The Matildas' semi-final clash with England at the Women's World Cup on Wednesday night was officially the most-watched TV event in Australian history. The Seven Network revealed on Thursday morning that a staggering peak of 11.15 million viewers turned in to watch the blockbuster showdown, with an average of 7.13 million.
The bonkers figure breaks the all-time record of 8.8 million who watched Cathy Freeman's iconic gold medal run in the 400m at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. The Seven Network also said 957,000 viewers watched on their streaming service 7plus, which also broke a record.
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The semi-final had a peak of 6.9 million viewers on TV broadcast alone - which was 89.8 per cent of the total commercial television audience on Wednesday night. It means that roughly nine out of 10 Australians who were watching commercial TV were watching the Matildas.
“Australia was captivated last night as the Matildas played their hearts out and did us all proud,” said Lewis Martin, Seven Melbourne’s Managing Director and Head of Network Sport. “Although their FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 journey ended last night, the Matildas have re-written the history books and captured the hearts and minds of the nation with a performance that is sure to inspire generations of Australians for many years to come. The Matildas’ performance captured the Australian spirit like nothing we have seen in decades.”
The record-breaking TV ratings come after a peak audience of 7.2 million watched the Matildas' 7-6 penalty shootout win over France in the quarter-finals on Saturday night. That surpassed the 3.6 million who watched Ash Barty’s triumph in the Australian Open final in 2022, and 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' fairytale run to the semi-finals of the World Cup 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.
The most watched TV event in 𝐀𝐔𝐒𝐓𝐑𝐀𝐋𝐈𝐀𝐍 𝐇𝐈𝐒𝐓𝐎𝐑𝐘.
THAT'S 42% OF THE COUNTRY WATCHING THE MATILDAS ON CHANNEL 7 ALONE 🤯🇦🇺
That's before you consider figures from Optus Sport and the people watching at live sites around the country.
The Matildas' World Cup… pic.twitter.com/wMJAq7BQo9
— KEEPUP (@keepupau) August 17, 2023
📺Matildas vs England smashes viewing records by reaching 11.15 million Australians, and an average audience 7.13 million.
This is the biggest ever event on streaming reports 7sport.
They spoke the “Cathy Freeman moment”, into reality.https://t.co/6BNjtjeUYd pic.twitter.com/I2DIv8oAtC
— SHE scores bangers (@SHEscoresbanger) August 17, 2023
Matildas players call on fans and government to continue support
But despite the way the Aussies have captivated the nation, there are genuine fears that the interest will fall off a cliff moving forward. A number of Matildas players urged the government to increase funding for women's football in Australia to ensure they can capitalise on the momentum gained from their historic World Cup run.
"I can only speak for the Matildas. We need funding in our development," Sam Kerr said. "We need funding in our grassroots. We need funding. We need funding everywhere. The comparison to other sports isn't really good enough.
"Hopefully this tournament changes that, because that's the legacy you leave - not what you do on the pitch. The legacy is what you do off the pitch. It's hard to talk about now but hopefully this is the start of something new."
Vice-captain Steph Catley echoed Kerr's sentiments, saying: "When you look at football in general in Australia - football is very much not funded the way it should be. There's no argument now that people aren't interested. People are interested. The numbers are there. Kids are playing. People want to be watching the sport. Hopefully this has been enough to prove that and to create the argument and to improve facilities, improve standards for women in football, football in general."
Katrina Gorry urged fans not to desert the Matildas and women's football after the Cup. "It's been absolutely incredible to be on home soil for a World Cup," she said.
"The supporters that have been with us from day one, and everyone else that has jumped on board to watch this beautiful game. The shift in Australian football has just been incredible.
"We've loved every minute of it. From getting off the plane to walking out of our hotel; Australia, we love you. I hope we've made you proud. There's still so much to go for. Don't jump off the bandwagon now, keep on coming and I'm sure we'll make you proud."
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