PARIS — The get-in price for Friday’s Women’s World Cup quarterfinal matchup between the United States and France is hovering around $425.
That is a high-rent price that serves as proof of the passion there is for women’s soccer, even if the sport’s signature event feels like it is operating on a shoestring marketing budget.
Blame FIFA or blame the French organizing committee or just blame decades of indifference to this sport specifically, and women's athletics in general, that is finally coming awake. Whatever it is, the distance between the on-field product and the off-field promotional efforts is stunning.
On Friday night, France and the United States, the world’s top two teams, are set to play in an epic clash that could very well determine the World Cup. There is incredible talent, ferocious competitive spirit and a simmering rivalry built on mutual respect for the quality of the foe.
It should represent everything women’s soccer can be – sports in general, really – hence the huge sums that fans are willing to dole out to bear witness inside the 46,000-seat Parc des Princes. The crowd is expected to be near 50-50, the Americans’ strong traveling fan base snuffing out any home-nation advantage.
“What a showcase piece,” U.S. coach Jill Ellis said Monday. “I’m sure a lot of people would want it later in the tournament, but it is what it is. … Probably myself and [French coach] Corinne [Diacre] are both like, ‘You know what? We’ve got good players, good teams, good setups. And let’s go for it.”
Yet all over Paris, the nation’s largest city, its capital and where the contest will be played, there is little of that “let’s go for it” mindset.
You’d be hard-pressed to know the Women’s World Cup, let alone this specific game, is even being staged here.
There are few billboards, signs, banners or pretty much anything else touting the event. Fan festivals are minimal. Restaurants and bars aren’t plastered with signs welcoming fans or saying they are serving the official beverage, or whatever, of the World Cup.
It’s no different in smaller host cities, such as Reims, where the U.S. played Monday in front of maybe 15,000 American fans. There is reportedly nothing being spent in other regional cities around Europe with Cup contenders and easy access to the tournament such as London, Berlin and Rome. Seven of the eight quarterfinal participants come from soccer-mad Europe.
In contrast, last year’s men’s World Cup in Russia not only saw promotions blanket the country, especially in Moscow, but nearly every major historic site in the city had massive and impossible-to-miss signage hyping up … the 2022 men’s World Cup in Qatar.
This time it’s like no one realized, or even cared to realize, that this was a big deal, let alone one with the easy potential of becoming an even bigger deal.
That may be the most frustrating part. This isn’t failing because of a lack of marketing. It’s succeeding in spite of it. Not capitalizing on it is just bad business; collective ignorance overwhelming clear reality.
It’s particularly striking that this quarterfinal will be the last game of the tournament even held in Paris. Both semifinals and the final are taking place in Lyon, home to powerhouse club Olympique Lyonnais Féminin, yes, but also a rustic city in the southeast portion of the country with a metro population of 2.2 million (and limited hotel space).
For an event like this, all roads should lead to Paris, home to 12.5 million people and a global hub of easy travel and tourism. You hold the NCAA tournament subregionals in Boise. Not the Final Four.
Everyone running this event should be ashamed, although don’t hold your breath on that occurring. The only way to get a FIFA official to feel shame is to bribe him or her to feel shame.
Regardless, FIFA should be both funding its own promotional efforts for the women’s game as well as demanding, contractually, that the host nation spend considerable sums on it as well.
When asked about the lack of everything, a FIFA spokesman told the BBC, “One of the main promotional objectives is to maximize the audience – both in front of their screens and in the stadiums. Even though outdoor advertising is a part of that campaign, it is only one of several platforms deployed in this phase. In Paris, the outdoor advertising is centralized around the stadium and around the FIFA fan experience."
Well, when France hosted the 2016 men’s European Championship, public viewing parties were set up across the country, including massive screens surrounding no less than the Eiffel Tower.
No such thing exists for the Women’s World Cup. About the only pulse of a soccer tournament going on around the famed tourist destination is the Fox Sports broadcast platform set up in the far distance across the Rhine.
At least television understands what it has here. Networks have reported record viewership numbers not just here in France (despite some games being on cable), but in England, the United States and other nations around the world.
Women’s soccer has come an astounding distance over the past couple of decades, with the quality of play rising. The competition is tremendous. The fan base is diverse. The storylines are rich. The action and anticipation are capturing attention.
This has gone far beyond the empowering message that women’s sports deliver to half the population, where young girls learn the same lessons of teamwork and relentlessness that boys have for centuries.
That endures, of course, but mostly this is just a lot of fun. Which is what Friday night here should be – France vs. the United States, a heavyweight clash that everyone has been waiting for and hoping to occur.
“Hopefully a complete spectacle, just an absolute media circus,” U.S. forward Megan Rapinoe said. “I hope it’s huge and crazy. That’s what it should be.”
“This is the best game,” she continued. “This is what everybody wanted. I think we want it. Seems like they’re up for it. … It’s going to be totally awesome. This is what everybody wants, and these are the biggest games that you kind of dream about as a kid.”
If you’ve got $400-$500, you can get into a far corner of the stadium and watch.
And FIFA didn’t think this was a big enough deal to merit marketing?
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