Following a tumultuous build-up to their Fifa Women’s World Cup campaign dominated by a dispute with their own federation and head coach, Spain defied the odds by beating England’s Lionesses in last Sunday’s final to win the tournament for the first time.
La Roja captain Olga Carmona’s winning goal was the crowning moment on an epic few weeks in Australia and New Zealand, which saw the world’s best players deliver a compelling tournament defined by major upsets, nail-biting games and huge public interest.
In amongst some more controversial statements made during his closing remarks, Fifa president Gianni Infantino revealed that the 2023 Women’s World Cup generated US$570 million in revenue, meaning the tournament broke even for the first time.
It was just one of several records to be smashed during the tournament, which also delivered several attendance milestones, new viewership records in key markets and significant social media engagement.
With Spain returning home as champions, SportsPro rounds up some of the headline numbers that have emerged both during and since the Women’s World Cup.
Attendances reach new heights as hosts catch soccer fever
The 2023 Women’s World Cup saw soccer capture the imagination of the Australian and New Zealand public like never before.
All told, 1,978,274 fans watched the 64 matches played across ten stadiums, which was an improvement of more than half a million on the previous record and smashed Fifa’s ticket sales target of 1.5 million.
That aggregate attendance figure soared past the previous best set in 2015, when 1,353,506 spectators watched the games in Canada. The next edition four years later in France was attended by 1,131,312 supporters.
The fact that the total attendance was up should come as no surprise given that this year’s Women’s World Cup was the first to be expanded from 24 to 32 teams, meaning there were an additional 12 matches.
Still, the average attendance for the tournament was 30,911, up from 21,756 at the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France. That means it is only the third time in the history of the event that the competition averaged more than 30,000 fans per match. Fifa also said that stadiums had been at 84.1 per cent occupancy after 63 games.
Other highlights included a sell-out crowd of 75,784 turning out for the final at Stadium Australia, which was also at capacity for the Matildas’ opening game against Ireland, their round of 16 match against Denmark and their semi-final defeat to the Lionesses, as well as England’s quarter-final with Colombia.
There were similarly solid turnouts in New Zealand, where more than 700,000 fans attended 29 matches.
Prior to the tournament, the record crowd for a soccer match in New Zealand was 37,034 for a men’s World Cup playoff against Peru in Wellington. By the time the Women’s World Cup was over, six of the nine games played at Auckland’s Eden Park had broken the 40,000 mark.
Fifa has also been keen to tout the success of its first-ever ‘Fan Festival’ at a Women’s World Cup, which saw dedicated sites set up in each host city for fans without tickets to enjoy the action. A total 777,000 people visited the fan parks, according to soccer’s governing body, which said attendance peaked for the Matildas’ quarter-final win over France, when 68,000 supporters were present across all the venues.
Sam Kerr gave Australia the most incredible scenes it has ever seen 🇦🇺😳— Optus Sport (@OptusSport) August 16, 2023
This was the reaction at Fed Square in Melbourne after her goal.
Party mode for a fleeting moment. #FIFAWWC memories to cherish forever.#OptusSport pic.twitter.com/hcq2C1MB0Q
The world watches as broadcast records tumble
As fans flocked to stadiums, millions also tuned in across Australia and New Zealand and around the world.
According to Fifa, 39.2 per cent of New Zealanders watching television caught the national team’s opening 1-0 win against Norway. All told, the tournament’s reach across Sky NZ and the free-to-air (FTA) Prime network was 1.88 million, equating to 39 per cent of the Kiwi population.
While the Football Ferns exited at the group stages, the Matildas’ run to the last four fuelled bumper viewership in Australia, peaking at 11.15 million viewers for the semi-final defeat to England. The game drew an average audience of 7.2 million for FTA broadcaster Seven, which saw 18.6 million Australians watch its coverage of the tournament. In addition to being the most-watched TV programme in more than two decades, the semi-final was the most-streamed event ever in Australia with 957,000 viewers on the 7Plus streaming service.
Pay-TV provider Optus Sport also reported the semi-final game was the fourth-highest rating programme ever on its streaming platform, just behind the Matildas’ quarter-final encounter against France in third.
If there were any gripes Aussies had during the tournament, it was that the bulk of games remained behind a paywall on Optus. Still, with the country’s anti-siphoning scheme under review, it could be a thing of the past if the Australian government follows through with plans to ensure iconic women’s sporting events are more available to watch on FTA television.
Fifa president Gianni Infantino said the tournament generated US$570m in revenue, enough to break even for the first time
It wasn’t just the co-hosts that enjoyed healthy viewership. Notably, 53.9 million viewers in China watched the country’s 6-1 defeat to England during the group stages.
Elsewhere, the draw between the US and the Netherlands was watched by 7.93 million viewers on Fox and Telemundo, making it the largest combined English and Spanish-language audience in the States for a Women’s World Cup group stage match. The USWNT’s round of 16 loss to Sweden pulled in an average of 2.52 million viewers and peaked at 4.07 million on Fox, down 20 per cent on the team’s equivalent fixture in the 2019 Women’s World Cup, which was played in a more favourable time slot.
