Fifa is hoping that 1.3 million spectators will flock to the stadiums in France for the upcoming 2019 Women’s World Cup and a billion will watch on television, in order to achieve its participation target of 60m girls and women playing football by 2026.
According to Sara Booth, the head of women’s football competitions at Fifa, the football governing body has already sold 650,000 tickets for this summer’s tournament, which looks like it'll surpass the 750,000 tickets it sold in total in Canada during the 2015 Women’s World Cup.
The 2015 Women’s World Cup final, which saw the United States defeat Japan in an eventful 5-2 match, drew in a record of 13.3m viewers on ABC, doubling the 8.6m viewers drawn in the previous final in 2011.
“Our first aim is that we want it to be the biggest and best ever,” she tells The Drum. “We know competitions drive development, so we hope that this competition and the success of the Women’s World Cup will help us achieve our participation targets.”
“We see this as an important milestone in the countdown to helping us achieve that target.”
Booth acknowledges there will be challenges to achieving these ambitious goals, but points out every sport has their own challenges and focusing on the important things will help Fifa meet its targets.
This means focusing on its women’s football strategy and putting a lot of muscle behind the Women’s World Cup through investments, like its preparation programme for the teams where they get US$480,000 to prepare for the tournament.
“We’ve got a club benefits programme where clubs receive benefits after the Women’s World Cup to reimburse them for their players being out with their national team – so there’s a lot of unique things that are happening now, and we see very much a golden moment within the women’s game,” she adds.
In addition, Fifa will once again receive help from Wanda Sports, owned by Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda, to drum up attendances and viewership. Wanda was the first Chinese brand to partner with Fifa, alongside Adidas, McDonalds, Hyundai and Qatar Airlines, for the 2018 World Cup.
Wanda’s involvement in the tournament helped attract 100,000 Chinese tourists to Russia, of which 40,000 watched the games in stadiums. An even bigger number of Chinese audiences tuned in on the television as China recorded 14 of the top 20 largest audiences in the viewing figures on TV.
It also opened the doors for other Chinese sponsors like smartphone giant Vivo, electronics brand Hisense, dairy brand Mengniu, as well as technology company Luci and clothing brand Diking. The companies are throwing their support behind Fifa’s flagship tournament as the country’s love with the game continues to grow after President Xi Jinping said he wanted China to become a football superpower by 2050.
At a press conference held in Beijing yesterday (March 26), Wanda announced it would once again provide all the 312 flag bearers for all 52 of the Women’s World Cup matches. It will fly 156 children from China and pick 156 children in France, from the ages of 12 to 17 years old, to be flag bearers.
An emphasis on grassroots development means all the children will come from grassroots football clubs and academies in China and France. Six girls from the Beijing Campus Football Association, one of the organisations that Wanda is partnering with in China, were present at the event to launch the project.
Hengming Yang, chief executive officer of Wanda Sports, tells The Drum he sees a huge shift in momentum in recent times behind women’s football and women’s sport in general. He says Wanda is committed to playing a positive role to support and sustain that through its partnership with Fifa.
Emphasizing that Wanda's involvement in the 2018 World Cup was not a one-off, Yang explains that as the only Chinese brand currently working with Fifa on the Women’s World Cup, Wanda sees it as both a huge opportunity and responsibility to grow the women’s game.
The country’s women’s national team currently sits at number 17 in the Fifa/Coca-Cola World rankings after coming in third in the 2018 Asian Cup, thrashing hosts Jordan 8-1. The numbers of girls participating in grassroots football are increasing every year as well, with the high quality of their skills being praised.
While the game is growing at the grassroots and national level, there is still more work needed to be done, like changing parents’ mindsets about their daughters having the right physical appearance to play football and promoting the sport as a viable career.
“We are excited to be launching Wanda’s first Fifa Women’s World Cup campaign, as it genuinely breaks new ground for the company. When we signed up as a Fifa partner, it was with a long-term commitment to work towards the growth of the game in all forms,” he says.
“It was just the start of our journey and we are proud that Wanda Sports will be giving the Women’s World Cup in France the same level of focus and investment this summer.”
Booth adds that the flag bearers programme will give the participants a unique insight into being at a World Cup and actually being close to the action and on the pitch, which Fifa hopes will inspire them.
She explains that the promotion and the profile that will come out of the programme will mean the participants will go back home to their communities and young people will see that they have been to a Women’s World Cup and it could inspire others young girls to start playing football.
“It is also the work they’re doing with grassroots programmes. We saw the Beijing Campus Football Association here at today’s media event, and that’s the key. To not just do it but also promote it on the ground, it is fundamental that our partners are doing that and we are very excited to have Wanda engaging at that level,” she says.
Wanda will also promote the Women’s World Cup on Weibo and WeChat and use virtual technology during the tournament in France to create new experiences for all fans.
Ultimately, Booth says while not every football player will get to touch the trophy, some will dream of touching it. That is what Fifa wants to do with this World Cup, by creating a special experience, not only for girls, but for more boys to start playing football as well.
"Pull on your shirt, your boots and start playing football, that’s what we want from this Fifa Women’s World Cup."
Advertisers too will be keen to get onboard as China contributed $835m in extra adspend, or 1.0% of the entire ad market during the 2018 World Cup. Barclays Bank recently signed a three-year deal worth over £10m with the Football Association, which is being described as the largest single investment in British women’s sport by a business.