight more teams involved this time (it’s a 24-team tournament versus a 16-team one), and the change in format to a full round of 16 (instead a round of eight) following the group stage means this tournament will have 52 total matches, 20 more than the 32 played in Germany. Thus, even if the 2015 tournament only drew the same average global audience per match as the 2011 one (12.5 million viewers), that alone would lead to 650 million viewers. With the tournament being shown in more countries, featuring more countries, and experiencing impressive global ratings growth through the group stage (which wrapped up Wednesday), that billion viewers might not be out of the question.
Something else that might lead to increased broadcasting success for this tournament is the numbers of non-traditional powers doing well. In Germany, the eight countries that qualified for the knockout stage were Germany, England, France, Sweden, Australia, Brazil, the U.S. and Japan; while Japan wound up as surprise winners, the rest of those teams were expected to do well. The expanded knockout stage this time around means there’s more room for underdogs, but even with that taken into consideration, there have been some surprises, with China, Cameroon, Colombia and South Korea amongst the teams making it this far. That has the potential to spread the audience for the knockout portions much more widely, and that could be beneficial both for the TV ratings and for the overall health of women’s soccer. We’ll see if this gets close to a billion total viewers or not, but it’s obvious the women’s game is growing, and that’s evident from the ratings.