Tuesday, September 19, 2023

If You Build It, They Will Come

A couple of months ago, Australia and New Zealand hosted the 2023 Women's World Cup. This installment of the tournament was arguably the best since it began in 1991.

Attendance records were broken, live broadcasts and media coverage increased significantly, and the level of play reached new heights. The total prize pool climbed to $110 million, which is $80 million more than what was available just four years ago at the 2019 World Cup. Businesses allowed their employees time off to watch games, and one US city passed an ordinance allowing bars to remain open overnight during the World Cup so fans would have somewhere - and fellow fans with whom - to watch middle-of-the-night games. 

Much of the success of this World Cup can be attributed to the players and coaches. As I mentioned, the ever-improving level of play - individually, offensively, defensively, in the goal, and tactically - translated to an increase in interest among soccer fans. The power shift, as empires fell and underdogs made history, made for exciting storylines that lured in fans who, though perhaps not yet soccer fanatics, love athletic competition. And the incredible sportsmanship... Watching these women show compassion for their heartbroken opponents just moments after fiercely competing with them - something that happened time and time again - could make a fan out of just about anyone.

But at least a portion of the success of this World Cup should be credited to Australia and New Zealand. I read (I can't remember where, so my apologies for not being able to give credit) that Australia was "the host the Women's World Cup deserved": the country(ies) took pride in hosting, weaving the World Cup into the fabric of day to day life, and their efforts translated to packed stadiums and incredible viewership on television. 

Australia saw firsthand that when they built literal and figurative frameworks to support women's sport, women's sport not only succeeded, it surpassed all expectations. If you build it, they will come. 


This - here below - is what I'd intended for today's blog post to be about. I thought I'd write a quick introduction about the Women's World Cup, but as you just read, my "quick introduction" turned into a five-paragraph soliloquy. 

The University of Nebraska has, at least as long as I can remember, had a strong women's volleyball team (two years ago they made it to the National Championship game, and last year they made it multiple rounds into the NCAA tournament) along with a strong fanbase. A couple of weeks ago and after months of planning, that fanbase was put to the test. Would it...could it...fill a football stadium?

The University of Nebraska women's volleyball team hosted a match in Memorial Stadium, where the Nebraska Cornhuskers football team plays. My in-laws, who are Husker fans and still live in Lincoln, are long-time volleyball supporters and have had season tickets on and off throughout the years. They, along with my SIL, attended the game, and were part of the 92,003 fans who filled the stadium and broke the world record for the largest attendance at a women's sporting event.

All but the last photo are credited to The GIST. You can follow this women-led, inclusive sports media company here.

Granted, the University of Nebraska didn't build Memorial Stadium for women's volleyball, but on that day the University did grant these incredible athletes access to a literal and figurative stage that was dramatically larger than anything they had ever had access to before...and the people came. Said Kenzie Fowler Quinn on Instagram, "today is a good day for a reminder that if you simply give women the stage, they will deliver."


I truly believe (and have been feeling particularly passionate about lately) that women's sport is having a moment thanks to the Women's World Cup, the Nebraska women's volleyball team, and the countless other female athletes and teams out there crushing it. I hope the days when people would question whether women's sport has value - beyond what it offers the athlete themselves - are behind us. 

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