CARY, North Carolina (Reuters) - The North Carolina Courage thrashed the Chicago Red Stars for a second consecutive NWSL championship on Sunday, capping a significant year of change for women’s soccer in the United States.
Interest in the sport has increased thanks to the U.S. national team’s record-extending fourth World Cup victory, a lawsuit against the governing body for gender discrimination and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics on the horizon.
The prominence on the international stage has been a boon to the NWSL, where average attendances were around 7,300 during the 2019 season, up from around 5,000 in 2015, the last year the U.S. won the World Cup.
NWSL President Amanda Duffy told Reuters while the league struggled to retain new fans after the 2015 World Cup, a stronger ownership group better integrated in local markets would help make the difference this time around.
“This year was different and it was elevated above what I’ve ever seen,” said Duffy. “The (U.S.) team resonated with fans in a completely new way on top of how they already had that relationship and support from fans.”
World Cup success coincided with added momentum on the business side, with ESPN signing a deal with the league in July to televise matches on its networks and Budweiser signing on as the NWSL’s first official beer sponsor.
Budweiser launched a promotion ahead of the NWSL championship aimed at bringing in other sponsors, with a series of tweets featuring Reign FC’s Megan Rapinoe.
“This year, the fans of the @NWSL have shown the world they #WontStopWatching,” one tweet reads. “But, today, we’re calling for more brands to join those fans in the stands.”
Industry experts said the conditions surrounding the league, which this month announced an expansion franchise in Louisville, Kentucky, were ideal for growth.
“The timing is right for the NWSL, and the product is definitely sustainable,” said Bob Dorfman, creative director at Baker Street Advertising.
“World Cup momentum will continue to build through the 2020 Olympics, and with new stars emerging, a young, loyal fanbase growing, and solid marketing and sponsorship support behind it all, the league should be able to thrive.”
The surging popularity of the women’s game is also being seen outside the United States, with England set for a record sell-out crowd at Wembley Stadium next month in their match against Germany.
“There’s companies that have kind of jumped on board and rode this wave of excitement with women’s soccer,” said U.S. and Courage defender Abby Dahlkemper.
“I think the quality of this league, the World Cup tournament, the quality of soccer being played is the highest level it’s ever been played.”
Reporting by Amy Tennery,; Editing by Christian Radnedge
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