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  • Writer's pictureMaggie Yan

The Time is Now: Invest in the NWSL


Bella Bixby provides direction to her backline during the 2022 NWSL Championship between the Portland Thorns and the Kansas City Current on October 29, 2022 at Audi Field in Washington D.C.  Photo by Aralynn Minnick for WSX.
Bella Bixby provides direction to her backline during the 2022 NWSL Championship between the Portland Thorns and the Kansas City Current on October 29, 2022 at Audi Field in Washington D.C. Photo by Aralynn Minnick for WSX.

In its 10th season of play, the NWSL witnessed a record-breaking 915,000 viewers of the NWSL Championship on primetime TV, over 1 million total fans in attendance at games, and sponsorship revenue up 87%. Yet, investment into the NWSL is still very much lackluster.


Investment looks like increased long-term sponsorship, accessible media coverage, and investing financially into the clubs themselves. Investment also looks like continued engagement on social media with players and teams, buying merchandise, and showing up to games.


So here is why this NWSL offseason is the perfect time to invest in the NWSL for everyone. And for those who may not have the income to support the league financially, investment goes way beyond just money too.


Sky-Rocketing Engagement

In-person, fans are already showing that there is a proven track of skyrocketing engagement for the NWSL worthy of investment money in particular.


According to the league, ticket revenue has increased 125% from last year and attendance reflects this greatly. In the 2022 regular season, the NWSL averaged 7,894 fans per game and the two new expansion teams led the way.


Angel City FC had four 20,000 person sell-out games at Banc of California Stadium. The San Diego Wave FC broke the league’s all-time record when they hosted Angel City for a sellout 32,00 person crowd at their newly-built Snapdragon Stadium, winning 1-0 over their California rival. Both teams entered the NWSL for the first time in 2022 and are already shattering records, showing once again that there is a vast and growing demand for women’s soccer in the U.S.


“I’m moved and elated that all our suspicions were true: There’s a huge, passionate fan base for women’s soccer,” Angel City’s founding partner and award-winning actress, Natalie Portman, told The Wall Street Journal. “It’s been the most beautiful season seeing our team come together, build a culture, and merit the massive attention and devotion they deserve.”


Even in the postseason this year, the NWSL is still reaching new heights. The competition between clubs in the NWSL and the uncertainty of who would move forward certainly drew fans in to watch. During the four playoff matches this season, the NWSL averaged 21,730 attendants per game, outperforming the MLS’ postseason attendance in its 10th year by 43%. Each playoff game set a new record for the league.

There’s no telling what’s in store for 2023 either. Angel City’s campaign to redefine the NWSL has continued to raise the bar for expansion teams, and hype for women’s soccer across the U.S. is at an all-time high from all the sellout postseason games.


Successful Championship

Before the 2022 NWSL Championship, NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman noted that the NWSL is the “hardest league in the world to finish second” and because of that people needed to watch the final because “every second [was] going to be great.”


The championship game delivered in every way possible, from goals, to content, to even more viewership records.


Goals

Just four minutes after the whistle blew to kick off the championship matchup between the Portland Thorns and Kansas City Current in front of 17,624 fans, Sophia Smith scored a brilliant goal on AD Franch for the Portland Thorns.


Smith didn’t just score any ordinary goal. After Elizabeth Ball failed to clear a ball sent in behind for Smith, Smith dribbled toward the goal. Faced up with Franch 1v1, Smith danced around Franch and shot into a wide-open net.

To seal their championship victory, the Portland Thorns got on the scoreboard again in the 56th minute. Yazmeen Ryan sent a clinical cross right in front of the goal for Smith and Morgan Weaver’s runs, but Franch collided with one of her own defenders, Addisyn Merrick, which sent the ball skidding past the goalline for an own goal under Merrick’s name.


The Portland Thorns went on to win their third NWSL Championship, 2-0.


Content

When Budweiser signed a multi-year sponsorship with the NWSL right after the USWNT’s victorious 2019 Women’s World Cup, they probably did not have Kristie Mewis or her sister Sam Mewis in mind.

Yet the photo on the right of Kristie Mewis celebrating the Houston Dash’s 2020 Challenge Cup victory has become an iconic photo to represent Budweiser and NWSL’s partnership. Budweiser’s investment started out as a bet on women’s soccer in the U.S. after the USWNT’s 2019 success. Now, it serves as the means of delivering top-tier content for exuberant post-championship celebrations. The NWSL and Portland Thorns social teams did not miss a beat to give fans a look behind the scenes.

Viewership Records

In addition to the regular season and playoff records, the championship excitement also delivered more records for the NWSL. For the first time in the league’s 10-year history, the 2022 NWSL Championship found a spot on a Saturday at primetime because Ally increased its media investment with CBS.


“You want to be on a primetime network,” Ally’s CMO, Andrea Brimmer, told Adweek. “It’s still where the most eyeballs are going to be in linear. It’s the primary part of what we buy from a media perspective, live sports on network TV. And then we fill in gaps so that we have an always-on schedule, with streaming.”


And because Ally believed in the NWSL even amidst the aftermath of the Sally Yates report, an average of 915,000 viewers tuned into CBS at 8 p.m. EST while Game 2 of the World Series and the Michigan-Michigan State were live at the same time.


The 2022 NWSL Championship was also Paramount+’s most-streamed NWSL match ever, recording double-digit growth in comparison to last year. And throughout the season, Paramount+’s viewership had increased by almost 30% according to Commissioner Berman.


Now just imagine how spectacular the 2023 Championship game will be for players and fans alike.


