The reputation of women's soccer has been on the rise, with the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team winning their third World Cup, after beating Japan in penalties during the final match of this year's competition.
At the same time, Major League Soccer is also seeing a growing number of female players and fans, even as new stars like Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd are making headlines for stunning strikes from deep. And yet, despite all these advances in fan support and women's equality, there remains a few reasons why women's soccer may not be quite as popular as Men’s Major League Soccer, or Club Soccer.
One reason is that while women's soccer enjoys a good rise in popularity and participation, the growth may not be as significant as it seems. A recent study released by “The Centre For The Study of Sport in Society” at Northeastern University found that although women's soccer has gained a small but steady number of participants, the sport has also lost a more significant number of participants than initially anticipated.
The University of Pennsylvania study states that the sport could even lose tens or hundreds of thousands more participants over time, than initially estimated. The research says: "A key reason for this discrepancy is that participation in women's soccer (and other female team sports, including basketball) has plateaued or declined in recent decades. By 2014, the proportion of American women aged 12 and older who played a team sport at any level was lower than in 1994 or 1996."
While this is certainly not an excuse to dismiss women's soccer as a sport, it opens up several important questions, including the possibility of whether or not the growth of women's soccer is sustainable. Although the recent success of players and teams like Abby Wambach and Mia Hamm has garnered much attention in recent years, the continued growth of female participation in sports still remains an important question of concern for many coaches and sports administrators.
To better understand whether the sport is indeed sustainable, we must look at trends like these. The Philadelphia Inquirer takes a look at other sports and notes that the number of female high school basketball players has also declined in recent years. "A decade ago, one out of every five high school girls played basketball; that figure has now fallen to one in eight.
But women's basketball did not lose all its female players due to this unexpected fall in participation. The sport gained new fan support and growth from female players, especially international players like Brittney Griner.
Along with new fans, the sport also gained a new level of credibility and attention after the 2012 London Olympic Games. As a result of this growth, basketball remains an essential sport for many young girls in America. They can continue to play as they enter college or the professional world of basketball.
The same cannot be said in recent years for women's soccer, which has seen declining numbers in participation in recent years. Although the sport may be gaining new fans and new attention from viewers, what are the long-term implications for female soccer players across America?
The recent decline in participation is something that needs to be addressed. And as famous players and teams fade into the background, it's time for young female athletes to rise and take their place. The sport can continue to grow today—but long term, it must also maintain sustainable growth so it can still be strongly around in 20 or 30 years.
As of 2019, women's soccer in America has only just begun to show signs of true sustainability. It's not even close to where it should be, but there are signs that the sport will be around for a long, long time to come.
This year's FIFA Women's World Cup was a massive success for the U.S. women's team and soccer in general. This recent growth and attention given to the sport could take it from solid and stable to unstoppable—and in doing so, keep increasingly more women playing soccer, into the distant future.
With the recent success of the USWNT, many young girls are looking to be a part of this team.
"It's hard not to feel at home with the girls," said U.S. Defender Becky Sauerbrunn. "When we walk into camp, I see all these new faces, and I'm like, 'You're all my sisters.' It's really cool to have a team where we all get along."
While the USWNT is just one of many teams trying to become sustainable in the long term, these teams have similarities that generally allow sustainability. Women's soccer in the U.S. has been around for 40 years and has had a public face for that long. In comparison, the MLS started in 1996, but it has been marketed towards more American's because of its connection to the other major sports leagues. The women's national team also had a lot of attention from the media during their 1999 World Cup Victory Tour, which they got paid for, unlike many of today's female athletes. This tour also raised over $75 million for women's soccer in the U.S., which was used to create programs like “Girls Play 2” that are still running today and have grown by over 19,000 new female players, since 2005.