The Women's World Cup kicks off Friday in France, and the 24-team field for the tournament is the "deepest and most talented ever," according to Kevin Baxter of the L.A. TIMES. An event "long dominated by a small number of well-supported elites ... is now wide open" and "one big reason is money." Corporate sponsors, national federations and individual clubs have "spent heavily in the women's game, expanding domestic leagues and investing in training facilities and grassroots programs." At the same time, women's soccer has "gained unprecedented recognition." The size of corporate investments that have "poured into the women's game often amount to a rounding error compared to what is spent on the men's side, but for a sport that has long been starved for resources, a tiny amount can make a big difference." The investment in the women's game "shows little sign of slowing." FIFA said that the global audience for this summer's tournament "could top one billion for the first time, which has advertisers rushing to cash in." However, not everything has "gone perfectly." The USWNT "sued U.S. Soccer twice in the last three years charging gender discrimination in pay and working conditions," while Nigeria's players "staged a sit-in at their hotel over unpaid salaries and bonuses" after winning the '16 African Women's Cup of Nations. The challenge now will be to "manage the unprecedented growth of the women's game while also maximizing opportunities to close the gender equality gap" (L.A. TIMES, 6/5).
STRONG TURNOUT IMPORTANT: In Ireland, Mary Hannigan wrote women's soccer is "indeed progressing, spectacularly so in some areas, but more often than not it's been in spite of the powers-that-be, and certainly not because of them." If this World Cup "lives up to its promise it can give the women's game the mother -- so to speak -- of all boosts." FIFA's "confident prediction that the global television audience for the tournament will top a billion for the first time" had many people "pricking up" their ears. Attendance figures for the World Cup are "key," as the "visual impact of packed stadia -- or, at least, near-full grounds -- for the 52 games would be huge" (IRISHTIMES.com, 6/6).
DIVIDE NOT SO WIDE ANYMORE: YAHOO SPORTS' Leander Schaerlaeckens wrote it has been "plainly obvious" for some time now that the rest of the world is "catching up to a U.S. team that had once been leagues ahead of the world." The global women's game is "rising," and the U.S. is "no longer the only nation with a well-funded national team and a proper domestic league" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 6/6). In DC, Steven Goff writes with traditional soccer-playing countries, particularly in Europe, placing "greater emphasis on women's soccer, the number of competitive teams has grown." USWNT coach Jill Ellis said, "The level of competition four years on from the last one has exponentially increased. There are different teams now rising" (WASHINGTON POST, 6/7). ESPN's Julie Foudy said this is the "first time that we've ever seen a tournament with as many competitors." Foudy: "The rest of the world is catching up. They're supporting their women's programs, they're funding their women's programs, and it's literally the first time I've been able to count on more than one hand the potential winners which is something to celebrate" ("OTL," ESPN, 6/6).
The USWNT as the defending World Cup champion "naturally carries pressure" into the '19 tournament, as players "shoulder their country’s entire soccer hopes" thanks to the USMNT's failure to qualify for the '18 World Cup, according to Rachel Bachman of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. USWNT players also "face the threat of rapidly improving teams in Europe that could end their dominance of the sport." And they are in the "middle of a distracting battle against the U.S. Soccer Federation in one of the highest-profile gender-discrimination lawsuits in sports history." In March, 28 members of the USWNT sued the USSF for "gender discrimination in pay and treatment" compared with the USMNT. The federation has said that "any differences in pay are because of the teams’ different collective-bargaining agreements and revenues." The USWNT enters a World Cup at the "vanguard of fighting for better conditions in women’s soccer." Ahead of the '15 World Cup in Canada, U.S. players "fought unsuccessfully against playing games on artificial turf." The USWNT's fight against the federation is part of a "growing trend in the global women’s game" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 6/7).
NO BETTER TIME THAN NOW: THE ATHLETIC's Meg Linehan wrote the USWNT as a whole has "proven to be a giant middle finger to the idea of 'sticking to sports.'" By "signing on to the lawsuit against their own federation, everyone on the squad has tacitly embraced a larger fight." For USWNT F Alex Morgan, her choice to "engage vocally in the political conversation is due in large part to the team's celebrity status -- especially in a World Cup year." Morgan said, "This team has the capability to create shockwaves throughout the world, and I think we have the platform to be able to do so." Linehan noted Morgan also made headlines last month after she said that if the team "earns an invite to the White House this summer after the World Cup, she's not going" (THEATHLETIC.com, 6/5).
AT THE HEART OF IT ALL: A USA TODAY editorial is written under the header, "Women's World Cup Runs A Manipulative Game Of Pay Inequity." For all its thrills, the Women’s World Cup is also "one giant, frustrating, grossly unfair, maddeningly manipulative engine of pay inequity." The "real culprit here is actually soccer’s global governing body, FIFA." This year, the payout will be $30M, "split among 24 teams with 23 players each." The payout "might seem large," and is double what was paid in '15, but "won’t go far when divvied up." Even when FIFA "realizes the full potential of the event, it will have to be pressured to be fair" (USATODAY.com, 6/6).
