More and More Women Are Watching Soccer, to the Joy of Advertisers

The quality of the soccer and the last-minute dramas have turned Euro 2008 into a television success story of unparalleled proportions, particularly in countries participating in the tournament. Viewing figures of 70 or even 80 percent are the norm. How, then, are such high figures reached? The answer, it seems, lies with the fairer sex.

In the past, watching soccer used to be an almost exclusively masculine habit. Recent years may not have seen this situation reversed, but certainly there is more balance between the sexes. Women spectators of soccer have traditionally been accused of taking an interest in the game just because of hunks and heartthrobs like Cristiano Ronaldo and and Luca Toni. Now, however, many women - and this is true in Israel, as well - take a genuine interest in the game. They love it; they understand its tactics, can argue a dubious offside decision and have strong-felt opinions over, say, keeping this or that striker benched.

But data released by the German television network ARD after the national team's match with Portugal were astounding, even if one takes this trend into account. Some 26 million people watched the match: 12.81 million men and 13.33 million women. That's right, more women than men. The presence of pretty boy Cristiano Ronaldo no doubt helped, but he certainly wasn't the key factor behind this statistic. More women are taking an interest in soccer. When I was a kid the soccer pitch was a boys' only area. At my 12-year-old daughter's school, girls and boys play soccer together - and no one bats an eyelid.

Attendance at "fan parks" in Austria and Switzerland show a rise in the number of women. No exact data exists but the president of UEFA, Michel Platini, commented on the issue, saying that it proves soccer is open to both genders. This is also true inside the stadia, where there an increasing number of women who attend matches on a regular basis. This is especially true of big tournaments or top leagues. In England this is not a new phenomenon, but now that trend has reached the rest of Europe. "There has been a rise in the number of German women watching soccer. It began with the World Cup and has continued since, including recent Bundesliga season," a German Football Association spokesperson said.

Shopping and dates

What, then, are the reasons for the sudden upturn in interest? It is possible, of course, that women have simply come to accept the greatness of the most popular sport on earth, but it is more likely to be down to a combination of a drop in hooliganism, improvement in the quality and comfort of stadia and the fact that big tournaments are no longer merely about soccer, but are a truly global event.

There were 50 percent more women in the stadia during the 2006 World Cup in South Korea and Japan - more than any previous World Cup. At Euro 2008, early estimates say that women make up around half of the spectators at any given match; again, this is more than in previous European Championships.

The significance of the changing composition of soccer spectators - both in the stadia and in front of the television screens means, almost inevitably, that there is a whole new target audience for merchandizing. "At least half of our clients are women," said the owner of one souvenir stand in a Vienna fan park. "The men just buy their national team's jersey in extra large and that's it. Women take more time to look at the colors, the size and the look of the shirt, rather than just looking at what country it represents."

Watching the boys play

This, of course, is not the only difference in the way that men and women view soccer. In her book "Watching the Boys Play," journalist, author and soccer fan Nicole Selmer explains the differences. "Female and male soccer fans have a lot in common, but there are also many differences. Women often make personal comments about players - such as 'He looks good' or 'He can string two or three sentences together in an intelligence manner' - while men's personal comments on soccer are limited to insults or complements."

According to Selmer, this has nothing to do with a lack of understanding of the game or focusing on the external aspects of the sport. "Women fans understand almost as much as men," she says, saying that any difference a likely the result of male vs. female personality traits. A survey conducted before the start of Euro 2008 found that 59 percent of women say they understand the game, compared to 57 percent of men.

And perhaps there is one more reason. A comprehensive survey conducted for the German dating Web site ElitePartner found that 34 percent of men said that women who like soccer are sexy. Lisa Fischbach, a psychologist who works for the site, says: "Men like it when their woman likes soccer. It means they can spend a great night together watching a game as a couple."