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Niñas y Mujeres

England's Women's World Cup Semi-Final Is Britain's Most-Watched TV in 2019 So Far

Why Global Citizens Should Care
Sport reflects society. It can often show us where we need to work to make the world a more equal, tolerant, and inclusive place. The unmitigated success of the Women’s World Cup contrasts with the inequality the game has faced in the past — impeding progress on Global Goal 5 for gender equality — and we celebrate its triumphs to bridge that gap. Take action here to fight for feminism around the world.

England’s heroic run in the Women’s World Cup ended in theatrical fashion on Tuesday as the Lionesses lost 2-1 to the reigning champions, the United States.

“Obviously I’m devastated not to get to the final,” said a tearful Ellen White — the first England player ever of any gender to score in five consecutive World Cup matches. “But all I feel is pride, to be honest, for my teammates.”

But while England has now been knocked out of the semi-final for the second Women’s World Cup in a row — and for the second time in a major tournament across the last two beautiful, devastating summers after the success of the men’s side in the European Championships last year — there’s some comfort to be found in one shared hangover.

England’s opening match against Scotland had already become the UK’s most-watched women’s football match in history

But with every single game that followed, the record kept on getting broken — and last night, England’s defeat at the hands of the US wasn’t just the biggest recorded audience for women’s football in this country.

It was Britain’s most-watched television moment of the year so far.

At its peak, 11.7 million people tuned in to watch the match, while an average of 10.3 million stayed for the whole thing — and that’s excluding anybody who streamed the game online or gathered in groups to see it in pubs across the country.

In fact, over half of the available audience in the UK (50.8%) watched the dramatic semi-final — according to data measured by the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board (BARB) by analysing 12,000 people across 5,100 households representative of the whole country.

"What's been so different and great about this tournament is the sheer number of people watching the Lionesses on TV,” said Martin Glenn, former chief executive of the Football Association (FA). "It's moved from being an interesting Olympic-type sport to an absolute mainstream sport.”

Read More: This Collective Is Finally Bringing the History of Women’s Football to Wikipedia

“The importance of that is that adds attraction, it pulls girls and women into playing,” Glenn continued to BBC Radio 4's Today programme. "At the top end, what will make the product of the Women's Super League more attractive is getting more exposure in the millions — so being on terrestrial TV is important — making sure the games are played in the elite stadiums that the men play in, and continuing to improve the quality of the football.

"At the end of the day it's a leisure pursuit and if people see great quality football being played then they'll come and watch it."

The historic viewing figure is more than triple the audience for the opening episode of Love Island — the most successful show in ITV2’s history — watched by an average of 3.3 million people. 

And you can triple that again, or rather “nonuple” it overall, to compare the popularity of Phil Neville’s side with the average number of people who have watched the men’s England team play in the Cricket World Cup, even though that’s being hosted in the UK.

The previous viewing record for the year was held by the finale for BBC drama Line of Duty, which attracted a peak of 9.6 million viewers when it aired in May.

But that’s just a snapshot of the incredible global reach of the tournament: FIFA has predicted that by the time the champions are crowned on Sunday there would have been a total audience of 1 billion on all platforms across the whole tournament.

It’s a sweeping declaration of victory for women’s sport and gender equality in general.