This summer, soccer fans turned their attention to Canada for the FIFA Women’s World Cup. The United States team went in determined to take back the trophy that had eluded them since the famous 1999 World Cup, the one that provided a boom in participation in women’s soccer around the nation. This team was also particularly motivated given their extremely close loss in the 2011 World Cup final that featured many of the same players. Although they won gold in the 2012 Olympics, clearly, the main goal was always to take home the World Cup.
The team went on to dominate the World Cup. They would take on Japan in the finals and put on an offensive show by scoring four goals in the first 16 minutes, three of which came from Carli Lloyd. They went onto win the match 5-2.
The Women’s World Cup this year reached unprecedented levels of popularity for soccer in America. It shattered previous soccer viewing records with over 20 million viewers. It was easily the most popular sporting event of the summer, beating both the NBA Finals as well as the NHL Stanley Cup in viewership. These numbers show that soccer can be a major draw in the U.S. The results are also promising for those looking to take women’s professional soccer to the next level.
Participation in women’s soccer has seen a huge, but steady, rise since the 1999 Women’s World Cup. The challenge now is to translate this increase in popularity into a successful professional league. Women’s soccer has struggled to do this in the past, such as Women’s Professional Soccer, which failed mainly due to internal problems with the organization more than viewership. However, the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), founded in 2012, has so far succeeded with getting exposure through deals with Fox Sports and ESPN. The league currently has nine teams and has garnered enough interest from several sources to expand the league even more. There is no doubt that the league will benefit from the World Cup as many of the U.S. stars like Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd and Hope Solo also play in this league. After this summer, many fans are realizing that they can watch the stars of the U.S. national team in their home city.
It is important not to judge the popularity of the league by the standards of the biggest sports leagues, given that all of them were founded prior to 1947. The NWSL has already outperformed all of its predecessors and, judging by the popularity of this year’s World Cup, will continue to grow.