The US is on course for glory at the Women's World Cup — but its era of dominance may be under threat

Key Points
  • The latest figures from Europe's governing body show there are now 1.3 million female players registered in Europe.
  • Earlier this year, England's Women's Super League (WSL) announced a first of its kind £10 million ($12.5 million) title sponsorship deal with Barclays which includes £500,000 worth of prize money.
  • Elsewhere in Europe, Spanish giants Real Madrid last month announced plans to launch its own women's team.
Megan Rapinoe (Reign FC) of United States during the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France Round Of 16 match between Spain and USA at Stade Auguste Delaune on June 24, 2019 in Reims, France.
Jose Breton/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The U.S. has the chance take home the FIFA Women's Soccer World Cup on Sunday for a fourth time, but on the evidence of the 2019 tournament its era of dominance may struggle to be extended.

America's progress to the final has been far from comprehensive, after narrow victories against France, Spain and England in each of the knockout rounds.

In fact, the U.S. was the only team outside of Europe to make it into the last eight of the Women's World Cup.

"We (European soccer nations) are closing the gap with the USA," Georgie Hodge, head of women's soccer at Base Soccer Agency and part of the Adobe Stock "Squad behind the Squad" campaign, told CNBC. "The USA have always been successful at the World Cup and participation levels for girls playing soccer in the States is huge so there's a bigger pool of talent. In Europe we have to follow that, but I'd now say we're closing that gap pretty quickly."

The latest figures from Europe's governing body show there are now 1.3 million female players registered in the continent. Between 2012 and 2016, the amount of professional or semi-professional players more than doubled and the number of national teams in Europe, including youth teams, climbed from 173 to 233. England, France, Germany, Netherlands, Norway and Sweden, (all of whom made at least the quarter-finals in 2019) now have more than 100,000 female players each.

Earlier this year, England's Women's Super League (WSL) announced a first of its kind £10 million ($12.5 million) title sponsorship deal with Barclays which includes £500,000 worth of prize money. The league will also be further boosted this season with the addition of Manchester United and Tottenham, after both gained promotion. Elsewhere in Europe, Spanish giants Real Madrid last month announced plans to launch its own women's team, following in the footsteps of rivals Barcelona, which has had its own women's team for nearly two decades.

Record coverage

As the competition reaches a climax this weekend, when the U.S. plays the Netherlands, it will bring to an end a tournament that has achieved record levels of coverage. One of the biggest indicators showing a changing attitude toward women's soccer has been the TV viewing figures.

The first semi-final, which saw defending champions USA narrowly beat England, aired on BBC One in the U.K. and saw a peak audience of 11.7 million viewers, making it the most watched show so far this year on British television.

However, despite the newfound attention on women's soccer, it appears there is still some way to go for it to match the men's game on certain metrics. FIFA announced that matches for last summer's men's World Cup had more than 3.5 billion fan engagements. Almost all of that number was made up of people who watched at least one minute of televised match coverage.

A 2018 study commissioned by the International Working Group on Women and Sport (IWG) found that despite the growing interest in women's sport globally, there are still vast differences in the media coverage of men's and women's sport. The study showed less than 10% of coverage was for women's sport.

"We are starting to see more of an acceptance and that's because we have strong women who are actually just ploughing through any negative comments they receive," said Hodge. "We need to normalize it and that's exactly what we are doing."

Women's sports in the U.S. receive only 4% of sports media coverage, according to the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota.

"When I was growing up, women in football were not visible in magazines or newspapers so I had nobody to look up to when establishing my identity as a young footballer," said former England women's soccer captain Casey Stoney who is also part of the "Squad behind the Squad" campaign.

"Balanced representation of sport in media is crucial to the future and longevity of women's football, to help inspire girls and young women to get involved in the game which has so enriched my life."

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