Economics

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Women’s World Cup: Great Victory, but Where were the Sponsors?

15 Jul, 2015

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

It all comes back to money.

Yes, the members of the U.S. WNT covered themselves with glory (and gold confetti) to cap off the holiday weekend. Yes, it was a rout. Yes, the hat trick was amazing.

But by Monday morning, the question that was hammering at the Internet like a woodpecker on a tree was the old chestnut: where was all the money?

Pundits at Yahoo! Sports were quick to point out that the USA women earned a $2 million cash prize for their victory, double the amount that the Japanese women’s team earned in 2011. But compared to the $35 million that German men’s team took away for their victory in the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, it was puny.

So what was to blame for the disparity? One endangered species and one questionable governing body.

The endangered species: sponsors. According to Slate’s soccer blog, the number of sponsors for the Women’s World Cup was noticeably low. With the news of record ratings for the final, possible sponsors and corporations are likely kicking themselves for the missed opportunity. Had they advertised on Fox, the official network broadcaster, they would have reached the estimated 25.4 million viewers of Sunday’s game—more than the final game of last year's World Series, more than the average number for this year's NBA and NHL finals, and more than any single men's World Cup broadcast in history.

But the sponsorship just wasn’t there, which is tied to coverage. According to Market Watch, it’s not a gender issue as much as it is a financial issue, and as such, it ties in with FIFA’s (at best) questionable dealings:

“Back in 2005, ESPN and Univision spent $425 million for the broadcast rights to the men’s and women’s World Cups from 2007 through 2014. By last year’s World Cup in Brazil, ESPN had built an ecosystem capable of broadcasting games on multiple channels and through its WatchESPN app. It built itself into an ideal World Cup partner and, by 2011 and 2014, helped draw some of the largest audiences in men’s and women’s World Cup history.

Then FIFA made a cash grab. In 2011, Fox paid roughly $425 million for the broadcast rights to the men’s World Cup in 2018 and 2022 and this year’s women’s World Cup and the next women’s Cup in 2019. That didn’t look so bad until February, when FIFA — scrambling to secure December dates for its 2022 World Cup in sun-soaked Qatar (right at the end of the National Football League season) — awarded Fox the 2023 women’s World Cup and the 2026 World Cup without a bid.”

Market Watch noted the numbers that Fox Sports could pull down could not begin to compare to those of ESPN. That meant the Women’s World Cup lacked eyeballs simply because FIFA made deals that made no sense.

“FIFA is letting Fox work out the bugs in its ecosystem and, hopefully, bulk up in time for Russia’s World Cup in 2018, which FIFA clearly sees as the big payoff,” the article stated. “Instead of questioning this and lobbying for the best possible scenario for its teams, U.S. Soccer tacitly endorsed using the women’s World Cup as training wheels for FIFA’s broadcaster of choice by tying Fox into a multi-year, multi-network deal for U.S. Soccer and Major League Soccer broadcasts worth approximately $600 million through 2022.”

In a year when FIFA seems to have done all it can to offend the world, something else has emerged. And this time, says Slate, U.S. Soccer seems to be playing along.

“Women’s soccer, and especially U.S. women’s soccer stateside, is strong enough to stand on its own and exciting enough to draw huge audiences without all that much help. While it’s great to see the U.S. women’s team put up big ratings numbers even when FIFA has denied them the broadest potential viewership possible, it shouldn’t be in this position in the first place without at least a fight from U.S. Soccer. We don’t blame Fox for courting FIFA and U.S. Soccer and graciously accepting World Cup broadcast duties, but FIFA isn’t an organization that U.S. Soccer should be emulating — if not placating.”

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