If there were any lingering doubts that Matildas mania is taking over Australia, there isn't any more. Extraordinary details have come to light about the number of people who tuned in to watch the Matildas take down France in their Women's World Cup quarter-final on Saturday night.
The Seven Network revealed on Sunday that a peak TV audience of 7.2 million people were watching Australia's 7-6 penalty shootout win in Brisbane. An average of 4.17 million tuned in to the quarter-final, with the Seven Network also enjoying a record 472,000 viewers streaming the game on their digital platform 7Plus.
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To put the numbers into perspective, the most-watched event in Australian TV history is believed to be Cathy Freeman's iconic 400m triumph at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. While OZTam data wasn't tracked back in 2000, it reportedly attracted a record 8.8 million viewers.
The TV audience for the Matildas quarter-final surpassed the 3.6 million who watched Ash Barty’s triumph in the Australian Open final in 2022. It also attracted more viewers than other iconic Aussie sporting events like Lleyton Hewitt’s loss in the 2005 Australian Open final and the Wallabies’ loss to England in the 2003 Rugby World Cup final. The viewership for the Matildas' round of 16 win over Denmark had already passed the number of people who watched the State of Origin series this year, as well as last year's AFL and NRL grand finals.
But the Matildas are poised to go one better, with many tipping the semi-final between Australia and England to be the most-watched event in Aussie TV history. Considering the amount of British people in Australia, it's highly likely that Cathy Freeman's record of 8.8 million will fall.
The Matildas game last night was the most watched TV event in Australia since Cathy Freeman won gold at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. There is beautiful synchronicity here considering Cathy Freeman inspired #Matildas ❤️ https://t.co/VWGMoLy5Ie
— Victoria Fielding (@DrVicFielding) August 13, 2023
Breaking records on and off the field! 😮
📺 Australia you tuned in to watch @TheMatildas reach the Semi-Finals of the @FIFAWWC 👏
Last night's match against France was the highest rating TV Sport program in a decade. 💚💛#Matildas #FIFAWWC #TilItsDone pic.twitter.com/q7lHJfmBP6
— Football Australia (@FootballAUS) August 13, 2023
I’m out of superlatives.
They’ve all been well & truly exhausted over 5 phenomenal matches.
This team has challenged orthodoxy & opened new possibilities in every sense.
The numbers speak volumes.
The semi final will break TV sets.
2 games to go.#FIFAWWC#Matildas pic.twitter.com/HWeCQIqVb9
— Craig Foster (@Craig_Foster) August 13, 2023
Matildas fans get more live sites for semi-final against England
The TV numbers are even more extraordinary considering the amount of fans who watched the quarter-final at live sites around the country, or at bars and pubs. Fans have been packing Federation Square in Melbourne, Tumbalong Park in Darling Harbour in Sydney, and many other locations.
The AFL even went to the length of playing the Matildas game on the big screens at the MCG, SCG and Optus Stadium on Saturday before and after their games - a stunning development considering the code wars that normally exist in Australia. And such is the hype around the semi-final showdown against England on Wednesday night that state premiers have announced even more live sites will be open for viewers.
With tickets to the game at Stadium Australia in Sydney sold out months ago, fans have been desperate to get together elsewhere. In a post on social media platform X on Sunday, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews wrote: "Big game needs a bigger stadium. AAMI Park. Wednesday night. Be there."
Mr Andrews opened Rod Laver Arena as a live site for the quarter-final, but this time it will be AAMI Park where fans can get together. NSW Premier Chris Minns also announced extra live sites in Sydney for Wednesday night.
"The semi-finals are set up for an absolute blockbuster, so we are opening up Commbank Stadium (in Parramatta) and Allianz Stadium at Moore Park so people can come together and celebrate what will definitely be a victory by the Matildas on Wednesday night," he said. Large crowds are expected at the Western Sydney Stadium in Parramatta in the city's west, the official FIFA fan zone at Darling Harbour and in front of large screens outside Olympic Stadium at Homebush, where the game will be played.
"There are plenty of opportunities for people to get out and back the Matildas," Mr Minns said. "You'll never get another opportunity to see such a massive sporting event on our shores. Your vocal cords will play a big part in getting the Matildas over the line."
Will Australia get a public holiday if the Matildas win?
The sails of the Opera House will light up in green and gold on Wednesday, but the NSW premier would not be drawn on questions about a possible public holiday if the Matildas win. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has previously talked up the possibility.
"We've got two games to go before then," Mr Minns said. Wednesday's showdown with England is the first time either of the men's or women's football teams have ever reached the semi-finals of a World Cup.
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