July 30, 2023
Institutional Knowledge: FIBA looking to elevate its own World Cup in soccer’s shadow
The FIFA Women's World Cup has been a major success with major growth, and now it is FIBA's turn to work on following suit.
The FIFA Women’s World Cup, heading soon into its knockout stage, puts women’s soccer on an increasingly big stage every four years, becoming the kind of sporting “event” that makes money for television networks, pressures federations to improve their women’s teams and inspires marketing and advertising connections with products from sporting goods stores to breakfast cereal to potato chip titans.
Meanwhile, over at FIBA…
The former FIBA Women’s World Championship – now called the World Cup (probably not a coincidence) hasn’t yet captured the imagination of sports fans in the same way.
In many ways, it’s an apples-and-oranges comparison. Basketball’s every-four-year event has always been the Olympics, where the sport competes for attention with swimmers and gymnastics and track stars.
The soccer World Cup is typically contested in the summer, and is followed one year later by the Olympics, which keeps players and the team’s success front of mind for a two-year cycle.
The FIBA event takes place in the fall, a full-to-the-brim period for the U.S. sports calendar with the NFL, college football, the opening of the NBA season, and the MLB postseason. That’s a much tougher place to break through, both in terms of attention and competition for sponsors and marketing.
Fox, which is broadcasting the Women’s World Cup in the U.S., had nearly sold out of all of its ad inventory a month before the tournament. A Fox Sports executive told Ad Age last month that ad revenue is up 50% over 2019. And the tournament is expected to break an all-time attendance record, with nearly 1.6 million tickets sold, according to organizers.
FIBA is looking for ways to elevate its premier event and capitalize on the momentum that the moment in women’s basketball presents.
Anna Barthold, the Women’s Competition Manager for FIBA, spoke with The Next about what’s next for the world championship event, FIBA’s flagship women’s event, and other ways to elevate the women’s game at the international level before the 2026 World Cup tournament in Germany.
After having 12 teams in the 2022 tournament, the field will move back to 16 in Berlin.
Barthold said the success of the Women’s World Cup tournament in Australia in 2022 was the result of an intentional emphasis by FIBA to raise the profile of the event and the athletes.
Attendance was an all-time high (145,000). U.S. viewership of the tournament tripled, while the Chinese audience, following a team that made a run to the sold-out finals against the U.S., reached 750 million across the tournament. And social media impressions were five times higher than in 2018, coming in at 1.1 billion.
“Our women deserve this treatment,” Barthold said. “Right now, we are really working on building on the value of that experience. We know there is a big appetite for women’s basketball around the world.”
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FIBA is clearly building a larger infrastructure for the game as a whole with the explosion of 3×3 competitions after its Olympic debut in 2022 – 73,000 people attended the World Cup tournament in June in Vienna – and the announcement of the debut of the Women’s Basketball League Americas (WBLA), which will open play in September and will consist of will eight teams, with four representing South America and four teams representing the Central American and Caribbean Region.
“We are trying to set a new standard,” Barthold said. “If you want to create better competition, you have to invest.”
USA Basketball, which has won the last four tournaments in a row and 11 overall since the tournament began in 1953, sees the “concerted effort” to generate more excitement and attention for the World Cup. Briana Weiss, the U.S. National Team’s Director, said there is a sense of collaboration among international federations, promoting one another’s content, and trying to capitalize on the blossoming interest in the game.
“It’s the small things that make a big difference,” Weiss said. “We are all trying to push the game forward and acknowledge the skill and talent of the women in our premier events. We are massive fans of U.S. soccer and the World Cup has such a hold on people’s attention, as it should be. It’s nothing but exciting.
“Our team just won its fourth World Championship in a row. And we always want to make sure our amazing players are getting acknowledged, but sometimes it’s a hard thing to do. But our team always shows up to achieve one goal – to win. And they are driven by that pursuit.”
Barthold said that FIBA is continuing to seek opportunities to “raise the bar”.
“The world is changing,” Barthold said. “We want to give our women the opportunities they deserve and for the next generation of girls who will play the game.”
Written by Michelle Smith
Michelle Smith has covered women's basketball nationally for nearly three decades. Smith has worked for ESPN.com, The Athletic, the San Francisco Chronicle, as well as Pac-12.com and WNBA.com. She was named to the Alameda County Women's Hall of Fame in 2015, is the 2017 recipient of the Jake Wade Media Award from the Collegiate Sports Information Directors Association (CoSIDA) and was named the Mel Greenberg Media Award winner by the WBCA in 2019.