A few weeks ago we kicked off the Women’s World Cup by sharing an interview with Brookings Press author Andrew Zimbalist on how FIFA treats the Women’s World Cup differently than the men’s.
Zimbalist’s latest book, “Circus Maximus,” delves into the outsized costs of hosting major sporting events and asks the important question: Is it worth it?
We caught up with Zimbalist again after the incredible victory by the U.S. Women’s National Team over Japan to learn more about the game. How many people tuned in? Did Sepp Blatter attend? And why, despite continually strong TV ratings, do teams in the Women’s World Cup play on subpar fields and win less prize money than the men?
To learn more, read the full interview with Zimbalist below.
The Women’s World Cup seems to have been a big success. From what you have seen, how did it fare in terms of TV ratings, attendance, and payoff for host country Canada?
Zimbalist: The TV ratings have been impressive. The semi-final game between the U.S. and German teams earned a 6.1 rating with 8.4 million viewers in the U.S. In Germany, despite the fact that the match started at 1 am German time, it garnered a 42.6 percent share with an average of 2.63 million viewers.
Yesterday’s final game between the U.S. and Japan earned a 15.2 overnight rating. That handily beats even the previous U.S. record for the single highest-rated soccer game of all time, which was a 13.3 overnight for the Women’s World Cup USA-China final in 1999.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman can crow all he wants about the resurgence of hockey’s popularity, but its Stanley Cup final game this year drew only a 5.6 rating. The women’s final even came within a hair of matching the NBA championship game last month between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors which garnered a 15.9 overnight rating.
Attendance at the games has also been strong, the small size of some venues notwithstanding. Authorities are expecting close to 1.5 million tickets sold.
There were a lot of complaints at this World Cup about how the women were treated compared to how the men are treated. The women were forced to play on turf, opposing teams shared hotels, brackets didn’t seem well planned or thoughtful (top teams met in earlier stages of the tournament, which does not typically happen in a men’s tournament). Do you think that these kind of things will start to change in a post-Blatter regime? What else needs to change at FIFA?
Zimbalist: While FIFA president Sepp Blatter likes to take full credit for the growth of women’s soccer, by any objective measure FIFA continues to treat the women in a blatantly discriminatory manner. The men play their World Cup on grass. The women wanted to play on grass as well, but were denied. Turf is not only a different game in terms of ball movement, but it entails rubber pellets from the turf flying into the face, hair, and uniforms of the players. Despite the strong TV ratings and attendance of the Women’s World Cup, the prize money for the men’s Cup is 38.5 times higher than it is for the women’s Cup. And just to put an exclamation point on the prejudicial treatment of the women, neither Blatter nor his chief lieutenant, FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke, appeared at any of the Women’s World Cup games. They were both in Brazil for the entirety of the men’s World Cup in 2014.
Since announcing he would step down at a date in the future, Sepp Blatter has given murky comments about his future with FIFA. When do you expect Blatter to actually step down, and if so what do you think his role will be in the future of FIFA? What will it take for FIFA to turn itself around?
Zimbalist: Blatter is hanging around long enough to try to influence the selection of his successor. After the previously corrupt FIFA president, Joao Havelange, retired in 1998, Blatter arranged for Havelange to have a handsomely remunerated and perked position as the president emeritus. Blatter would like a similar deal, along with the possibility of playing an eminence gris role. Whether this comes to pass will be a function of how the U.S. and Swiss investigations of FIFA’s corruption play out.
FIFA is a monopoly of the world’s most popular sport. It is subject to no regulatory authority. We shouldn’t expect abuse from FIFA to disappear. The best we can hope for is that it be minimized. To accomplish this FIFA needs to change its voting system for selecting its president, to accept oversight by an independent board of directors, to make the votes of its executive committee on the host country transparent, and to incorporate women equally into its decision-making apparatus.