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Women’s World Cup 2019: The full review

With the dust settled on France 2019, SportsPro breaks down the good, the bad and the great from the Women's World Cup.

by Tom Bassam
Women’s World Cup 2019: The full review

With the victory parades concluded and the first round of chat show appearances underway the aftermath of the 2019 Fifa Women’s World Cup has very much been entered.

Little over a week on from Alex Morgan and the US women’s national team (USWNT) lifting the trophy in Lyon the numbers have been crunched and the thoughts have been processed.

The tournament has set new records and created new perceptions. Here, SportsPro breaks down the impact of France 2019.

The Women's World Cup enjoyed a digital breakthrough with the 2019 tournament

Digital

It is poignant that Megan Rapinoe decided to turn to the words of sadly deceased rapper Nipsey Hussle to cap off her social media posts from France 2019. The track of choice was Hussle & Motivate and its lyrics encapsulated what the biggest star at the Women’s World Cup was able to achieve over the course of the tournament: ‘I just respected the game, now my name all in the news’. That it is.

There is no doubt that Rapinoe was the biggest storyline over the last month. Now is the time for both her and potential partners to capitalise commercially, but also in terms of social activism.

According to SportsPro’s official data partners Hookit, the US forward saw her social media following grow by more than 50 per cent. Of players with more than 1 million followers only Brazil star Marta exceeded that figure and that can largely be attributed to her viral passionate post-match interview after the defeat to France.

That growth is good news for Rapinoe’s partners. She achieved upwards of five per cent engagement on her nine promoted posts. Only teammate Mallory Pugh scored higher but the 21-year-old has little over a quarter of Rapinoe’s followers. Hookit’s data also reveals that Rapinoe leveraged video better than anyone at the tournament, garnering the most views by more than 1.1 million over second ranked Alex Morgan.

Twitter saw conversation around the big games and the big moments but also the big issues. #EqualPay spiked by five times during the USWNT’s final victory and in the aftermath, with other surges around the goals against the Netherlands and Alex Morgan’s ‘sips tea’ celebration. Unsurprisingly Rapinoe topped the most-mentioned in the tournament but she was also joined by Brazil’s Cristiane Rozeira in the top five.

Goal’s data, accumulated from all 38 of its global editions, shows that more than 4 million fans came to the Goal website for its Women’s World Cup content this summer, generating more than 10 million page views.

Whilst it is hardly surprising that Rapinoe and Morgan were the individual players who drove the most traffic to Goal during the tournament, Norway’s Ballon d'Or-winning Ada Hegerberg featured third on the list, despite not playing at the tournament as a result of her dispute with the Norwegian Football Federation (NFF).

Attendance

Fifa set big targets for match attendance before the tournament and whilst there was dispute about the number of 1.13 million tickets that were actually sold, as opposed to being handed out, the turnout was strong but not as good as it could have been.

The tournament average gate was 21,756, with all of host France’s games, as well as the final, selling out.

Some group matches only drew modest crowds. Whilst there is clearly demand for high-profile fixtures an attendance of around 8,000 for Cameroon’s 2-1 win over New Zealand shows the tournament has room to improve in creating buzz as a must-see event. There were plenty of reports throughout the tournament of minimal World Cup branding in the host cities.

The average attendance figures of previous tournaments held in Canada (26,029) and China (37,218), where there were bigger stadiums and audiences, were going to be hard to beat, but even the 2011 Women’s World Cup in Germany pulled in an average gate of 26,430, which suggests more could have been done by Fifa to put bums on seats.

Tickets prices, starting at €9, were not the problem. A top-tier ticket for the final was €84, which compares well with other soccer showpiece fixtures. The cheapest group stage tickets at the 2018 men’s World Cup in Russia started at €90. Black market prices for the US vs France quarter-final reached the US$1,300 range, according to KPMG’s Football Benchmark, indicating that fans would be prepared to pay more.

Free-to-air TV distribution in the host nation extended only to the tournament’s premier fixtures and could well have been a reason for a widely reported lack of buzz around the low-profile contests.

Only around 8,000 saw Cameroon’s 2-1 group stage win over New Zealand

Media

Women’s World Cup TV viewership has been increasing steadily over the past few tournaments but this is arguably where the 2019 tournament has made the most strides. The time difference to North America saw numbers for the USWNT’s final victory fall on Fox compared to the 2015 edition but their quarter-final clash with hosts France saw a peak of 8.24 million viewers. That was a seven per cent increase on the USWNT’s 2015 last-eight victory over China and the most-watched English-language soccer broadcast since last summer’s men's World Cup final.

