Regional Director, USA Sport Group.
Women’s soccer in the US has always been bigger than in the majority of countries, and this was shown in the number of people watching their games during London 2012. NBC reported a new record of the number of people watching any one event on its sports network… ever. That includes the Stanley Cup Finals, and any other Olympic event in history; and that was for the women’s Olympic soccer final. On average 4.35 million people watched the game on television, and nearly 1.5 million people streamed the game live from NBC.com – which eclipsed the 100m final and even the female Gymnastics all around final when Team USA won their first team gold since 1996. But as I said, we already knew women’s soccer was popular in the States… But it seems as though the rest of the world has finally caught on, and is now treating the women’s international game with the respect it deserves.
The final between USA and Japan pulled a record attendance into the stadium – 80,203 people were sat in Wembley to watch the States win gold; which is both an Olympic, and European attendance record for women’s soccer. Although predictably the men’s attendances did beat the women’s by nearly double, the increase for tickets to see the women since Beijing was huge, with nearly 80,000 more people watching them strive for Olympic success in the stadiums.
It was clear to see when I was surfing on social networking site Twitter (not during work time, obviously), that when the men’s GB team played – people were struggling to accept them as a serious challenge, and didn’t seem that concerned with the results. But when the women played, twitter was alive with compliments, excitement and basking in the glory of the game. England’s 1966 World Cup winner, Sir Bobby Charlton, even came out and publicly declared that his opinion had been swayed:
"I have had to remind myself that I am not watching the men… I was skeptical of women's football - that was a mistake. Women's football used to be ridiculed, but not anymore." (From BBC Sport)
I for one, have also been converted, as I believe a lot of the world will have been too. And maybe now women’s soccer can take that leap forward, and follow in the footsteps of the USA.