PARIS: Five weeks before the women’s World Cup kicks off in France, and there is a hive of activity high up in the Montparnasse Tower, one of the tallest buildings in Paris.
It is here, on the 49th floor and with an unobstructed view over the French capital, that tournament organisers are working to put everything in place for a month — from June 7 to July 7 — where women’s football will be in the spotlight like never before.
And yet, the organisers admit that they have been caught out by the extent of the demand from foreign fans for tickets.
“We didn’t see it coming,” says Erwan Le Prevost, head of the local organising committee.
While the opening match will be played at the Parc des Princes in Paris and both the semi-finals and the final will be staged in Lyon, in between matches will also be played in some of France’s smaller provincial cities, from Nice on the Mediterranean coast to Valenciennes in the far north.
“We did not always choose big stadiums, because we didn’t want any empty stadiums,” Noel Le Graet, the president of the French Football Federation, admitted to AFP.
Yet of the 1.3 million tickets put on sale for the 52 matches, at prices ranging from nine to 84 euros ($10-94), more than 720,000 have already been sold.
“We have already reached our objective in terms of ticket sales and now we are going beyond. The tickets for the semis, the final and the opening match sold out in 48 hours,” said Le Graet, who is pleasantly surprised.
“We got the women’s World Cup in 2015. When you get it, you tell yourself that you’re going to have to find some stadiums and fill them.
“At the beginning, possible host cities were not exactly shoving each other out of the way to come forward. I was a bit scared about the Parc des Princes, but the opening match sold out in five minutes.”
That game will see hosts France play South Korea as they set out in search of a first World Cup triumph.
Seven games in total have sold out so far, including the Netherlands against Cameroon at the 25,000-seat Stade du Hainaut in Valenciennes on June 15.
That will include as many as 10,000 Dutch supporters travelling down through Belgium for the match.
While not every game will be a sell-out, organisers surely should not have been surprised by the degree of interest from France and around the world as the United States prepare to defend their crown on French soil.
Attendances are on the rise all over. While a French record crowd of almost 26,000 saw Lyon beat Paris Saint-Germain recently, in England there is set to be a record crowd for a women’s FA Cup final this weekend when more than 50,000 watch Manchester City face West Ham.
In March, a world record crowd for a women’s club game of over 60,000 saw Atletico Madrid play Barcelona in Spain.
Big crowds will be the norm throughout June and July too, but from the point of view of security the women’s World Cup is far less of a headache than Euro 2016.
Three years ago, the men’s European showpiece was overshadowed by terrorism fears as well as hooliganism, with English and Russian fans clashing in ugly scenes in Marseille.
A different profile of supporter will be present this time.
“It will be nearly 30 percent children in the stadiums, it will be very family friendly with all the good side of football,” said Le Prevost.
“There won’t be an oppressive atmosphere like there often was during the Euro.”