Earlier this year, Japan pulled off what is considered to be an amazing upset by knocking off Germany, Sweden, and the United States on their way to winning their first FIFA Women’s World Cup. The psychological benefits for a country ravaged by earthquake and tsunami months earlier was said to be great, helping give people lots of hope. The disasters which hit Japan also hurt the countries economy. Now the economic impact which sport can have on a city or region is often called into question. With that said, I’ve been doing some digging into the effects winning the title have had on the Japanese soccer and attendance at Nadeshiko League (the women’s professional league) matches.
Immediately after winning the world cup, goods and souvenirs were sold out in stores all over Japan. Some believed that this was going to have a major impact on the economy, as they believed there would be hundreds of millions of dollars of sales directly attributed to the win. Of course, I am skeptical about the impact, as many of these goods were simply products normally bought by consumers which had images and licensing done with the Japanese Football Association to promote the Nadeshiko (the nickname of the women’s team). While I haven’t had a chance to look at the data, I don’t think there has been any real boost for Japan’s economy because of the World Cup victory.
So how about the Nadeshiko league? In the weeks after the World Cup, the Nadeshiko league had attendance of over 20,000 at several of their matches. This is quite impressive for a league which has had games with only a few hundred in attendance. Two games in August posted attendance numbers of 24,546 and 21,236. To put this in perspective, the previous record for the league had been 17,812. Of course there is a big catch in this attendance boost, not only is there a novelty effect from winning the World Cup, but also the tickets for these matches were free. In other words, people were not charged for the chance to see a large number of the key players for the winning World Cup team. Now over a month after these high attendance numbers, the number of people attending is starting to go down, with less than 10,000 (9,200) attending a match last weekend. The players and head of the JFA has been happy with the attendance, but it’ll be curious to see how well attendance levels do in the future.
So who is the real winners?
Probably the players themselves. The Women’s National Team is not very well funded, and many of the players have been living in near poverty for years, despite playing professionally. With the win, the players were all rewarded 5,000,000 yen (about $55,000) for the victory. Additionally, many of the players have become celebrities, netting them more money from sponsorship, commercials, ads, player appearances, and so forth.
They truly deserve it, so it is good to see them get a well needed reward. There is the question of whether Women’s professional soccer will continue to thrive and survive in Japan.