Today the United States Women’s National Team wrapped up what has been a weeklong celebration after winning the 2015 Women’s World Cup Championship. This is the third Women’s World Cup championship, ending a 16-year long drought, since the ‘99ers won it on home soil.
Not only did they complete a dominating win, beating Japan 5-2, Sunday’s final match was the most watched soccer game, men’s or women’s, in U.S. history. Over 27 million viewers watched the game making it higher rated than the recent NBA Finals and MLB World Series.
Earlier in the week, the team was welcomed back to the states with 10,000 of their fans at a rally at L.A. Live in Los Angeles, California. Players addressed the #BestFansInTheWorld and lead the crowd in the popular “I believe that we will win” chant revised to “I believe that we just won!’
The whirlwind celebrations also included a phone call from President Barack Obama extending his congratulations and inviting the team to the White House.
On Friday, the team was honored with a ticker tape parade in the Canyon of Heroes—renamed “The Canyon of Heroines” for the day—in New York City. The parade, traditionally held for New York athletic teams, marks the first time a female athletic team has ever received the honor. 1960 was the last year a woman was the lone honoree: figure-skating champion Carol Heiss Jenkins. Fans, which included not only young girls but young boys wearing the players' jerseys, lined the streets, at times 10-20 people deep, for several city blocks clamoring to get a glimpse of the World Cup Champs. The ticker tape parade ended as New York Mayor Bill de Blasio held a ceremony at City Hall, and presented each of the 23 players and staff with keys to the city.
Lauren Holiday summarized the significance of the day by stating, “I'm not sure if we realize now how incredibly important this was for women's sports in general; women's soccer, obviously, but to have a ticker tape parade for women in however many years, I just think that we're going to look back on this day and see that it was a defining moment in women's sports and I feel so honored and blessed to be a part of that.”
With so much media attention shinning a light on the triumphant victory, hopefully the women's team, and women's soccer in general, can capitalize on the momentum and attract new fans and sponsors to the game, and perhaps even close the pay gap.
There is a major discrepancy in how much money FIFA awards to the teams in the Women’s World Cup, a $15 million total allotment, compared to the Men’s World Cup allotment of $576 million. The US Women’s team took home just $2 million for winning the tournament, while the 2014 men’s winner, Germany, was awarded $35 million; even the US Men’s team took home $9 million for finishing in 11th place. While the Men’s World Cup draws more money in sponsorships and worldwide television rights, the ratings for the WWC final demonstrates there is an audience and market for the women’s game.
A larger piece of the pie for women would allow federations to invest in their teams and youth programs, which would in turn produce better, more skilled athletes and raise the quality of the game across the board. Higher quality play means more viewers, and more viewers equal more dollars. It’s a win-win for everyone. More remarkable still would be to have more women in positions of authority in FIFA, with no more World Cups on artificial turf or snide comments about short shorts and appearances. There is however much progress to look forward to, including the introduction of women’s teams to EA Sports FIFA16 coming out in September.
Up next, the USWNT will be embarking on a 10 game victory tour throughout the US, and you can also support the players on their respective National Women’s Soccer League teams: Boston Breakers, Chicago Red Stars, Seattle Reign FC, FC Kansas City, Washington Spirit, Western New York Flash, Houston Dash, Portland Thorns and Sky Blue FC. It is also likely the team will be making an appearance at next Wednesday’s ESPY Awards, which will be broadcast on ABC.