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SportsColumnistsBarbara Barker

What's next for women athletes after Cup winners ride down Canyon of Heroes?

The U.S. women's World Cup soccer team celebrates

The U.S. women's World Cup soccer team celebrates at a championship rally at L.A. LIVE in downtown Los Angeles on July 7, 2015. Credit: Getty Images / Robyn Beck

This is no longer just about women's soccer.

Five days after their dazzling 5-2 win over Japan in the World Cup, the U.S. team will ride through the Canyon of Heroes Friday in lower Manhattan.

It doesn't matter that they are the first sports team not named the Rangers, Yankees, Mets or Giants to be honored in Manhattan in 31 years, when U.S. Olympic medal winners from the Los Angeles Games were honored. It doesn't matter that they will be the first women's team to be showered with confetti in lower Manhattan.

What matters is that this team, whose 25.4 million American viewers for Sunday's championship game surpassed the audience for the final games of the most recent NBA Finals and World Series, has tapped into something big. Something bigger than women's soccer, something bigger than sports.

The team has awakened the desire of many Americans, both men and women, to embrace and celebrate the achievement of strong women and their dreams. It's about the desire of many mothers and fathers to be able to point to an athlete, a CEO or even a presidential candidate and say, "There's a face that looks like yours."

"I do think it's a watershed or seminal moment," said Jason Sullivan, a sports marketing expert who has worked with past World Cup champions as the managing director at Publicis Seattle. "Women's sports right now is literally at one of the greatest points that it's been in our history. I think it's a perfect storm of what's going on with all the chatter about equal pay and role model and women's leadership and female CEOs. Right now, it's at a great high point."

According to, a major online retailer of licensed sports merchandise, the U.S. team had a 3,000 percent increase in sales on Sunday and has been the top-selling team on the site.

Don't think marketers won't notice. While the action on Friday will take place on lower Broadway, the real action will be taking place on Madison Avenue as players like Carli Lloyd, Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan look to cash in on new endorsement and marketing opportunities.

This is a good thing. Because as of right now, these women certainly aren't going to make big paychecks actually playing the sport they love.

The total prize money for the Women's World Cup this year was $15 million, compared to a total of $576 million for last year's men's World Cup, according to FIFA. The U.S. team will take home $2 millionin prize money for winning the World Cup titleas compared to the $35 million that Germany's winning men's team received last year.

What's more, salaries in the National Women's Soccer League -- which has nine teams and plays from April through August -- range from a little more than $6,842 to $37,800, according to Reuters.

So players cut corners where they can. The Houston Dash, for example, runs a host-family program to get their players free housing. (Former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy's family currently hosts national team members Meghan Klingenberg and Morgan Brian.)

It's hard to say what will happen after this Women's World Cup party ends. Will the win give women's soccer, or women's sports, a big boost? Two previous women's soccer leagues were started and folded after 1999, so the history is not good.

Yet, a lot has changed since 1999. Two generations have grown up under Title IX, the federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender in any federally funded education program or activity. There are women CEOs in their 40s who first learned about teamwork and success while playing high school sports.

The most dominant athlete in the world, Serena Williams, is a woman. Maybe she deserves a ticker-tape parade after the U.S. Open if she completes a Grand Slam sweep.Before real change can happen, however, we have to start asking why fans and sponsors are so much more fixated on supporting men's sports?

Or better yet, after we take our sons and daughters to watch the U.S. team ride down the Canyon of Heroes, we might want to think about driving out to Piscataway, New Jersey, to watch a women's Sky Blue FC game at Rutgers' Yurcak Field.

Because it's not just about women's soccer.

New York Sports