Women’s World Cup – We’ve Come So Far
This is the first article in a series of three to preview the 2011 Women’s World Cup in Germany, which begins on June 26 when host and 2-time defending World Cup champion Germany kicks off against CONCACAF Champion Canada in Berlin. Writer Jerrod Roh will provide coverage, analysis, and opinion for the 2011 Women’s World Cup for IMSoccer News. He has attended the last 3 men’s World Cups in South Korea, Germany, and South Africa as well as the 2003 Women’s World Cup in the U.S. He is a self-described fan, student, and teacher of the game.
The Early Cups
The first Women’s World Cup took place in China in 1991 with 12 teams participating and minimal fanfare outside of the host nation. It was actually called the Women’s World Championship at the time. For a brand new event that meant little to mainstream sports fans around the world and therefore received barely detectable media coverage, the Chinese still showed up in decent numbers (according to official records). The total attendance was 510,000 with an average of 19,615 per match. Team USA defeated Norway 2-1 in a thrilling championship match before 63,000 fans. The match was not televised in the U.S.
Women’s World Cup 1995 was hosted by Sweden. Again, 12 teams qualified for the event and few people in the USA and abroad paid much attention. Attendance declined significantly even though there were 5 European participants, 3 of which were Scandinavian – Norway, Denmark, and of course the host Sweden. Total attendance tallied 112,213 leaving average attendance at 4,316 per match. The final between Norway and Germany drew 17,158. Norway won the championship 2-0 with current USA assistant coach Hege Riise scoring the game winner as well as taking home the Golden Ball as the tournament’s most outstanding player. Team USA defeated China 2-0 in the 3rd place match after falling to Norway in the semifinal 1-0. No television coverage was provided in the U.S.
1999 – A Special Moment in History
What happened next was eye-opening to all sports administrators and marketers across the world. It was equally shocking to the players and coaches who were directly involved. It was 1996 and Atlanta was the host of the Summer Olympics. Women’s soccer was a brand new sport to the Olympics. The medal rounds of the soccer tournaments were played “Between the Hedges” in Athens, Georgia at Sanford Stadium, home to the University of Georgia football team. (They technically removed the hedges for these games for the playing field to be wide enough, sending the UGA football fans into a tirade.) The attendance for the gold medal match between China and the USA was 76,481 and was a new record for the most spectators to attend a female sporting event worldwide. The fact that the United States hosted the 1994 Men’s World Cup could certainly be pointed to as a factor of increased interest in the sport in general. This enthusiastic following sent a message that women’s athletics can be both exciting to the masses as well as a potentially profitable business. NBC was criticized for not showing the gold medal match live. Fans did not get to see pool play matches and were limited to watching replays of the semifinal and final a day after each was actually played.
The USA hosted the next Women’s World Cup in 1999 in stadiums across the nation. After experiencing the large crowds in the 1996 Olympics, U.S. Soccer and their women’s team went on a marketing crusade to spread the word to anyone who would listen that these women were a great combination of gritty world class athletes and equally powerful role models for every little girl in the United States. The field of teams increased from 12 to 16. Stadiums were energized with an average attendance of 37,319 per match. Organizers initiated a doubleheader format for the first time, giving fans two matches in one sitting for one ticket price. The U.S. games averaged 68,747 with a new record turnout for a women’s athletic event of 90,185 fans attending the final in the Rose Bowl pitting Team USA vs. China. While the dramatic and controversial U.S. victory and celebration in spot kicks in the final was the primary storyline, the points of greater interest for the big picture were the fact that the national and global media were finally paying attention to the women’s game or a women’s sporting event in general. It led to the formation of not just a women’s soccer professional league in the U.S., but gave organizers and investors worldwide a vision and momentum to create profitable women’s sporting events and leagues in other sports too.
