Women’s World Cup opener breaks New Zealand attendance record

Images: Eden Park

The opening match of the FIFA Women’s World Cup at Auckland’s Eden Park has set a new record for a football match in New Zealand with 42,137 in attendance, but the start of the tournament was overshadowed by a shooting in the city earlier in the day that left three people dead.

The incident occurred at 7:22am local time on a construction site in the city centre of Auckland. Local police said the shooter was among those killed, and Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown said the incident was not related to the Women’s World Cup in any way.

Ahead of the opening match between New Zealand and Norway, players observed a minute’s silence. Players also wore black armbands during the game, which New Zealand won 1-0.

FIFA said that it had been informed the shooting was an isolated incident and confirmed that the opening match would go ahead as planned.

In a statement released following today’s match, Eden Park chief executive Nick Sautner said: “Tonight, the world was watching, and Eden Park delivered.

“Eden Park has a proud history of delivering Aotearoa New Zealand’s most memorable sporting moments. Three years in the making, hosting tonight’s highly anticipated opening match of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 between Norway and New Zealand is another milestone in our journey.

“Eden Park continues to demonstrate its commitment to gender equality in sports. This tournament is the third Women’s World Cup held at the stadium in the past two years. Tonight, we once again witnessed history in the making; fans packed the stadium to experience the third-largest sporting event in the world.

“Our great city and country have experienced significant adversity over the last three years, from enduring lockdowns and natural disasters to the heart-wrenching tragedy of today’s shooting incident. Events provide escapism, and amidst such adversity, Eden Park’s ability to draw in fans and provide them with a form of escape through sport is a testament to the unyielding spirit of our community.”

The crowd of 42,137 set a new record for a football match in New Zealand. There had been hopes that the match would break the attendance for a women’s sporting event in New Zealand, but the crowd fell just short of the 42,579 figure posted during last year’s Rugby World Cup final between New Zealand and England at Eden Park.

The previous record attendance for a football match in New Zealand was 37,034, which was set at Wellington Regional Stadium in 2017 for the men’s team’s World Cup play-off match against Peru.

Ahead of the Women’s World Cup, Eden Park underwent NZ$33m (£16.1m/€18.5m/$20.7m) worth of upgrades, including the installation of new LED broadcasting and stadium lighting, replacement of the turf on the number 1 field, refurbished gender-neutral changing rooms, upgrades to its West Stand function rooms, the creation of Quiet Rooms and sensory areas, new CCTV systems, replacement of its Samsung replay screens and upgrades to its main Samsung SuperScreen.

Other improvements included new turnstiles, hand scanners, gate entry LED screens and safety barriers/bollards at entry points, and upgrades to the retail outlet point-of-sale, building management and electrical systems.

Speaking to earlier this week, Sautner said: “All of these improvements enhance the experience of everyone who attends an event at Eden Park. From the players and performers who can enjoy our upgraded changing rooms and the new turf, to guests who from the moment they enter through our new turnstiles are getting a world-class experience, right through to the broadcasters who benefit from our new LED stadium lighting.”

Sautner said that Eden Park has been on a “transformation journey” over the past five years, with a focus placed on gender equality in sports and the arts with the introduction of concerts. This year’s tournament is the third Women’s World Cup to be held at Eden Park in the space of 18 months following rugby union and cricket events last year.

Although Eden Park has hosted football matches before, the stadium required a new pitch to host the Women’s World Cup.

“Our world-class turf team, led by Blair Christiansen, have been planning for this tournament for the past three years,” said Sautner. “They have grown a brand-new turf at our turf farm and recently installed this on our number one field where the FWWC2023 matches will be played.

“The team have worked tirelessly over the past couple of months to ensure the Eden Park turf meets the high quality required for international football and standards specified by FIFA.”

Eden Park will host eight more matches during the Women’s World Cup, including a quarter-final and a semi-final.

“The tournament is an opportunity to inspire the next generation of players and superstars of women’s football,” Sautner said. “Hosting the tournament will be a catalyst for supercharging long-term participation growth in football – leaving a lasting legacy in Aotearoa New Zealand, Australia and the wider Pacific.”

In April, Eden Park unveiled plans for a retractable roof and new North Stand as part of a major development of the stadium and Sautner said that the team is looking forward to bringing the “Eden Park 2.0 vision” to life.

“Eden Park 2.0 delivers a world-class, multi-purpose, hybrid stadium,” he said. “It’s a venue where New Zealand can continue to make its mark on the world, a hub for sporting excellence, a state-of-the-art entertainment centre and a destination for fans from across the world. We are currently working on architecture and engineering designs for Stage 1 which includes the installation of the roof and refurbishment of our North Stand.”

New Zealand is co-hosting the Women’s World Cup alongside Australia. Later on Thursday, Sydney’s Accor Stadium hosted Australia’s 1-0 win over the Republic of Ireland. The match attracted a crowd of 75,784, setting a new record for a women’s football match in the country.