Record Women's World Cup viewership shows making matches more widely available works wonders

Cassandra NegleyYahoo Sports Contributor
The U.S. women's national team played in three of the top five most-watched matches of the 2019 Women's World Cup. (Photo by Ira L. Black/Corbis via Getty Images)
The U.S. women's national team played in three of the top five most-watched matches of the 2019 Women's World Cup. (Photo by Ira L. Black/Corbis via Getty Images)

The 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup final between the United States and Netherlands drew an average live audience of 82.18 million, a 56 percent increase from 2015, FIFA announced Friday.

The FIFA global viewership report, prepared by Publicis Sport & Entertainment (PSE), provides evidence of a growing game around the world with a bigger reach and more availability creating larger viewing audiences than any previous year.

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Wider reach, longer viewership hours

The total audience reach was 993.5 million people on live TV and an estimated 481.5 million on digital platforms, resulting in a total estimated reach of 1.12 billion for the tournament, per FIFA. That 30 percent uptick excludes viewing parties.

More people than ever tuned in for a longer amount of time, according to FIFA’s data. There were 540.7 million viewers who watched for 20 minutes or more, an increase of 64.9 percent over 2015. Of those who tuned in for at least one minute of action, 54.4 percent stayed for at least 20 minutes, another increase from other tournaments.

Viewership spiked around the world. Europe’s viewership was up 253 percent, the second largest jump followed by Africa and the Middle East (153 percent). Those who watched at least one minute went on to average 4.14 hours of consumed coverage per viewer, double the world average of 1.92 hours. Europe had the favorable time zone and seven of the eight quarterfinalists.

Asia had the most unique viewers on all platforms, contributing 37.1 percent of the world total, and Chinese viewers were most likely to watch on digital platforms.

USWNT, Netherlands final up 56 percent over 2015

The final, which the U.S. won 2-0 to repeat as champions, was the most watched Women’s World Cup match in history, per FIFA. Its 82.18 million average audience was more than the 52.56 million that watched the U.S. defeat Japan 5-2 in 2015 to break the country’s 16-year drought. The final had a total reach of 263.62 million viewers for at least one minute of play. The at-home average audience was 15.29 million in the U.S. for the final and 5.48 million in the Netherlands, accounting for 32 percent of its total population.

The U.S., which set viewing records throughout the tournament, played in three of the five most-watched matches of the tournament world-wide. The U.S./England semifinal was third (43.16 million) and U.S./France quarterfinal was fifth (35.78 million).

The increase in final viewership from last cycle was large, but not as much as the rest of the tournament experienced. The 52 games averaged 17.27 million live audience per match, a 106 percent increase over 2015. Broken down, that increase was 124 percent at the group stage, 142 percent at the round of 16, 74 percent at the quarterfinals and 88 percent at the semifinals.

The slightly lower increase for the final can be attributed to a smaller Netherlands population than Japan and an 11 a.m. kickoff on the U.S. East Coast (5 p.m. local in France), where it was difficult to plan around on a late weekend morning. It was worse on the West Coast with kickoff at 8 a.m. And for those who weren’t paying attention to the change in start time, it was easy to miss because the rest of the U.S. games in the later rounds had been in the late afternoon.

That scheduling decision, made by FIFA, was slammed by many, including Megan Rapinoe, ahead of the final. The 2015 final aired at 7 p.m. ET, but the match was in Vancouver, Canada, and kicked off 4 p.m. local time.

Brazil proves making tourney available was worth it

France’s victory over Brazil in the round of 16 drew the second-largest audience of the tournament with an average 60.37 million viewers. The soccer-loving country had four of the eight most-watched matches in the tournament, joined by the group matches against Italy (fourth), Australia (seventh) and Jamaica (eighth).

Brazil aired the tournament on Globo, its equivalent of basic cable, for the first time in the tournament’s 28-year history, rather than leave it languishing on subscription channels. That change made a stark difference in the viewing numbers.

South America had the largest increase in consumption at 520 percent. It was fueled by Brazil, which made up 93 percent of the increase. Viewing hours in Brazil were up by 323.4 million viewing hours, an increase of 1,145 percent, according to FIFA. Globo provided 65 percent of the total viewers, though it was also up on Band and SporTV, per the report.

The country made it to the round of 16 in each cycle and saw an 81 percent increase in viewers watching for at least 20 minutes for 2019. Brazil’s numbers are the most vibrant proof that if broadcasters make women’s soccer more available, viewers will tune in to watch.

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