Organizers hope for record attendance of 1.5 million at 2015 Women’s World Cup

The Canadian Soccer Association is already turning its attention to next year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup, and is setting some lofty attendance goals.

Matching the crowds from the 2010 Vancouver Olympics – 1.5 million spectators at six venues across Canada – is the joint goal of FIFA and the CSA for the 2015 Women’s World Cup.

“We’re trying to set goals that haven’t been accomplished before,” said the CSA’s Peter Montopoli from Montreal. “Those are lofty goals we’re trying to set. We’ll need all six venues and all six cities to be on board completely.”

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Organizers had a fairly successful dry run with this year’s under-20 event. If the 2015 Women’s World Cup can draw its stated goal of 1.5 million spectators, it will be the highest attended FIFA event outside of a men’s World Cup.

Next summer, Ottawa, Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Montreal and Moncton will host the Women’s World Cup, the first senior FIFA tournament held in Canada.

Ottawa’s TD Place at Lansdowne Park will host six games in the group stage, two matches in the Round of 16 and one quarter-final game.

The month-long, 50-match event will run from June 6 to July 5, 2015, with the final game being played at Vancouver’s BC Place.

There are currently 125 countries around the world competing for a spot in the tournament, which is expanding from 16 to 24 teams next year. So far, seven nations have already qualified: Canada, China, Thailand, England, Australia, North Korea, and defending champions Japan.

“From a promotional point of view, we have to do everything we can to make sure our country is fully engaged,” said Mr. Montopoli. “We have to make sure that every member of the public is aware and supportive not only of Canada, but the other 23 countries that are participating.”

This year’s U-20 tournament was far from record breaking. Back in February, the CSA announced the event would draw 320,000 fans across all venues – 16 per cent higher than it actually did. Of the seven U-20 Women’s World Cups, which have occurred biennially since 2002, only two have attracted fewer spectators than this year’s.

The attendance figures would certainly have been bolstered had the host nation progressed further in the tournament – Canada was eliminated in the quarter-finals. Canada drew an average of 16,000 supporters to its games, including more than 22,000 in the quarter-final against Germany at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium.

Despite not hitting their attendance targets, all organizers were delighted with the outcome.

“Ultimately, it was very important to not only use this as a launching pad for next year, but also treat the tournament as a World Cup, as it deserves,” said Victor Montagliani, president of the CSA. “We’re pleased the tournament has provided the proper environment for the players and coaches. It has been a big success.”

Mr. Montagliani is not worried he and the CSA may have set expectations too high for next year. While women’s tournaments can’t replicate attendance figures from the men’s events, Mr. Montagliani is convinced the Canadian market is primed for a world-class competition – featuring men or women.

“The game here transcends the gender,” he said. “This is how we see the tournament next year. It’s football. It’s a great opportunity to grow the game in all aspects. I’ve seen little boys wearing Christine Sinclair jerseys. I’m not sure that happens anywhere else.”

To ensure the competition runs smoothly, FIFA will use this year’s U-20 dress rehearsal to iron out a few kinks ahead of the World Cup.

Tatjana Haenni, FIFA’s head of women’s competitions, admitted that the football association may have underestimated just how big Canada is, for instance. FIFA encountered some difficulty this tournament when it came to transportation, namely flights in and out of the country.

“To book 30 people out of Canada, in the summertime, is not so easy,” said Ms. Haenni. “And of course you don’t want to split the team in groups. It was really booking flights that was a bit of a challenge. It’s nothing major. It’s just one of the key things we learnt.”

Notes: The quarter-final match between Canada and Germany drew higher television ratings than that evening’s Major League Soccer matches. For the 2010 U-20 Women’s World Cup, Germany attracted 373,800 to its four venues across the country. Tickets for next year’s tournament in Canada go on sale Sept. 10.

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