Sharp Promising Future

In 2023, the NWSL will add soccer fans' favorite technology: VAR. In a league that has had a long history of questionable calls from referees, VAR could not come soon enough. From livid comments by a head coach to a clear goal called as a corner kick instead to two players, Bianca St. Georges and Amber Brooks, flipping off the referees out of frustration NWSL refereeing has been exasperating, to say the least. Of course, better referee training itself within the Professional Referee Organization (PRO) is just as immediately critical, VAR will bring about a new level of excitement to NWSL games without a doubt.


In 2024, the NWSL will expand to 14 teams, adding two new ones. The NWSL was expected to receive around 10 meaningful bids this past Friday, including the USL W’s community-owned Minnesuota Aurora, who sold out the USL W Championship game in less than 24 hours in July. There are even reports that one of the 2024 spots would potentially go back to a market the NWSL is already familiar with: Utah.


The Women’s World Cup hosted by Australia and New Zealand will also kick off in 2023 promising an extremely exciting year ahead for women’s soccer. With Budweiser signing a deal with the NWSL right after the 2019 Women’s World Cup, there’s no doubt that Commissioner Berman’s phone will be ringing off the hook come summer 2023. Now is the prime time to get a deal with the NWSL and ride the hype leading up to and through the 2023 Women’s World Cup.


Superstar Talent

Need one more reason to invest in the league financially and/or as a fan? Look at the talent.


The NWSL is home to many veteran world-class players like Christine Sinclair (CAN), Kailen Sheridan (CAN), Alex Morgan (USA), Megan Rapinoe (USA), Christen Press (USA), Jess Fishlock (WAL), Estelle Johnson (CMR), Ali Riley (NZL), María Sánchez (MEX), Marta (BRA), Debinha (BRA), amongst many others with a combined 1,000+ caps for their respective national teams. Rising young international talent like Ebony Salmon (ENG), Sophia Smith (USA), and Diana Ordóñez (MEX) also play in this league as well alongside yet-to-be-capped rookie talents like Amirah Ali and Jaedyn Shaw. The NWSL is also home to Meghan Klingenberg and Sydney Leroux, beloved players by long-time U.S. Women’s National Team fans.


The talent of the NWSL also goes far beyond the aforementioned players. Players like Carson Pickett (tied the regular season in assists in 2022), Lo’eau LaBonta (led Current to the finals), Kelli Hubly (2022 Champion and Thorns’ ironwoman), and Phallon Tullis-Joyce (2022 Goalkeeper of the Year nominee) are phenomenal top talent in the league with little to no playing time at the international level. Others like Tatumn Milazzo (Chicago native playing for Chicago Red Stars), Paige Monaghan (Jersey native with NJ/NY Gotham), Tori Huster (Washington Spirit vet and NWSLPA president), and Sarah Gorden (injured player fans are eager to see back on the pitch) are just a few fan favorites.


These lists go on and on. There are dozens of players with serious talent loved by fans transcending team loyalty. This all comes full circle on just how exciting the NWSL is to watch and its potential to become even more competitive. Serious talent means that no one or two teams are ahead of the others, leveling the playing field and really making it any team's chance to shine. This edge-of-your-seat unpredictability draws viewers in week by week. Just look at the Kansas City Current who finished last in 2021 but made the championship game in 2022.

The 11 players who have been rostered in all 10 years of the NWSL’s existence pose for a group photo in their honorary jackets before the 2022 NWSL Championship. Photo by Aralynn Minnick for WSX.  Top Row (L to R): Nicole Barnhart, Toni Pressley, Merritt Matthias, Alyssa Naeher, Tori Huster, Jessica McDonald Bottom Row (L to R): Lauren Barnes, Alyssa Mautz, Jess Fishlock, Jasmyne Spencer, McCall Zerboni
The 11 players who have been rostered in all 10 years of the NWSL’s existence pose for a group photo in their honorary jackets before the 2022 NWSL Championship. Photo by Aralynn Minnick for WSX. Top Row (L to R): Nicole Barnhart, Toni Pressley, Merritt Matthias, Alyssa Naeher, Tori Huster, Jessica McDonald Bottom Row (L to R): Lauren Barnes, Alyssa Mautz, Jess Fishlock, Jasmyne Spencer, McCall Zerboni

The Time is Now

This NWSL offseason is a sweet spot where the NWSL celebrates 10 years and a new wave of hype for women’s soccer is bound to launch leading up to the 2023 Women’s World Cup.


The NWSL has learned a lot from the past decade and is on its way to implement meaningful changes based on the Sally Yates report recommendations and pending findings from ongoing joint NWSL and NWSLPA investigations. What the league really needs is increased investment now to be the best it can be going into its 11th season. Investment into the NWSL builds the league's infrastructure, which is needed to shape the best league for players to thrive in, in turn bringing the best talent and drawing in more fans to the NWSL.


Executives should look into long-term sponsorship with the NWSL, including pushing for wider accessible media coverage at primetime as Ally did with the 2022 Championship. Teams also need direct investment to attract even more international talent with improved facilities, accommodations, and increased salaries.


For fans, it is more important now than ever this offseason to keep engaging with players and the team’s social media channels. Continued engagement proves to potential investors and sponsors that players and teams have a circle of influence that are worth their funds. Buying merch and season tickets shows that you support the league, its teams, and players long-term and are personally invested in the future.


So plainly laid out: Investment benefits player performance, player performance draws fans/viewers and engagement, attendance drives revenue, and revenue brings more investors. It takes initial sponsors who believe, like Ally, Budweiser, and you, to start this cycle. Even Natalie Portman, Alexis Ohanian, Serena Williams, Eli Manning, Sue Bird, and many other celebrity investors have taken a leap of faith in the NWSL.


Will you contribute to boosting this cycle and support the NWSL?


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