NWSL continues growth with expansion to the Bay Area
By: Riley Day
April 24, 2023
The NWSL is still in a stage of relative infancy, kicking off its 11th season this past month, but the league is already off to a fast start.
The momentum for women’s sports is rapidly increasing, as shown by the surge in viewership during last month’s NCAA Women’s March Madness Tournament, which averaged 9.92 million viewers and peaked at 12.6 million. It is highly likely that the NWSL will experience a similar upswing in viewership this season as well. As you can see in the table below, the NWSL started to see high-levels of social media growth at the end of last season.
Photo Credit: CBC Sports
According to Sports Pro Media, 915,000 viewers tuned in to watch the Portland Thorns defeat the Kansas City Current in the 2022 NWSL Championship. The figure marked a 71% increase in viewership compared to last year’s final and set a new record for a single NWSL match. With the FIFA Women’s World Cup returning this summer and the Men’s Tournament set to be held in the U.S. in 2026, this year is crucial for soccer in America.
Since March of 2020, CBS Sports has been the main broadcaster of NWSL games. CBS signed a multi-year deal to broadcast games on its various platforms in order to take full advantage of the partnership. Games were broadcast on CBS Network, CBS Sports Network, and Paramount Plus. The deal included exclusive rights to televise the league championship, semifinals, and a selection of regular season games. This year, 23 regular season matches will be aired across the NWSL regular season.
In order to cater to the growing appetite for women’s soccer, the NWSL is rapidly expanding. Established in 2012 with just five teams, the league has since expanded to 12 and is actively adding more. Boasting USWNT stars like Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe, as well as international superstars like Brazilian Forward, Marta, and Welsh Midfielder, Jess Fishlock, the NWSL consistently produces high-level play, showcasing the best women’s players in the world.
“The number of bids and the increase in league expansion fees are indicative of both the demand that exists for women’s soccer in the professional sports landscape and the validated growth trajectory of our league” NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman said.
In 2022, the league reached a total of 12 franchises when it added two California-based teams: Angel City FC and San Diego Wave. Angel City FC was announced with a majority-female ownership group headlined by actress Natalie Portman, an encouraging sign of the league’s progressive mindset.
Further expansion into California was announced at the beginning of this month with a new franchise representing the Bay Area set to begin play in 2024. A fourteenth franchise out of the Salt Lake City suburb of Sandy, Utah is also slated to resume play in 2024. The Utah Royals were in the NWSL for three seasons but were moved to Kansas City by their new owners in late 2020. Due to Utah’s continued success in producing the highest number of girls high school soccer players recruited by Division I colleges, the state has been determined to bring back an NWSL team, and their efforts have finally been successful.
Overall, the future of women’s soccer in America looks incredibly bright. The NWSL is poised to establish itself as a force to be reckoned with, thanks to a surge in viewership, an increase in social media engagement, and ongoing expansion of the league.