In the spring of 2009, I had the privilege of visiting with coaches and staff from the national soccer federation of Finland – the Finnish FA. The meeting took place in Myllykoski, Finland in the club house of MYPA, a professional men’s team in the Finnish Premier Division. (MYPA is a well-respected pro club in rural Finland. They are kind of like the Green Bay Packers of Finnish football, but on a lesser scale of course.) Finland was getting ready to host the UEFA Women’s European Championships that summer. In our meeting, they referred to the explosion of interest for women’s football in the USA that the world witnessed in 1999 and that they, along with the rest of the world, were wondering how they could recreate that in their own country. It just reinforced in my mind how magical of a time 1999 was for women’s soccer and women’s athletics in general. It might be the single most important event in the history of women’s athletics.
2003 – Why the letdown?
The 2003 World Cup was scheduled to return to China, but due to the SARS outbreak, FIFA had to abruptly reassign the event to the USA just months before it was to take place. The decision was made on May 3rd and the opening match took place on September 20. Many might ask why FIFA would choose to return so quickly, but there were only two serious candidates who were equipped and willing to host on such short notice. The other was Norway. FIFA gave it to the USA due to the infrastructure still intact to host from the 1999 World Cup as well as the superior attendance in 1999 compared to 1995 when it was in Scandinavia. Attendance and excitement however failed to match that of 1999. For the tournament, an average of 20,525 fans attended per match. For Team USA matches, average attendance dropped from 68,747 to 27,750. The U.S. fell to eventual champion Germany in the semifinals in a 3-0 battering. The final match between the Germans and Sweden had a near capacity crowd of 26,137 in the Home Depot Center in Los Angeles.
Attendance dropped significantly in 2003 for several reasons. The top reason might be that games were being played in the middle of American football season in September and October. The fact that the event was/is still very young and that women’s professional contracts and the market for professional soccer were not seen as restricting factors like on the men’s side, host nations – with FIFA’s guidance and approval of course – were able to decide on when they wanted to host the event in that calendar year. China had chosen September/October and due to the scheduling and timing of the change of host nation, it was determined to keep it at that time. In 1999, it was hosted here in June and July. The U.S. played their ’99 semifinal on July 4th in a football stadium in front of over 73,000 fans. Is there a better day to go to the stadium to cheer on your country? In 2003, Team USA played their semifinal on October 5th in a wonderful soccer-specific stadium in Portland – PGE Park. It was filled to capacity, but that was only 27,623.
So, that would be the next reason for the significant decrease in attendance – the smaller stadiums. The Rose Bowl and other stadiums that were used in 1999 were not available in 2003. In addition, US Soccer was keen on showcasing some of the new soccer-specific stadiums in our nation. But the Home Depot Center in Los Angeles – the site of the 2003 final – seats only 27,000 compared to the 90,000+ of the Rose Bowl.
Other reasons would be that U.S. Soccer and the team did not have the same amount of time to execute a thorough marketing plan. A sound plan would be needed to combat such a saturated time in the American sports landscape. The middle of football season along with the most exciting time of year for professional baseball would be a tall order for any international event. While the U.S. team filled smaller stadiums to capacity, the football stadiums they played in during pool play were only about 50-60% full. This leads one to think that maybe more could have been done to get people to the games and that the limited time to do so had an impact. Additionally, FIFA and U.S. Soccer may have screwed up putting all three of the U.S. games during the knockout stage – after momentum of the event and the team could have drawn more significant crowds – in stadiums with capacities less than 30,000. Media coverage was solid considering everything else going on in the United States sports culture. All U.S. games were shown live on TV, something that was not the case in 1999.
Maybe 2003 was such a letdown because it was just too difficult to sustain the excitement of 1999. Again, it was a magical time and maybe it was not meant to be repeated……at least not yet.
Women’s World Cup Attendance History
World Cup Total Average Per Match Host Nation Average Final Match
China 1991 510,000 19,615 40,250 63,000
Sweden 1995 12,213 4,316 8,926 17,158
USA 1999 1,194,215 37,319 68,747 90,185
USA 2003 656,789 20,525 27,750 26,137
China 2007 1,156,955 36,155 53,252 31,000
Germany 2011 ???? ???? ???? ????
