BBC Switches Women's World Cup to Flagship Channel as Ratings Soar

Women's World Cup US Columbia - H 2015
AP Images

Women's World Cup US Columbia - H 2015

England's quarterfinal matchup against Canada on Thursday will air live on BBC1.

The BBC is switching its live coverage of the Women's World Cup to its flagship BBC1 channel for England's quarterfinal match against Canada.

The soccer tournament has proved a ratings hit on smaller network BBC3, with 2 million viewers tuning in to for England's 2-1 win over former world champion Norway on Monday, June 22. England's June 17 match against Columbia — which The Lionesses won 2-1, scored even higher, with a peak viewership of 2.3 million. This is several times BBC3's average audience, which is typically around 500,000.

England's opening match against France on June 9, the only game to air on BBC2, also drew 2.3 million viewers.

It may be a challenge generating those kinds of numbers for Thursday's match. The game, which will be played in Vancouver, will kick off at 12.30 am in the U.K. But the move to the BBC's flagship is a signal that the British network is taking the tournament seriously, acknowledging there is a major audience for women's soccer. 

Other nations have long since cottoned on to that fact. Team USA's 2-0 defeat of Columbia on June 22 drew an average of 4.7 million viewers on FOX Sports 1, peaking at 6.4 million, records for the sport.

In host nation Canada 15.8 million unique Canadian viewers, or nearly half of the country’s population, have watched part of the tournament's group stage. The top match of the tournament so far for Canadian sports network TSN was Canada's 0-0 draw against New Zealand on June 11, which drew an average audience of 2.3 million, an all-time high for women's soccer in the country.

Germany, a two-time Women's World Cup champion, is carrying the tournament on its flagship public network ARD. Saturday's second round match against Sweden, which the German women won 4-1, was watched by 6.12 million people. Even that pales compared to ratings for the 2011 Women's World Cup, held in Germany, which peaked at a phenomenal 16.95 million viewers for the quarterfinal match that saw the hosts kicked out by eventual world champion Japan.

Fans of the women's game have long criticized broadcasters for failing to give the sport proper exposure. The players have also been vocal in calling out sports commentators and online trolls who claim the women's game is inferior to the men's. Perhaps the sharpest — and funniest — of these was a parody video created by the Norwegian women's team, two-time World Cup finalists and World Cup champions in 1995.

You can watch the video below.