LOS ANGELES — The United States’ 5-2 win over Japan on Sunday in the Women’s World Cup final brought a record rating, with more than 25 million people watching the game on Fox.
With another 1.27 million watching on Spanish language network Telemundo, the combined audience of 26.7 million made it the most-watched soccer game in U.S. history, surpassing the 26.5 million who watched the men’s World Cup final between Germany and Argentina last year.
To put these numbers into perspective, more people watched the American women’s soccer final than all but one game of the recent record-setting NBA Finals on ABC, according to Forbes.
“That is huge because it has long been an argument as to why female athletes get paid so much less than their male counterparts, but I think this game proves there is a massive viewing audience who will indeed watch women compete,” said Michele Yulo, founder and creator of the girl empowerment blog Princess Free Zone.
And yet, women’s soccer still doesn’t get even close to the money and respect the men get.
ThinkProgress.org noted how the victorious American women’s team will get $2 million in winnings from FIFA, the international body that oversees the World Cup, while the American men’s team got $8 million for losing in the first round of the knockout stage last year. Germany, which won the World Cup last year, received $35 million.
The financial prizes are not the only signs of the dramatically different respect for the men’s and women’s programs. In this year’s World Cup, FIFA forced the women to play all their games on artificial turf and not grass, which the men always play on. Artificial turf increases the risk of injury and can make it feel 20 to 30 degrees hotter on the field, female players argued.
A group of leading players from around the world filed a gender discrimination lawsuit in a Canadian court over the issue. FIFA has since said the women will play on grass in 2019.
“When we sort of peel back the layers a bit, the fact that these women are still playing on artificial turf or did for this World Cup … and the fact that the prize money is just a fraction of what the men get, I think that is indicative of unfortunately the second-class status that girls and women’s sports still face,” said Neena Chaudhry, senior counsel and director of equal opportunities in athletics for the National Women’s Law Center.
Who can forget the embattled FIFA president Sepp Blatter saying that women should play in more “feminine clothes” such as “tighter shorts,” or a FIFA article last week on Alex Morgan that called her a “talented goal scorer with a style that is very easy on the eye and good looks to match.”
Just before the women’s quarterfinal match against China in the World Cup, a new report was released showing how big the gaps are in high school when it comes to sports teams for girls and boys.
The report, a state-by-state ranking by the National Women’s Law Center, found that 28 percent of coed public high schools with interscholastic sports programs have what are considered to be large gender disparities in access to team sports — meaning that the percentage of students who are girls is not close to equal to the share of women on sports teams.
Chaudhry of the National Women’s Law Center hopes the U.S. women’s soccer victory, with its massive ratings, will lead to more schools giving more chances for girls and young women to play soccer or whatever other sport they choose.
“I hope that it does in fact spur more opportunities for girls and women at every level and put to rest some of these stereotypes or arguments that girls aren’t interested in sports and people aren’t interested in watching women play sports,” she said.
She also said she hopes the inequalities faced by elite female athletes, especially when it comes to money, will “reignite the discussion about how far we still have to go to really level the playing field for girls and women.”
U.S. player Abby Wambach talked about some of the criticism the U.S. women’s team faced for its less than stellar performance at times during the tournament.
“We want to be treated like the men,” she said referring to the criticism. “We can take it, just like the guys can,” she said.
Maybe after her and her teammates’ record-breaking victory, they will move that much closer to getting their wish.