Twenty years ago, as interest began to swell for the 1999 Women’s World Cup, I suggested to an editor that it would be a good idea to cover the late-round games. His response: Nobody cares about women’s soccer.
A few weeks later, when it was announced that the 90,000-seat Rose Bowl was sold out for the final and late-night TV hosts were jumping on the U.S. team bandwagon, I offered to go to Pasadena, Calif., on my own dime because I wanted to witness and write about the groundbreaking event. My story made the front page. More than 40 million TV viewers tuned in. The editor — like many across the nation — admitted he had underestimated the grip that team had on the nation, and I was reimbursed for my travel expenses.
So, forgive me for getting misty-eyed on Sunday afternoon, as I watched travelers at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport gather around TV sets and cheer as the 2019 U.S. team hoisted a fourth World Cup trophy.
Standing next to me were my 19-year-old daughter, Sophie, and her friend, Marissa, both lifelong soccer players, who wore red, white, and blue headbands for the trip and followed the team’s every move. We watched the first half of the United States’ 2-0 win over the Netherlands from the airplane, at 30,000 feet (Thanks, American Airlines, for the on-board Wi-Fi!)
The Fox ratings for the final are still coming in, but the estimated TV audience is around 19 million. Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, 5.5 million people watched the game, which means 88% of the TVs there were tuned in.
ESPN announced over the weekend that it would televise the remainder of the National Women’s Soccer League games. Budweiser on Sunday became the official beer of the league, which employs 55 players who participated in the Women’s World Cup.
In other words, lots of people care about women’s soccer these days. And it wasn’t just the soccer — brilliant as it was — that captivated fans during this World Cup. It was the women’s confidence, grit, and personality that left an impression.
They don’t hide who they are. They don’t apologize for how they celebrate (although, I still think the Americans went a bit overboard toward the end of the 13-0 Thailand thrashing).
And they certainly speak their minds. Megan Rapinoe took on the president of the United States and called out FIFA leaders. Brazil’s 33-year-old legend, Marta, gave a riveting, impassioned speech on the field after her team lost to France in the Round of 16, challenging younger players to work harder and value their profession more. It is a message that all young people should heed.
“It’s wanting more. It’s training more. It’s being ready to play 90 plus 30 minutes. This is what I ask of the girls,” Marta said, tears in her eyes. “The women’s game depends on you to survive. Cry at the beginning, so you can smile at the end.”
These women don’t sit back quietly and hope for a raise like women of my generation have done our entire careers. They demand a raise. Heck, they are suing their bosses for a raise.
As the American women lifted their trophy, tens of thousands of fans in the stadium chanted: “Equal pay! Equal pay!”
The pay issue is complicated because prize money is related to revenue generated, and the Women’s World Cup is still far behind the men’s tournament. The 2019 Women’s World Cup will reportedly generate over $100 million and pay $30 million in prize money. The 2018 men’s Cup made over $5 billion and paid $400 million in prize money.
But when it comes to national-team salaries, bonuses, sponsorship, promotion, and training costs, the U.S. women have every right to demand the same as (if not more than) the U.S. men, who failed to qualify for the last World Cup.
Before we put this fantastic event in our rear-view mirrors, let’s recap some winners and losers.
— Winner: Dutch, Jamaican, and Brazilian fans. They bring fun everywhere they go.
— Loser: FIFA, for scheduling the finals of the men’s Copa America and Gold Cup the same day as the Women’s World Cup final. Let the women have one day to themselves every four years.
— Winner: Female coaches. It was nice to see both finalists being coached by women, Jill Ellis (USA) and Sarina Wiegman (Netherlands).
— Loser: French organizers, who faced criticism for failing to promote the tournament enough.
— Winner: Chilean goalkeeper Christiane Endler, who proved great players can be found on underfunded teams.
— Winner/Loser: Video Assistant Referee (VAR). Depends whom you ask.
— Biggest winner: Women. Everywhere.