France 2019 saw 62 broadcasters take rights packages, an increase of 25 on four years ago, with the tournament shown in more than 200 counties. Early estimates put total viewers over Fifa’s one billion target. In the UK, England's semi-final defeat to the US was the most-watched broadcast of the year so far, bringing in 11.7 million viewers.

Overall, a record 28.1 million people tuned into the tournament in the UK via the BBC, with a mix of linear and digital distribution.

Interestingly, the gender split was 62 per cent male, according to the Drum, dispelling the myth that men do not watch women’s game.

In Brazil, their round-of-16 match against France was viewed by more than 35 million people on free-to-air network Globo TV, the largest domestic audience for a women’s soccer game anywhere in history. A further 10.6 million in France caught the game, making it then country’s most-watched women's match of all time.

The other finalists, the Netherlands, drew a TV viewership of 5.48 million (34 per cent of the population) for public broadcaster NPO1, a national record for women’s soccer, an 88 per cent audience share and the biggest domestic figure since the 2014 men’s World Cup semi-final.

Marketing

Despite its status as an official partner, Adidas had a poor tournament and like during the 2018 men’s edition lost out in the battle of the brands to Nike.

Hookit’s social media data shows that although Adidas was promoted consistently, notching 535 promoted posts, its average engagement on those posts was just 7,844. Nike clocked 449 promotional posts over the course of Women’s World Cup, but the average engagement on those was 36,735 per post from a total of almost 16.5 million engagements.

Hulu was a big winner on the social front. The streaming platform’s deal with the US women’s national team players association (USWNTPA) saw it garner 87 promoted posts, with a high average engagement per post of 53,568 for a total of more than 4.6 million engagements. Anheuser Busch will also be happy. the 22 posts promoting its brands scoring 64,024 average engagements, totalling more than 1.4 million engagements in total.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, USWNT partners scored well with Hookit. Other top performing brands during the tournament were Volpi Foods and Volkswagen. Spain also did a good job of promoting their partners on social, with both Iberdrola and Caixa scoring in the millions for engagements.

Of the tournament’s six top-tier partners – Adidas, Wanda, Hyundai/Kia Motors, Qatar Airways, Coca Cola and Visa – only the latter two feature in Hookit’s top 20 for engaging brands with more than 20 posts over the tournament.

Commercially the USWNT’s victory was also a win for Nike. The team’s jerseys sold out on its website and buzz around its latest ad campaign took over the internet.

The US brand was kit supplier for 14 of the 24 nations at France 2014, including three of the semi-finalists. Adidas had six teams, while Le Coq Sportif, Puma, Umbro and Warrix all supported one each.

Nike chief executive Mark Parker revealed mid-tournament that the USWNT home shirt had already become the top-selling soccer jersey, for both men and women, ever sold on Nike’s website in one season. The brand also saw sales surge 200 per cent in comparison to the 2015 edition. US Soccer and Nike’s post-tournament merchandise continued to make waves too.

Wider impact

There can be no doubt that Megan Rapinoe had the biggest influence at France 2019, on and off the pitch

Paid partners are obviously great for women’s soccer in terms of income but female players’ pay is still a long way short of their male counterparts. Were it not for LunaBar donating US$31,000 to every USWNT player the winners’ individual bonuses would not have matched those enjoyed by the men’s team.

The pay gap point was an issue Rapinoe voiced loudly and often whilst enjoying a heightened platform during the tournament. That the US women’s national team (USWNT) remain in litigation with their federation, US Soccer, over pay disparity in relation to the men’s side makes their victory in France all the more impressive.

Chants for equal pay rang out as Rapinoe collected her awards for the golden boot and tournament’s best player from a delegation including Fifa president Gianni Infantino. The New York Times has reported that Infantino, who was not the only president Rapinoe criticised during the tournament, invited the 33-year-old to discuss development of the women’s game going forward. 

On the pitch the USWNT remains dominant. Off it they are also a commercial behemoth, reinforcing the need of their federation to address the pay gap. Hookit’s data ranks the world champions first in its bespoke Performance Engagement (PE) score. Some big name brands such as Anheuser Busch, Coca-Cola and Volkswagen take advantage of the USWNT’s extensive social reach, which begs the question: why did nine federations at France 2019 not have a dedicated social channel for their women’s team? This is a missed opportunity.