Are You Watching The Women's World Cup? : NPR FM Berlin Blog Women's football has historically been frowned upon in Germany and many other countries. But this year, there is evidence attitudes are changing; many WM matches are sold out and player compensation is inching closer to their male counterparts.
NPR logo Are You Watching The Women's World Cup?

Are You Watching The Women's World Cup?

Frauen WM fans watch Germany play France Tuesday night at Lido in Berlin. Germany beat France 4:2. Jennifer Collins for NPR hide caption

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Jennifer Collins for NPR

Frauen WM fans watch Germany play France Tuesday night at Lido in Berlin. Germany beat France 4:2.

Jennifer Collins for NPR

We're already over a week into the Women's World Cup, and Germany and Berlin have been gripped by that well-known malady: World Cup fever.

Well, kind of.

A recent representative study carried out by World Cup sponsor Allianz found that the Women's World Cup left a third of Germans cold.

Some 34 percent believe the tournament doesn't do anything to raise the atmosphere in the country. However, 51 percent believe that Germany could win the title, which would make it a hat-trick for coach Silvia Neid's side.

The German national side is one of the most successful teams in women's football. The two-time reigning World Cup champions (2003, 2007) haven't lost a World Cup match since their 3-2 defeat to the USA in the 1999 quarter final in Maryland. (The USA took the title that year.) Ranked number two behind the USA in the FIFA Women's World Rankings, the squad has clinched seven out of 10 UEFA European Championships.

Despite the German team's success, the women's competition enjoys little of the fanfare and fervent support reserved for the men's game. German flags clipped to the sides of cars and hanging from apartment windows are sporadic.

No make-shift viewing areas have sprouted up outside stores and cafes. Even on match days, few people in Berlin are seen draped in their country colors, sporting face paints or shouting "Steh auf wenn du für Deutschland bist" to the tune of the Petshop Boy's "Go West." And while other host cities have erected the public viewing fan miles so ubiquitous during the 2006 men's World Cup, Berlin opted not to.

Yet the popularity of the women's game is growing. Bars in general may not be packed for matches, but Berlin's official public viewing venues, such as Lido in Kreuzberg, have been jammed for most games so far. German public broadcaster ARD announced record viewing figures for this year's tournament.

A record 16.39 million (a market share of 51.7 percent) watched the German team notch up three points after narrowly beating Nigeria in a nail biting group stage match. Almost the same figure watched the German side graduate to the quarter final following a game against France. Some 100,000 fans turned up at Frankfurt's fan mile (Germany's longest) for the 30-minute opening ceremony.

In comparison, just 9.05 million viewers tuned into watch Germany take the 2007 World Cup title. However, a 20,000 strong crowd did greet the victorious team on their return to Frankfurt.

Match tickets are also difficult to come by. More than 700,000 tickets have been sold so far, and the opening game in Berlin's Olympic Stadium was completely sold out.

Raw figures aside, there is evidence of a stark change in German's attitudes towards women's football. One of the most illustrative examples of this is the fact that the women's team is now paid in cash rather than fine china for their title wins. Following their 1989 European Cup win, the German Football Association (DFB) awarded each female player with a forty-piece tea set for their efforts. Current coach Neid said of the prize at the time, "I think its good. Any money would've been long gone." For 2007's World Cup win, each player received €50,000.

Also, a survey carried out by the sports marketing agency Schmidt and Kaiser in 2008 showed 64 percent of German men and 62 percent of German women were interested in women's football. This interest still tends to be reserved for international games (most league games see crowds of closer to 400, with just eight games so far reaching crowd numbers of more than 4,000). But the profile of the women's international side is on the rise. In 2003 and 2009, the women's side was named sports team of the year. Star-player and top goal-scorer Birgit Prinz has become a household name, featured in TV advertisements with former German men's team captain and Chelsea midfielder Micheal Ballack.

Germany's Birgit Prinz trains at Borussiapark Stadium on Monday in Moenchengladbach, Germany. Joern Pollex/Getty Images hide caption

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Joern Pollex/Getty Images

Germany's Birgit Prinz trains at Borussiapark Stadium on Monday in Moenchengladbach, Germany.

Joern Pollex/Getty Images

Women's football has traditionally been frowned upon in Germany (and many countries) as an unladylike activity. When women's football was banned in clubs in West Germany in 1955, the German Football Association declared that the combative nature of the game was alien to a woman's nature. It would be indecent to see women fight it out on the pitch, claimed the DFB. Matches were played unofficially until the association lifted the ban in 1970. Even then, women were not allowed to don football boots with studs, and matches lasted just 80 minutes.

The DFB essentially ignored the women's league until 1982 when Germany was invited to send a team to the unofficial women's football world championship. At the time, West Germany had no national women's team and sent German club victors, Bergisch Gladbach 09, to the competition, which the side won. The DFB formed a national side that same year.

In 1991, a united East and West German women's side reached the semi-final of the first World Cup, which was hosted by China. The team didn't conceded a goal until losing to the USA, who went on to win the competition. Just 12 teams played in the first World Cup. The number has since increased to 16 and plans are afoot to expand to 24 teams in 2015 when Canada will host the competition. The tournament follows the same format as the men's, taking place every four years.

The DFB is hoping to makes this year's tournament the first Women's World Cup not reliant on international and national subventions. To do so, the tournament will have to generate €27 million in ticket sales to cover half the entire budget of €50 million. According to the DFB, the tournament is expected to break even, representing a huge achievement for women's football in Germany. Some €20 million has been pumped into promoting the event with a major advertising and PR campaign, including billboards declaring "Third Place is for Men" (a cheeky reference to the men's placing in the last two World Cup tournaments).

Despite the increasing financial might of the German women's league, female league players still earn 260 times less than male players of the same position. However, Theo Zwanziger, head of the DFB, recently told "Frankfurter Rundschau" that the that the plan is to match the pay levels of first division women footballers to those of men in the third division, who earn five figure monthly wages.

Meanwhile, the women's team can expect a reward of €60,000 for a World Cup victory this time round, which would certainly stretch to a few nice tea sets.

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