Women’s soccer in the U.S. can be best likened to a striker hitting the crossbar and seeing their shot ricochet off the goal — the setup is perfect while the execution leaves a bit to be desired. Miscommunication between FIFA, the international soccer governing body, and the U.S. women’s national soccer team (USWNT) has kept women’s soccer from hitting its stride.
In 1991, FIFA attempted to elevate women’s soccer. The result of FIFA’s efforts was the birth of the USWNT and a tournament unlike any other: the first FIFA World Championship for Women’s Football for the M&M’s Cup, known today as the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
FIFA had fears about bestowing the prestigious World Cup moniker on the women. FIFA also reduced play to 80 minutes, which is 10 minutes shorter than a standard game. Despite these restrictions, the USWNT went on to win the whole tournament, laying the foundation for the growth of the women’s game.
In 28 years, the USWNT’s four World Cup victories have made them the most successful international women’s soccer team. Their triumphs have put women’s soccer on the map on the national, professional, and collegiate level.
In 28 years, the USWNT’s four World Cup victories have made them the most successful international women’s soccer team.
Sports Illustrated reported that the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup final saw record viewership as the U.S. vs. Japan championship matchup on Fox “averaged a stunning 25.4 million viewers, making it the most-viewed soccer game ever in the United States — men’s or women’s — by a giant margin.” To this day, this matchup still holds the record as the most-watched soccer game in U.S. history.
The Los Angeles Times wrote that “nearly 16 million viewers tuned into U.S. television coverage of the [USWNT] 2-0 win over the Netherlands in the FIFA Women’s World Cup final,” a 20% jump from the previous year’s men’s FIFA World Cup final.
Locally, women’s soccer has also continued to grow at a collegiate level. The proof is in none other than the USF women’s soccer team. In 2015, the same year the USWNT won its third World Cup, USF’s women’s soccer averaged an attendance of 386 people per game, going 13-4-3 that season. The West Coast Conference’s official website reports that the Dons’ 2016 season saw an average home attendance of 302 people per game with a 7-12 record, while the 2017 season saw an average attendance of 292 people per game as the Dons went 8-10-2. Their 2018 season netted a 5.1% increase in home attendance, tracking with an improvement of the Dons’ record to 11-7-2.
The USWNT’s success has also benefited the nine-club National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). Days after the World Cup, the Chicago Red Stars welcomed an attendance of 17,388 spectators for their July 21 game, a far cry from their 2018 average attendance of about 9,000 spectators.
More recently, the Aug. 11 fixture between the Portland Thorns and the North Carolina Courage saw a league-high attendance of 25,218 fans flock to Providence Park in Portland. The Aug. 19 match between Sky Blue FC and Reign FC at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey allowed Sky Blue FC to score a club-high attendance of 9,415 spectators.
FIFA’s constant negligence towards the USWNT shows that women’s soccer is still not receiving its due diligence. Thankfully, soccer is a very supporter-centric sport. After all, supporters are the ones turning their televisions to Fox and flocking to stadiums to see some of the world’s greatest athletes take to the pitch. With continued support on our end, women’s soccer in the U.S. can one day sail past the crossbar and into the back of the net.