Women's soccer draws viewers, fans as FIFA scandal simmers

Wed Jun 10, 2015 7:26pm EDT
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By Nicole Mordant and Rod Nickel

VANCOUVER/WINNIPEG, June 10 (Reuters) - Global television audiences for the Women's World Cup in Canada bounced sharply higher in the opening days of the tournament and merchandise flew off the shelves, underscoring the growing popularity of the beautiful game.

Some 3.3 million Americans tuned in to watch Team USA's opening win against Australia, FIFA said on Wednesday, three times the number who saw its opener in Germany four years ago.

In China, viewership nearly doubled for the country's first game while 16 percent more Japanese - 4.2 million - watched their defending champions beat Switzerland in the opener than watched them in the semifinals in the last tournament.

A showdown between France and England drew roughly 1.5 million viewers in each country, a third more French viewers than last time.

The figures, while far below the average official rating of 188.4 million viewers per game in the men's World Cup in Brazil last year, highlights the growing momentum in the women's game.

Women's soccer has played second fiddle to the more lucrative men's game but the bribery scandal surrounding FIFA, the sport's governing body, and hopes for a U.S. triumph close to home has spurred interest in a section of the sport less drenched in money.

"The reason people sponsor sport is to connect to the ideals of sport," said Wade Oosterman, president of BCE Inc, a major sponsor and parent of the event's broadcaster, Bell Media.

"It's the joy of the game, it's competition, it's integrity and fair play, it's all those positive attributes - and thank God the Women's World Cup represents those in spades."   Continued...