By Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek
July 20, 2011
Yes, the U.S. squad lost. But by all accounts, the amazing trajectory of the national team throughout the just-completed FIFA Women’s World Cup is energizing American soccer at all levels of the game.
For starters, ESPN, widely praised for its strong production, even-handed coverage and the excellent play-by-play of Ian Darke, earned an 8.6 overnight for Japan’s victory over the U.S. in the Women’s World Cup Final on Sunday, marking the network’s best overnight ever for any World Cup game, women’s or men’s. Further, Japan-U.S. set a new world record on Twitter, with a peak volume of 7,196 tweets per second at the end of the match. “Thousands of fans tweeted support” for the U.S. team, including President Obama, according to NBC’s “Nightly News.”
And as brethren validation, added MLS Executive Vice President of Communications Dan Courtemanche via Twitter on Monday, “Great to see all of the WWC coverage. Media outlets will hopefully remember most of these WWC stars play in WPS & will increase coverage.” The short term impact of the team’s run, clearly, has been a benefit for the Women’s Professional Soccer league. According to WPS CEO Anne-Marie Eileraas, ticket sales have increased, traffic to the league’s website has quadrupled, and interest in establishing expansion WPS franchises rose as the World Cup progressed. "This time around, we’re here to keep the momentum going through WPS,” Eileraas told USA Today. "There’s no quick fix for a professional sports league. Our league is something that we develop by bringing people to stadiums, and when they come, they want to come back.”
In the wake of the World Cup players’ return to the U.S., on Wednesday a sellout crowd in Rochester, NY neared 15,000 fans for the WPS magicJack FC-Western New York Flash match featuring magicJack forward and New York area native Abby Wombach, U.S. goalie Hope Solo, and other stars Megan Rapinoe and Christine Rampone. In contrast, the first matchup between the Flash and magicJack on May 22 of this year drew 8,076 fans, according to franchise records. A magicJack spokesperson added that the team “had been receiving an unprecedented level of calls for tickets, and that 250 group tickets had been sold less than 24 hours after the World Cup final ended.”
Additionally, WPS Atlanta Beat Owner T. Fitz Johnson indicated that the team “sold 1,200 tickets" to its July 23 game against magicJack in the two days after the U.S.-Brazil quarterfinal. “It’s been a tough haul to keep the league going and keep us all engaged,” Johnson said. “While we’re all cautiously optimistic to keep this going, [the World Cup] is the shot in the arm that we needed. No way could we afford to buy that kind of advertising. It couldn’t have come at a better time, and with the Olympics staring at us next year, we just need to build a bridge from this year to the Olympics next year."
The Women’s World Cup athletes stand to benefit as well. Even though they arguably left millions of dollars on the sponsorship table with a loss instead of a win, players such as up and coming forward Alex Morgan, Wambach, and Solo will now see their endorsement earnings potential increase considerably.
Men’s soccer is on a roll as well. MLS clubs are averaging 17,526 fans per game this season to date, up 6.3% from the same period last year, according to league records. The Seattle Sounders continue to lead all teams by a wide margin, with an average of 37,189 fans per game. Sporting KC is benefiting from a move to its new Livestrong Sporting Park, with attendance up 81% to date. FC Dallas, New York’s Red Bulls, and the San Jose Earthquakes also are seeing double-digit percentage increases up to this point in the MLS season.