The heat has been turned up at the FIFA Women’s World Cup – both literally and metaphorically. The round of 16 and quarter-finals are taking place in high temperatures as a heatwave hits France.

Off the pitch, there are signs that interest in the women’s game, if not quite pushing the mercury as high as the men’s, is warming as well.

Record viewing figures

Across the globe, people have been sitting down to enjoy the action from France in record numbers.

10.6 million people watched the French team’s opening game – smashing the country’s previous best for a women’s game by around 6 million people. (Although, still less than France’s opening game at last summer’s men’s World Cup.)

In Brazil, nearly 25 million people tuned in to watch their team take on Italy, while German, UK and US broadcasters have also reported impressive figures.

Giulia Gwinn celebrates Germany's first goal.
Image: REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

The tournament’s digital presence has also been impressive, with 2 million followers added and millions of views already.

Women's world cup digital presence after group stages
Image: FIFA

At the stadiums, things are a little less impressive, though, with ticket sales lower than hoped. Eleven matches were sold out during the group stages, with 70% stadium occupancy.

But, when you consider fewer than 3,000 people watched the US play Norway in their 1995 semi-final, things are still looking pretty good.

On a domestic level, there have been impressive recent landmarks well. For example, in March more than 60,000 people saw Atlético Madrid take on Barcelona – a record for a women’s club game.

Commercial interest on the rise

There’s been a surge in sponsorship and TV deals in the women’s game.

The LA Times reports that in just the past year: VISA signed on for seven years with UEFA; Barclays signed a three-year, $12.5 million contract with England’s Women’s Super League; and French league games will be shown on national TV every week thanks to a new five-year deal.

US women’s games have also generated more revenue than the men’s since their win in the last world cup, according to financial reports seen by the Wall Street Journal.

But, compared to the men’s game, the figures involved remain low. For example, Premier League teams shared a commercial and TV revenue pot of more than £2.4 billion ($3.06 billion) for the 2018/19 season.

Premier League commercial payments to clubs.
Image: Premier League

Equal pay?

Pay and prize money also continue to lag behind the men’s game – including at the World Cup, despite increases.

The total pot in France is $30 million, with the winner taking $4 million. That’s double the winner’s prize money from 2015, according to the BBC.

The pot has risen tournament on tournament, as this chart from the BBC shows. But, it pales in comparison with the most recent men’s World Cup. Prize money awarded in Russia last year hit $400 million.

Women's World Cup prize money 2007-2019.
Image: BBC

Teams and unions have also protested and campaigned over equal pay – including Australia, Nigeria, and reigning world champions USA. Players in New Zealand and Norway both campaigned successfully for equal pay while on international duty.

The Gender Gap World Cup

So does quality on the pitch translate into equality off it?

Here’s how the countries in the round of 16 fare in the most recent World Economic Forum Gender Gap Report.

As the data shows, the two don’t necessarily go hand in hand.

Greater recognition for the women’s game – whether at the World Cup or domestically – is a sign of progress. But parity with the finances or global reach of the men’s game is still some way off.