Women’s World Cup: the science of what makes a good football game for fans

The 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup has got off to a record breaking start. The US beat Thailand 13-0, claiming the biggest ever Women’s World Cup win, showing why they are first in the world rankings. A record 6.1m tuned in to watch England beat Scotland, making it the UK’s most watched women’s game of all time.

The viewing figures are proof that the popularity of the women’s game is growing – with many football fans keen to tune in and support their country. But while this is great news for the sport, there still tends to be much less interest in women’s national football teams compared to the men’s teams.

This is in part down to the fact that the development of women’s football has been historically disadvantaged by national associations banning their members from allowing women’s football to be played at their grounds. These bans started in 1921 and were only lifted in 1971. As sports writer Jim Weeks notes, “by this time, half a century of progress had been lost”. Of course, there is also far less money in women’s football today, compared with men’s, but there could also be another major factor.

Competitive balance

My research looks at competitive balance and intensity in women’s as well as men’s football. Competitive balance is a key concept in sports economics. The main idea is that there is a need for equilibrium between teams’ playing strengths to generate enough uncertainty for fans to be interested. Essentially, people prefer to watch games with teams that are close in ability levels rather than a game where one team is far better than the other. This is because, from a viewer’s perspective, it makes for a better match and a more uncertain finish.

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