Last week, FIFA took centre stage in the world media for all the wrong reasons. This week, the beautiful game will rely on its most beautiful players to re-focus attention on the sport itself. That means eyes of the soccer world will be on Canada for the entirety of the 2015 Women's World Cup, which starts on June 6 with a pair of matches in Edmonton, takes place in Ottawa, Winnipeg, Moncton, Montreal and culminates on July 5 in Vancouver.
The tournament's championship game is already sold out, with close to 50,000 people expected to attend and another 65 million from around the world to watch on television. For Vancouver, it is the opportunity to once again take advantage of showcasing its jewel of a destination to an audience riveted on a sporting event. This time, there are two big differences from the 2010 Winter Olympics: the global economic climate is significantly better than five years ago and the city will be in the glow of summer.
A record 9.5 million visitors are expected to arrive in the city in 2015 and many of them will be present during the next month. Of the $267 million of economic activity anticipated from the Women's World Cup, $37 million is tabbed for the Vancouver area, according to organizers.
"It's an event that supports jobs, brings revenue into the city and the province, and fills hotel rooms," says Ty Speer, president and CEO of Tourism Vancouver.
A $1.2-million fan zone -- with large TV screens, music acts and family activities -- will be open during select dates. It will be in a parking lot at the corner of Cambie and Georgia streets, a block away from BC Place, the stadium that will host nine of the tournament's matches. With the retractable roof on the stadium expected to be open and a joyous atmosphere that will be absent of the hooliganism of the men's version of the international tournament, soccer is poised to regain some of the lustre lost during the fraud scandal that has rocked FIFA.
While the championship game is sold out, tickets are available for several of the other matches in Vancouver and in the five other host cities around the country. According to a report in the Edmonton Sun last week, 831,000 tickets have been sold, a number that is close to the 845,751 bought during the entire 2011 tournament in Germany.
In Winnipeg, tickets -- which cost as little as $20 for some preliminary-round games -- may be available, but hotel rooms are scarce. The city will host seven games, including several featuring the United States, and its occupancy rates have skyrocketed. This week, the Winnipeg Free Press reported that many fans who delayed in booking rooms are now left to search the suburbs for lodging.
"It's an amazing event. I don't know if somebody is going to do an economic impact study on FIFA but it would be interesting. It has certainly had a tremendous impact on the accommodation sector," said Paul Robson, CEO of Canad Inns, which owns 10 Winnipeg properties and says all are sold out.
The Canadian Soccer Association has stated it wants to sell 1.5 million tickets for the 52 matches in the tournament. If accomplished, it would break the previous Women's World Cup record of 1,194,215 tickets sold. That total was set in 1999 when the tournament was held in the United States and marked the height of the sport, with American star Brandi Chastain landing on the cover of Sports Illustrated after scoring the championship-winning goal and ripping off her shirt in an iconic celebration.
If this tournament can have a defining moment that is similar in its power to change perception and spark conversation, then the Women's World Cup will have done its job. Attention would shift away from the troubles with Sepp Blatter's organization and move onto Canada, a nation whose governor-general has designated 2015 as the Year of Sport.
Though it is neither the Olympics nor the men's version of soccer's global tournament, the Women's World Cup is once again proving its economic might and its ability to have a social impact.
MORE ABOUT THE 2015 FIFA WOMEN'S WORLD CUP
Dates: June 6-July 5
Host Cities: Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa, Moncton, Vancouver and Winnipeg.
Tickets: Tickets can be purchased through Ticketmaster.ca. Prices vary on match and seating area. All games have tickets at $50 or less, with some Group Stage matches featuring ticket prices ranging from $20.15-$50. Click here for details on prices.
Match Schedule: Visit the FIFA Women's World Cup website for matches and other information.
How It Works: The 24 teams in the tournament are divided into six groups of four. Each team plays three games against its group opponents. The top two teams in each group and four wild-card teams advance to the Round of 16, which begins play on June 20 and marks the start of the elimination games of the tournament. Semi-final matches in Montreal (June 30) and Edmonton (July 1) will determine the two contenders for the July 5 championship game in Vancouver.
Team Canada: Led by star forward Christine Sinclair, Canada is one of the favourites in the tournament. It is in Group A, along with the Netherlands, New Zealand and China. Canada's match schedule in the Group Stage is: June 6 vs. China in Edmonton (tournament-opening match); June 11 vs. New Zealand in Edmonton; and June 15 vs. Netherlands in Montreal.
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