The World Cup for 2019 is over. The USA won for the fourth time. We made the long trek home from Lyon without incident. Our cat thrived at the kitty hotel. Now it’s back to normal life, but with small reminders comparing “normal life” in Portland to that in France.
When you last heard from us, we were in Paris awaiting the USA-France quarterfinal match. Jeanette’s opinion was that the winner of that match would win the tournament, which turned out to be correct. It was a great game with a fantastic atmosphere – the best of the sixteen games we attended in person. At times, the stadium was ear-ringingly loud like I have never experienced.
The general French reaction to the loss was a shrug, as if to say we had hoped for a miracle that didn’t happen. Several times, random people congratulated us for the victory. This was the case with Spain and the Netherlands as well. England fans seemed not as philosophical, but then they came the closest to the upset win.
In the quarterfinal stage, there were a couple days with no match for the first time. We took the opportunity to do a little touristing in Paris, which mostly meant shopping. One day as we were marching through the heat, Jeanette injured her leg. We had to locate an urgent care center, which fortunately was only a couple blocks away. After a very short wait, she saw a doctor and got treatment and a prescription. The entire cost was €50 cash, no insurance!
The last three matches were in Lyon, about two hours by train from Paris. The train was a few minutes late departing and the driver seemed to pour on the coals. At one point we were going 203 mph, a second before this photo which shows 200. That is the fastest that we have ever gone on the ground. Takeoff speed for a large airliner is about 165 mph.
Lyon is the third-largest city in France, about the same population as the Portland metro. Like here, Lyon stands at the confluence of two rivers and has many bridges. The old town has cafes with outdoor tables, lots of tattoo parlors, vintage clothing and records stores, and public art.
The resemblances end there though. Lyon is incredibly dense, basically 6-8 story apartment buildings with no space between, for several square miles. They have a great transit system, with an invaluable smartphone app (c’mon TriMet – give us this). There are Roman “ruins” of an amphitheater, still in use today. There is a bakery and grocery store on nearly every block. Outside the old town, there are five “downtowns” with tall buildings, each a mile or two apart.
The Groupama Stadium couldn’t be much different from Providence Park. It’s huge, seating 60,000, and new, built three years ago. It’s also closer to the airport than the city, amidst alfalfa fields and a few low-rise office parks. Imagine that Providence Park was in Helvetia or Sandy and you’re getting close. There is a spur line on the tram system that goes to the stadium on match days – this is the only access aside from driving.
For the World Cup, they laid on extra trams. Still, the waiting lines were long. When the Netherlands-Sweden match went to extra time, there were issues. The match started at 9:00 pm and didn’t end until midnight (thankfully it didn’t go to PK’s). After 30 minutes waiting in line and another thirty on the tram, we caught the last metro of the night back to our apartment. We later heard that about 500 people were stranded at the stadium – I don’t know what they did.
The prize money for this tournament was doubled from 2015 in Canada. TV viewership was the highest ever in France and the USA. In the case of Fox in the USA, the TV ratings for the Final were the highest for any soccer match ever. The global audience was estimated at 1 billion.
For all that, FIFA will take in something like €130 million, compared to over €6.1 billion for the men’s 2018 version in Russia. In my opinion, a lot of this disparity is FIFA’s own fault, not the fans’.
Marketing for this World Cup was virtually non-existent. Starting back in Canada in 2015, FIFA made little to no effort to promote the 2019 event. In France they made zero effort to promote the 2023 edition – they haven’t even decided where the next one will be. As we’ve mentioned before, there was little awareness of the World Cup with the general public in France.
FIFA passed on the opportunity to make money on media. Fox was given the 2019 Women’s World Cup US TV rights for nothing, as part of a Blatter-era no-bid deal. French TV did the bare minimum of advertising and production. From what we could see (admittedly not much) Fox made the biggest effort of any network to bring in viewers and money.
The merchandising operation was a shambles. Each venue had 3-5 little huts of perhaps 150 square feet, selling a very limited range of products. There were no sales of merch outside of gameday at the stadium aside from one hut at the FIFA Fan Experience sites. There was no online merch selling. The offering was basically one official T-shirt, one scarf, one plushie doll, one ball cap and a few trinkets. Each match had scarves for the two teams and T-shirts for the two teams. In the case of Scotland, the T-shirt was offered in one size only – men’s 2XL.
Despite the lame offerings, there were astonishing lines at the huts. Every match, all match long there were lines. The huts accepted only cash and Visa cards – if you had a different card you had to go to another hut and wait in line to buy a prepaid Visa card so you could go back and wait in line again at the merch hut.
I can only guess at the money FIFA left on the table from poor merchandising. The French mint produced a series of World Cup coins. These were not for sale at any venue – you had to know about it and then go to the mint in downtown Paris to buy one. Third party vendors sold split-scarves outside the stadiums – whatever they made was money FIFA lost. There were no socks, no flags, no collectible pins or patches, no topical T-shirts, no mugs or pint glasses, no headbands, no little electric fans, nothing for children, no postcards. Team jerseys, which could have sold for €100+ each, were not offered anywhere. If they took in €20 million, with better retailing it could have been €100 million.
The ticket prices were also ridiculously cheap. That was happy news for us – we bought the category one seats because the price difference was trivial. A category one ticket for the final was face value €52. On Stubhub, those seats were going for as much as €4,000. In Russia, face value tickets for the final were €540. FIFA priced the tournament at 1/10th of the men’s World Cup, reinforcing my belief that FIFA feels that women’s football is a “compliance” thing, not a money-making opportunity. In the end, they failed to make comparable money because they literally never asked for it. A self-fulfilling prophesy.
Odds and ends
Earlier I had mentioned the Indian Curry potato chips they have in France (yum!). We since discovered a different junk food called Curly Cacahuète – I bought it by accident thinking it said “Curry”. It is like a Puffed Cheeto with a delicate peanut flavor instead of cheese. So delicious!
Lyon has several museums. The Fine Art Museum’s sculpture collection is pretty decent, but the modern art is mostly abstracts that are neither clever nor thought-provoking. The natural history museum, called Confluence, is architecturally stunning but the collection is nothing special. They had a display of headdresses from non-Western cultures. This was almost creepy, as they were making anthropological observations about current cultures. It felt like going to a zoo with people in it. We wondered if they’d dare make similar observations of Western artifacts, for example “The chief shaman wears this hat for special ceremonies invoking the deity’s guidance on everyday behavior for the tribal members” in reference to the Pope’s mitre.
However, the Museum of Miniatures and Cinema was wonderful. On the cinema side, think Movie Madness times ten. The miniatures are without compare. The convenience store in this video is about one foot tall and two feet wide.
The experience of the World Cup, even with its frustrations, was incredible. We met so many interesting and fun people. We saw amazing football, and lots of it. Perhaps 2019 was a tipping point for the overall women’s game. We will root for the Thorns and hope for the best.
Will we do it again? Maybe so – 2023 in Australia or the Koreas would surely be another fantastic time.