Given the broadcast rights dispute that dominated the build-up to the tournament, there was always going to be significant interest in TV ratings in European markets.
For the final, a peak audience of 12 million viewers watched on BBC One in the UK and the game was viewed 3.9 million times on BBC iPlayer and the BBC Sport website and app. Combined with figures from commercial broadcaster ITV, the final was watched by an average of 13.3 million people on television, peaking at 14.8 million, a new UK record for a women’s soccer game.
Overall, an audience of 21.2 million watched the BBC’s television coverage of the tournament.
In Spain, RTVE’s main channel La1 managed an average of 5.6 million viewers for La Roja’s 1-0 triumph in the final, equal to a market share of 65.7 per cent. Coverage peaked with 7.38 million viewers and a share of 71.1 per cent. It was the biggest audience for the channel since the men’s World Cup final last December.
Still, it had been a nervous wait for broadcasters in Europe’s biggest markets after Fifa president Gianni Infantino had threatened a media blackout if they failed to increase their offers. In the UK’s case, it meant the BBC and ITV only clinched a deal a little over a month before the tournament kicked off.
Fans show their support across digital and social
Ahead of the final, several digital milestones were reached. Content views hit 3.2 billion on Fifa’s social and digital platforms. Fifa.com, FIFA+ and FIFA+’s free ad-supported streaming TV (FAST) Channels received 50 million visitors, representing a 130 per cent increase on France 2019.
All told, Fifa’s Women’s World Cup accounts now have a cumulative 8.3 million followers, which the governing body claims is the largest global community for women’s soccer and sport.
TikTok was among the social media platforms to report big numbers. The ‘fifawwc’ hashtag notched up 3.9 billion video views and Fifa’s official account amassed 1.5 million new followers during the tournament, taking its total to 2.7 million. At the time of writing, the account’s 393 posts had also racked up 55 million likes. England’s account alone has 73 million video views and gained 94,000 new followers during the Women’s World Cup, while the ‘Lionesses’ hashtag stands at two billion views.
Indivisa, Footballco’s women’s football community brand, which publishes across Instagram, X (formerly Twitter), TikTok, Twitch and the web, scored 9.1 million video views across its platforms, with 60 per cent of views and engagements occurring on TikTok.
Goal, Footballco’s global soccer platform, saw more than five million unique users consuming Women’s World Cup content on its website, with one in five fans consuming articles reading at least one piece of women’s soccer content.
The strongest markets for Goal were Japan, the USA, the UK, Brazil and South Africa. Across social media, Women’s World Cup videos were viewed more than 25 million times, with Lioness content being four of the five most viewed posts on X.
According to sports marketing agency Redtorch, England were the most engaged with team across all channels, netting 27.4 million engagements. This put the Lionesses comfortably ahead of Australia (17.6 million), Colombia (10.9 million), Sweden (8.2 million) and the US (7.9 million), who completed the top five. The Matildas led the way on follower growth, adding an extra 768,024 fans.
On the athlete front, Switzerland’s Alisha Lehmann topped Redtorch’s list with 18.9 million more engagements than the next closest player. Ahead of the Women’s World Cup, SponsorUnited had already ranked the 24-year-old as the most engaging women’s soccer player at the tournament.
Where else did the tournament have an impact?
Interestingly, the Women’s World Cup seemed to drive a significant increase in the number of female punters betting on women’s soccer.
According to international sports betting and gambling company Entain, its Ladbrokes and Coral brands in the UK saw an average 21 per cent of bets placed by women for England’s first three games, compared to 17 per cent at the 2022 Uefa Women’s Euros and 13 per cent during the last World Cup in 2019.
It was a similar story in other markets, such as co-host New Zealand, where betting brand TAB found that almost 15 per cent of bets were placed by women, compared to nine per cent in 2019.
The tournament also inspired an uptick in betting more broadly. TAB New Zealand recorded a 365 per cent rise in bets placed on this year’s Women’s World Cup compared to the previous edition, while the increase in Australia was nearly 200 per cent. In the US, BetMGM saw three times the number of bets placed for the USWNT’s opening game against Vietnam compared to Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami debut.
That interest is slowly trickling through to merchandise sales. Data shared ahead of the final by the London Stock Exchange and Centric Pricing showed that globally, Adidas had sold out of 24 per cent of its inventory for its sponsored teams competing at the tournament, while rival sportswear giant Nike had sold 12 per cent of its merchandise. Locally, in the home markets of the two finalists, 13 per cent of Adidas’ Spain gear had sold out, while English fans had purchased 17 per cent of Nike’s Lionesses apparel.
Either way, the early signs suggest the tournament is going to inspire longer-term interest in women’s soccer. One study already conducted by market research firm Ipsos, which surveyed 1,000 British adults, found that almost half of respondents said this year’s Women’s World Cup had made them more interested in watching UK women’s soccer in the future.
In addition, the survey found that 57 per cent of respondents are likely to watch a Lionesses match on TV in the next 12 months, with one in three intending to do the same for a Women’s Super League (WSL) game.