Fox and Telemundo "have high hopes" for what the Women's World Cup might bring and have a "detailed strategy to make that happen," according to Ian Thomas of SPORTS BUSINESS JOURNAL. U.S.-Japan in the '15 World Cup Final on Fox "averaged 25.4 million viewers, making it the most-viewed soccer match ever in the U.S., regardless of gender or competition." Telemundo "averaged 1.27 million viewers" for that match, which made it the "most-watched Women’s World Cup match on U.S. Spanish-language TV in history." Twenty-two of the 52 matches will be aired by Fox on broadcast, the "most ever for the tournament in the U.S. and up from 16" four years ago. All 52 matches "will be aired live, including 27 on FS1 and three on FS2." The net will have "two daily studio shows airing live from its set in Paris, as well as a streaming show on Twitter." Telemundo Deportes also is "broadening its coverage of the tournament, doubling the number of games that will appear on Telemundo proper with 21 games on the network, while in total featuring the most Women’s World Cup matches on Spanish-language television." Both networks are also "making a commitment to feature female voices across their programming" (SPORTS BUSINESS JOURNAL, 6/3 issue).
¡Estamos listos 🙌🏻 ! Hoy comienza la fiesta de la #WWCTelemundo ⚽🎊
DIVERSE AIRWAVES: In L.A., Tom Hoffarth noted all five Fox broadcast teams "have women analysts" in Aly Wagner, Danielle Slaton, Kyndra de St. Aubin, Angela Hucles and Cat Whitehill, and two feature female play-by-play broadcasters in Jenn Hildreth and Lisa Byington. Wagner and JP Dellacamera are in France to call "every USWNT match during the World Cup." Their first call, though, is France-South Korea match Friday. Slaton will also "be in France teamed with Derek Rae." The three other teams "will remain in L.A. calling games off monitors." Telemundo’s Viviana Vila, who was the first woman to do Spanish-language analysis during the net’s' '18 World Cup coverage, "returns for Women’s World Cup and will pair up for select broadcasts with the legendary Andres Cantor." Telemundo has "five women analysts on match coverage along with Paris studio co-hosts Ana Jurka and Carlota Vizmanos" (L.A.. TIMES, 6/3). Telemundo Deportes Exec VP Eli Velazquez said, "We went the extra mile this time specifically on the Women’s World Cup. We decided to really make the talent play authentic and genuine to the experience we’re trying to project. We went out and hired a great group of female talent that have experience in international soccer" (WORLDSOCCERTALK.com, 6/5). In St. Paul, Andy Greder notes de St. Aubin is the only Fox game analyst "without playing experience" on the USWNT. She said, "I never played on the national team, don’t have a single (appearance). I do feel like there is always an added pressure with that." De St. Aubin's booth partner Hildreth said that de St. Aubin "doesn’t show signs of that pressure on TV" (ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, 6/7).
INTO THE FUTURE: ENGADGET's Billy Steele noted for the first time, 4K broadcasts "will be available inside the Fox Sports and Fox Now apps." They will "still be somewhat limited though," as fans will "need an Apple TV or Roku device to watch the action on the pitch in 4K." Fox said that it "plans to add support for more streaming devices in the future, but it isn't talking specific dates right now." Only the games will be 4K, though, as "additional Women's World Cup coverage like studio shows will stream in HD through the apps" (ENGADGET.com, 6/5).
A number of "estimable stateside brands have gone all-in" on the Women's World Cup, as three sponsors that will be "particularly visible throughout Fox’s coverage of the event are Verizon, Volkswagen and Coca-Cola," according to Anthony Crupi of AD AGE. Coca-Cola is actually doing "double duty as an official partner" of FIFA and a "key backer of the USWNT." Verizon and Volkswagen "signed on as premium sponsors of last year’s men’s tourney" and will serve in "similar capacities" throughout the women's event. Verizon "replaces Nationwide as the presenting sponsor of Fox’s one-hour pregame show," while USWNT partner Volkswagen "holds down the same role during the postgame offering." Both presenting brands are "investing heavily in traditional ad units in addition to their respective premium sponsorships." Coca-Cola, meanwhile, has also "stepped in as presenting sponsor of Fox’s World Cup Halftime show." FIFA sponsor Visa is also "expected to be well represented on Fox’s airwaves, as is USWNT partner Nike." Among the sponsors Telemundo has "booked for its 'Summer of Soccer' are Coca-Cola, Boost Mobile, corporate parent Comcast, Mazda and DishLatino." Two brands that will "leverage the World Cup’s sizable audience of younger women are L’Oréal Paris and Vagisil." L’Oréal is "celebrating the accomplishments of broadcasters Viviana Villa and Carlota Vizmanos in a series of branded vignettes, while Vagisil looks to promote its new Scentsitive Secrets line" (ADAGE.com, 6/6).
DIGITAL PROMINENCE: AD AGE's Ethan Craft noted in the past 90 days, "hundreds of branded videos with content related to the Women’s World Cup have been published online, racking up a combined total of 72 million views across all social media platforms." Nike's ad, "Dream Further," is a three-minute video that "features cameos from more than a dozen of soccer’s biggest female names" and "follows 10-year-old soccer player Makena Cooke." The video has "racked up more than 19 million views since it was first posted to Nike’s official account on Saturday" (ADAGE.com, 6/6).
USWNT F Mallory Pugh and former team member Mia Hamm star in a new Gatorade ad coinciding with the start of the Women's World Cup, according to John Meyer of the DENVER POST. The ad, which runs just shy of three minutes, "begins with a flashback of sorts with Hamm in a stadium tunnel about to take the field, holding the hand of a girl who looks like a younger Pugh." It then shows the actress playing Pugh "exploring a soccer fantasy land, kicking and dribbling while Hamm offers voice-over advice as the sage mentor." The actual Pugh then comes on screen, followed "by a shot of her in a tunnel supposedly before a game and telling a young girl, 'Every day is your day when you come out to play'" (DENVERPOST.com, 6/4).