Women’s soccer enters new era with huge World Cup audiences


LONDON — No longer a sideshow, women’s soccer has stepped into the spotlight.

The sport will further establish its growing appeal on Tuesday as millions prepare to watch the United States take on England in the World Cup semI final.

Fans on both sides of the Atlantic will be tuning in for one of the most highly anticipated showdowns of the monthlong tournament. The game kicks off at 9 p.m. local time (3 p.m. ET). Tickets for the stadium in Lyon, France, are sold out.

This World Cup has been widely popular with fans and nonfans alike, setting viewing records, and organizer FIFA expects to reach 1 billion viewers by the end of the final this Sunday.

For some, it marks the point women’s soccer escapes the shadow of the more popular and lucrative men’s game.

Jane Purdon, chief executive of the U.K.-based Women in Football nonprofit, said the last few years had seen increased commitment and investment in the sport.

“While women’s football has been highly enjoyable as a spectator sport for many years, there is no doubt that this World Cup is showing us that the quality has risen yet again,” she told NBC News.

Increased commitment from broadcasters, with many allocating prime television time to Women’s World Cup games, has had a major effect, she said.

“So what we have is a conjunction of improving standards making an entertaining, skillful spectacle, and viewers having easy access to the games,” Purdon said.

As for Tuesday’s match, the U.S. will hope to build on their confident 2-1 victory over host nation France on Friday. The tournament favorites and defending champions meet a promising young England side that is yet to get past the World Cup semifinal stage.

On Monday Britain’s football-obsessed newspapers reported allegations that members of the U.S. backroom staff were allegedly found wandering around the private area of the England team’s hotel — the so-called spying storm helping to attract even more attention.

But this time sports fans don’t need any encouragement to tune in.

Friday’s quarter-final game between the U.S and France drew more than 6.3 million domestic viewers on Fox and its streaming platforms.

TF1, France’s rights broadcaster, said the game was the most watched program on French TV so far this year, attracting 10.7 million viewers, or just over half of the total viewing audience.

Meanwhile, France’s earlier round of 16 win over Brazil attracted the biggest single television audience for a Women’s World Cup match ever — with a total of 35.2 million people watching in Brazil.

The previous record for a single broadcast at the Women’s World Cup was the 2015 final between the U.S. and Japan, which was watched by 25.4 million people.

The BBC, the U.K. rights holder, said the 2019 tournament has so far reached 22.2 million British viewers, well in excess of the 12.4 million record set in 2015 during the World Cup in Canada.

And in Italy, 7.3 million viewers watched the team take on Brazil. The previous high saw just 202,844 tune in for the Japan versus the U.S. final at the 2011 World Cup, according to FIFA.

The total viewership is still way behind the men’s World Cup, which was seen by more than 3.5 billion viewers last year, but it’s growing fast. The 1 billion viewers expected this year is a big increase on 2015 when 750 million watched the action on TV and 86 million tuned in online or their mobile devices.