The United States women’s soccer team won its first World Cup final since 1999 on Sunday in a 5-2 shellacking of Japan—the same team it lost to in the 2011 final. Before a crowd of 53,000 in Vancouver, US midfielder Carli Lloyd scored three goals in the game’s first 16 minutes, sealing her Golden Ball award for best player in the tournament.
The match brought in an estimated 21 to 23.5 million viewers on Fox. That’s considerably more than the the 2014 men’s final between Germany and Argentina, which garnered 17 million viewers on another US network station, ABC—though when you add in the 9 million viewers on the Spanish-language channel Univision, the men’s final combined for 28 million total viewers. The women’s tournament was also broadcast in Spanish on Telemundo, but those viewership figures are not yet available.
Aside from besting the men’s final from last year, at least on US network TV, this year’s women’s final broke all kinds of other ratings records:
- The 15.2 metered household rating is the highest ever for a soccer game in the US.
- It was the most-watched US soccer game in history, beating out US-Portugal on ESPN in the 2014 men’s World Cup.
- It’s at least a 40% improvement over the 2011 women’s final, which drew 14 million viewers.
- The match easily beat the 18 million viewers for the 1999 women’s World Cup final.
- It could beat the 2015 NBA championship between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors, which averaged 20 million viewers across six games.
Certainly, the match’s US viewership numbers benefited from some nationalistic sporting fervor. If the US men’s team were good enough to play in the final, that hypothetical match would, in all likelihood, break ratings records as well. (While the men’s team is now fairly competitive, they’re a long way from being real contenders for a World Cup title.)
The ratings also show the rising popularity of soccer—women’s and men’s—in the US, as the sport battles football, basketball, baseball, hockey, tennis, and golf for media attention.
And even more so, the match reveals the undeniable ascendancy of women’s sports in the US. Despite rampant sexism, pay inequality, and the fact that only 2% of ESPN’s flagship program SportsCenter is devoted to women’s sports, there’s growing interest in them in both the US and around the world.
Though women’s sports shouldn’t have had to prove themselves in the first place, they have—time and time again. This year’s World Cup ratings show that women athletes are as much a part of the soul of American sports as male athletes are, even if the media is unwilling to acknowledge it.
And they “flop” so much less than the men do.