The Women's World Cup Opened Today. Does Anyone Care?

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

The Women’s World Cup (WWC) opened today in New Zealand. Do you know who played? Did you know that it ever started?

I didn’t either. Most of the world collectively yawns at the WWC because most of the world understands soccer and knows that the women’s game is generally a plodding bore. Compared to the men’s game, it isn’t second-rate, (that would assume it is the “next level down”). It is more like comparing 8-man high school football to the Big Ten. Yes, they play the “same game” but it isn’t the same thing.

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When “equal pay” for equal play is brought up, someone always mentions that the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) got drubbed by a Texas U-15 team. That is true, but it is also true that it wasn’t an aberration. My son’s team handily beat the USWNT when he played for the Olympic Development squad. The boys were told to back off after a while.

Soccer is a spectator sport. If the WWC generated the same revenue as the men’s tournament, then pay them the same amount. But they don’t. They don’t put the same amount of eyes on the product. They don’t put the same amount of people in seats. This WWC, FIFA is giving away tickets to fill the stands.

And, broadcast rights are sold based on the revenue that broadcasters can make. If no one watched the World Cup, the World Cup would dry up.  But the World Cup is more popular than the Olympics and broadcasters pay handsomely to televise it. In the past, the World Cup and the Women’s World Cup were sold as separate TV packages. That makes sense because the two products are not the same. But that is about to change. By force.

After this year, FIFA will likely package and sell both products together as one package deal. You want the right to broadcast the World Cup? Then buy the WWC too. The reason is obvious. By selling both together, FIFA avoids the obvious comparisons and will pay the women more money without having to justify the “why.” The “why” is equity, not equality. FIFA will soon be paying WWC players off their own tournament and out of the revenue earned by the men’s tournament too. It’s all the same game, right? No, it isn’t.

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March Madness is an example. The NCAA now sells the broadcast rights for men and women as a package. ESPN and others touting that men and women are the same pointed out that this year’s women’s final was the most watched final in history. Can you name the teams? Probably not, but over 9 million people watched at one time or another. That’s a smaller audience than the average men’s game, but it was still used as an example that men and women are somehow the same. If you want to watch women’s basketball and that is your thing, then watch and enjoy. The WNBA All-Star game was held a few days ago, and the stands were full. Great for them. We were told the game generated its highest TV rating ever! 850,000 people tuned in. That’s only 18 percent of the NBA’s All-Star game, and that game had its lowest TV rating, ever. Sports Illustrated tweeted out a “DUNK!!” by the WNBA’s marquee player Brittney Griner. Maybe not. She needed a running start. A big, running start. The refs didn’t call traveling because that would be sexist I guess.

Griner took more steps on that “dunk” than she took on her perp-walk into a Russian court.

The Women’s World Cup is far more popular than it was 10 years ago, and it is all because America fielded a dominant team. A lot of patriots tuned in to watch America kick some butt. The USWNT drubbed the competition. And America loves a winner. Now the world is catching up. America isn’t going to dominate the competition like it used to. And Rapinoe is still on the team, so no thanks. My prediction? Interest in this WWC, at least in America, won’t match past tournaments, and If the U.S. squad doesn’t make the finals, that final will generate about the same interest as a county fair cornhole competition.

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I write about this equity push because it’s forced. If the WWC generated the same interest and profits, then pay them equal money. But they don’t. And if the USWNT becomes just another team on the world stage, America will quickly lose interest.

If anyone wants to watch the WWC, cool. You be you. If that is what you want to spend your time doing, great. But don’t pretend it is the same game. It isn’t and everyone knows it is, including the USWNT when it plays a game against U15 boys.

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