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  • Beyond the 90: Building on the hype


    Throughout the World Cup, Beyond the 90 will look at the issues facing women’s football with particular attention given to what affect the Canadian team could have on the game here in Canada

    There is little doubt that the Canadian women’s team is receiving unprecedented attention right now. Pretty much every major newspaper in the country has a reporter in Germany and yesterday’s game was front and centre on the major Canadian sports networks.

    That attention has led some to speculate that we are at the cusp of a major breakthrough in popularity, with Canadian stars like Christine Sinclair to become household names.

    It was within that context that I engaged in a debate with several people last night, including CSN’s Daniel Squizzato, about the potential audience for a women’s friendly. With Germany committed to play in Canada later this year one of the people debating with me, Bill Ault, suggested that such a game would draw close to 20,000 (note: the debate assumed the game was to be played in Toronto, which it likely would be. It’s also assuming that Canada beats France and advances to the knock-out stage). Ault went on to sat that the “low end” draw was 15,000.

    I was a little more cynical.

    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]Having been to the last three women’s friendlies at BMO Field I suggested that 15,000 was a highly optimistic high end prediction. Although the CSA announced attendance at around 10,000 for the China and USA games and close to 14,000 for the Brazil game in 2008 anyone who was there would tell you that those numbers were grossly exaggerated. Against China the North and south stands were closed along with the upper deck.

    Promotion for the China game was limited and it was on a Tuesday night, but those factors weren’t at play for the other two games. Actually, the Brazil game was intensely promoted for weeks prior to the game.

    Clearly a deep run by Canada has the potential to have an echo effect. If by “deep run” you mean “makes final.” Anything short of an appearance in the final would likely have minimal affect on the casual sports fan that would be needed to fill the stadium. Hockey starts back up in September, after all.

    If Canada were to go to a final and Sportsnet pushed the game hard and the local soccer clubs got behind it and the tickets were priced right and the game was played on a weekend and TFC wasn’t in conflict and men’s World Cup qualifying was still a few weeks away then, maybe, you might come close to selling out BMO Field for the game.

    If the CSA promoted it right.

    So, expect a crowd of about 12,000 then, which would be an improvement.

    Look, I hope I’m wrong. However, I live here. I’ve seen the evidence. I’m not convinced a few positive column inches this month will dramatically change things.

    There is one way that you could grow the game and to build on the success – to play lots and lots of games in Canada and to have lots and lots of camps and appearances by the players. Getting more fans out in Canada will require a constant effort at engaging the potential audience. A lot of the girls you see on your local pitch are as likely to consider Wayne Rooney their hero as they are Christine Sinclair simply because they see Rooney on their TV more. Expose them to Sinclair more and maybe that changes.

    The problem with that is that the plan for the women is to encamp back in Europe again next year. Before that they will be back with their clubs or university teams.

    The major sticking point in the dispute between Carolina Morace and the CSA was where the team would base itself out of. Morace insisted that she be allowed to base the team out of Europe, the CSA wanted them back in Canada more. The CSA was also under the impression that Morace would be doing more to help build the game at the grassroots. However, that boat has sailed.

    Unless you want the women to give up their limited vacation time this summer following the World Cup there is limited opportunity to expose the players to the young girls that will be engaged over the next few weeks.

    And, the window for taking advantage of the World Cup bump will be small.

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