Last night's exhilarating victory by the U.S. women over Japan should serve as a wake-up call to the sports media. Women's sports is here to stay and it's high time to get with the program.
Despite coming at the end of the fourth of July weekend when many families are traveling, the overnight TV ratings for the championship match hit 15.2. That's right, 15.2, making it the highest rated soccer match on U.S. TV of all time (men's or women's). This broke the previous ratings record, also set by U.S. women in the 1999 World Cup final between the United States and China, at 13.3. In a distant third was the men's 2014 World Cup match between the United States and Belgium at 9.8.
Not only did it break records for soccer viewership, but it busted the ratings for the NHL Stanley Cup championship game this year which drew only a 5.6 rating (just over one-third of the women's rating). The women also came within a hair of matching the NBA championship game last month between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors which garnered a 15.9 rating.
Where does all this success and popularity get women's soccer within Sepp Blatter's FIFA? Not very far. Neither Blatter nor his chief lieutenant, Jerome Valcke, showed up in Canada for any of the games. Both Blatter and Valcke were in Brazil for every game of the men's World Cup in Brazil last summer.
Of course, they have an excuse. Valcke has already been linked to the money trail in the $10 million bribe that was behind South Africa's selection as the 2010 World Cup host. Blatter, his bumptious utterances to the contrary, is likely to be directly connected to the corruption-ridden activities within FIFA over the last sixteen years and, hence, is liable to face indictment if he leaves Switzerland. Although Switzerland has an extradition treaty with the United States, it is Swiss policy not to extradite its own citizens.
So, Blatter is somewhat protected from prosecution as long as he remains in Switzerland. Still, part of the job of the FIFA president is to preside over its premier tournaments and to hand out the trophies to its victors. If Blatter cannot perform the most essential of his ceremonial duties, then he should step down now -- not some time in 2016.
But, if truth be told, probably very few people missed Blatter's presence last night in Vancouver. The real evidence of FIFA's discrimination against women lies elsewhere. First, it lies in FIFA's refusal to make Canada provide grass fields -- the kind that the men's World Cup is played on. Not only does the ball move differently on artificial turf, but artificial turf is made of chemicals and rubber pellets that fly off the playing surface into the players' faces, uniforms and hair.
Second, it lies in FIFA's policy to have opposing women's teams frequently stay in the same hotel. Again, an awkward practice not experienced at the men's World Cup.
Third, it lies in the acute imbalance in prize money. According to the BBC, the total prize money offered to the men's teams in the 2014 World Cup was $576 million; the total that will be offered to the women's teams in 2015 is $15 million. Do the math: the men's prize money is 38.4 times larger than the women's!
Women's sports, like men's, need proper promotion to be successful. Unfortunately, when it is not the World Cup or the women's finals at a grand slam tennis event, women are almost always on the back pages. Sunday's New York Times Sports Section did not mention the championship match between the U.S. and Japan until page 5.
The U.S. women's soccer team has done its part. Now it's time for U.S. media to do theirs.
Andrew Zimbalist is the Robert A. Woods Professor of Economics at Smith College in Northampton, Ma., and author of Circus Maximus: The Economic Gamble Behind the Olympics and World Cup.