By Jeff Kassouf
Give China credit. They are in the midst of producing what will probably be the second-best attended FIFA Women’s World Cup ever behind the USA’s amazing 1999 display. Regardless of where the tournaments stack up in rankings, the numbers turning out to see the games through Friday morning are encouraging.
Granted, it is a World Cup, the biggest event of all in the world of soccer. But that doesn’t make good attendance a given, as women’s soccer games have always been hit and miss in that category. The wave of support that came from the 1999 Women’s World Cup that saw 90,000 people fill the Rose Bowl for an electric final match was followed up by struggles at the gate for the WUSA.
Arguably the most entertaining women’s team to watch – the United States – even only draws around 20,000 fans for any given game on home soil. But, through Friday morning, attendance for the women’s world cup is averaging in the 25,000 range, with some games drawing more than 35,000 people.
Better yet, these are passionate, educated crowds with energy. They are filling the stadium nicely, and creating a buzz that makes people want to keep on watching. This buzz is exactly what may help convert some men’s soccer fans or even just sports fans in general into followers of the women’s game.
Some may say that the 5 am and 8am start times are no good for Americans, but they may actually be a blessing in disguise. Think of how many people woke up Friday morning thinking that they would do their regular routine of watch SportsCenter before they go to work or school.
What they actually woke up to see was the United States beating Sweden 2-0. If they thought ESPN2 would offer something else, they just ended up finding Japan beating Argentina 1-0. In the crowded market of prime-time television, early morning kickoffs may just be exactly what the Women’s World Cup needed.
Now, the question is whether or not the new women’s league starting in the United States in 2009 will catapult off of this success. On an international level, it is hoped that women’s soccer in general can find a way to keep that interest sparked to provide equal opportunities for their players, both on the international and domestic level.
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