The National Women's Soccer League is clearly experiencing a bounce following this summer’s Women’s World Cup, but it remains to be seen if this interest has staying power.
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At a time when many sports leagues are seeing attendance declines or limited growth, the women’s soccer league has clearly captured something over the past two months. Following the United States winning the Women’s World Cup in July, the NWSL has seen a dramatic spark in interest. A new television deal and an influx of sponsors are set against the backdrop of a league that saw a 17 percent spike in attendance over last year’s average.
Heading into this weekend, the NWSL is averaging 7,039 fans per game. Last year, the league finished with an average of 6,024. Every team in the league has seen at least some sort of attendance gains this season.
Since the World Cup, attendance has soared, a barometer for the sport. In mid-August, 25,218 attended a Portland Thorns match, an NWSL record. New Jersey-based club Sky Blue had to move their home match several weeks ago from Rutgers University to Red Bull Arena to handle a franchise-record crowd of 9,415. Things are good around the league following this bounce from the national team winning the World Cup.
Before the NWSL was founded in 2013, two other women’s soccer leagues have folded in recent years. Peter Wilt was president and CEO of the Chicago Red Stars in Women's Professional Soccer, the second of the two women’s league. The WPS folded in 2012.
“They’re being measured and conservative and they’ve used this most recent Women’s World Cup to take another important step forward in the sport’s growth in this country. Is it going to go from A to Z? No,” Wilt told FOX Business.
“But it is showing progress because of the Women’s World Cup.”
The Women’s World Cup drew massive ratings on FOX and FS1, boosted by a United States team that grabbed headlines for seemingly every reason on and off the field. With the vast majority of the United States players in the NWSL, a spike in interest this year is certainly understandable.
Now it becomes retaining that interest. Wilt cautions that the league can’t expect to hang on to all those gains this season, let alone come next year. Growth will be incremental, he says, but will compound over time.
“I think it is going to be slow and steady. I think at some point there needs to be expansion in more markets and more good executives in the league,” Wilt said.
“There are good executives out there and experienced executives. Put them in positions where they can succeed, create more opportunities so that we have more successes. Not every market is going to be a financial success but if more markets are given that chance, there will be more successful teams and will, in turn, showcase more people.”