Canada 2015 ???? ???? ???? ????
China’s 2nd Cup
The Women’s World Cup finally returned to China in 2007 and so did large crowds of fans. China and FIFA implemented the doubleheader model used in the U.S. the last two World Cups to enhance attendance numbers and thus the atmosphere for more games. (Remember that every large crowd that is there for a match for the host nation gets counted twice because there is another match being played before or after it.) Attendance figures were up from 2003 and from 1991 when China had previously hosted the inaugural Women’s World Cup. This Cup averaged 36,155 fans per match, coming close to the 37,319 in the U.S. in 1999. China averaged 53,252 fans per game, easily surpassing the 27,750 average for the U.S. in 2003, but falling shy of the 68,747 in 1999. The championship match between Germany and Brazil had 31,000 fans in attendance to see the Germans prevail 2-0 and extend their reign as World Champions to what would eventually amount to eight years.
The 2011 Women’s World Cup will be hosted in Germany, and all signs point to another magical time for the women’s game. The infrastructure to host such an event is in a great place after hosting the 2006 Men’s World Cup, the 2009 U17 Boys European Championships, and the 2010 U20 Women’s World Cup. All events were great successes on all levels. Most of the stadiums for this event are medium-sized, seating between 20,000 and 30,000 fans. The Germans built 3 brand new stadiums and performed major remodeling work on a couple others since 2007 in anticipation of hosting the Women’s World Cup. The match between Germany and Canada on opening day will be in Berlin’s 74,500 seat Olympic Stadium – site of the 2006 Men’s World Cup Final.
All 32 matches are set to be televised live on ESPN or ESPN2. This of course is tremendous progress since the games were not televised at all in the U.S. just sixteen years earlier, the last time it was played in Europe.
The twelve-team Frauen-Bundesliga is the top women’s professional league in the world. A 24 team 2nddivision exists and relegation/promotion takes place like most men’s professional leagues in Europe. The entire 2-time defending World Cup Champion German team plays in the top division, as well as several top internationals from elsewhere in Europe and in the world. This now well-established women’s professional league provides a great foundation for the 2011 World Cup to be well-received.
The last time the Women’s World Cup was hosted in Europe was in 1995 and it ranks as the worst attended in the young history of the event. But after further development of women’s leagues in Europe as well as worldwide, and the fact that the host in Europe this time is among the most proud of soccer nations sets this World Cup up to be another historical marker for the women’s game and women’s athletics in general. Europe is much better prepared to embrace this event now than it was in 1995. It could set the continent on fire and change the perception of women’s athletics in Europe forever. 2011 in Europe could very well equate to what 1999 meant to North America.
The German people are ready too! When I was there in 2006 for the Men’s World Cup, several Germans told me they finally felt like the world had accepted them again (largely because the world was allowing them to host such a huge event) and that they could enjoy being German again. The fallout from their failed bids to conquer the world had led to decades of sadness, depression, embarrassment, and reform. They are a happier and prouder people now. They finally feel forgiven and not embarrassed to be German anymore. In general, they don’t need much of a reason to party over there. I am sure they will embrace their team and this event with all that it entails. Don’t be surprised if the Germans party like it’s 1999!
Jerrod Roh has served as an assistant coach for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers Women’s Soccer Team since 2007. He’s also served as a Goalkeeping Staff coach for the US Soccer Region 2 ODP since 2005. Prior to coming to Minnesota, Roh spent three seasons at the University of Kentucky, serving as the top assistant while coaching the goalkeepers and serving as the program’s recruiting coordinator. Roh attended Kansas State University and graduated in 1995. He was a three-year starter for the Wildcats. He holds a masters in business administration from Western Carolina. Currently he is coaching the U15 girls team for Eden Prairie Soccer Club