Information and measurement company Nielsen released its 2015 report on sports media and included a section on the Women's World Cup. Keep in mind that Nielsen ratings are not definitive, and are in fact subject to a certain amount of error. Nielsen doesn't actually track how many people are watching, they extrapolate from a sample of homes that have meters.
Nielsen charted the rise to the ratings explosion that was the World Cup final with numbers we've seen before but bear repeating:
The United States started with 3.5 million total (English- and Spanish-language audience combined) watching their group stage opener against Australia, climbed to 5.8 million by the time they played China in the quarterfinals, jumped to 8.5 million in the semi against Germany, and then slayed all comers with 23.4 million in the final against Japan.
Group stage games averaged 257,300 tweets/game (hitting a low of 153,000 tweets in that stultifying USA vs. Sweden 0-0 matchup) with a slight uptick during early knockout rounds, then a jump to 940,000 tweets for the semifinal and an astonishing 3,453,000 tweets for the final.
Particularly of note is the audience growth from 2011 to 2015. The United States even played the same country in the final, Japan, which makes comparisons particularly apt. From World Cup final to World Cup final, there was a 67% increase in viewers.
The demographic breakdown shows the largest increase in women, with 48% growth among women 12-17 and 43% growth among women 18-34. There was also smaller growth of 8% among men 12-17.
In terms of racial demos, there were big boosts among non-Hispanic white viewers (56%), non-Hispanic black viewiers (74%), and non-Hispanic Asian viewers (51%).
The two categories that showed negative growth were men 18-34 (-8%) and Hispanic viewers (-5%). Something to consider is that 2011's World Cup was on ESPN, while 2015 was on Fox and FS1. More homes get ESPN than they do FS1, which may help account for the dip. Spanish language audiences in 2015 stayed fairly consistent over every game whether it was group stage or knockout (with a slight bump against Colombia), then bloomed for the final, which was on Telemundo instead of NBC Universo. Additionally, Copa América 2015 was airing at the same time as the Women's World Cup, which almost certainly cut into their audience.
So what does this jump in viewership mean for women's soccer, and how can it translate into increased attention to the women's game?
The big jumps among youth viewers are encouraging - young fans who grow up with the game will see it as normal for women's soccer to get large scale broadcasts, especially with all the pomp and circumstance of big men's sporting events. The dip among men 18-34 is slightly concerning, given that advertisers tend to care way too much about the young white male demo, but with such large overall growth (and the growth among men 12-17) that may not be that alarming. Copa America won't be overlapping with the Women's World Cup in 2019, which will hopefully leave it as the cornerstone summer sports event.
Also consider that Fox grabbed a cool $40 million in ad sales for the 2015 Women's World Cup, a 400% increase over 2011 that according to Adweek "doubled the company's initial revenue estimates," and that was even in spite of low sponsor interest. So there's a demonstrably growing audience as well as a not insignificant chunk of money to be made, which adds up to more attention from networks. And more attention from networks means more promotion and better production values, which shows audiences a polished high-level product that helps drive the image that women's soccer is a serious, big-time affair.