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Ship's Log, Nov. 13: We just watched the NWSL hit it big

The TV ratings for the NWSL Final are strong, but they aren't the only grand business measure going right for women's soccer right now.

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3 min read
Jessica Alcheh-USA TODAY

Tired: Relaunching women's soccer leagues every few years.

Wired: Keeping a women's soccer league solvent for a decade.

Inspired: Having that league's final with a crowd and TV viewing on par with other top-flight soccer leagues in the world.

Yes, I know. OL Reign lost. I'm not really over it either. But something bigger than that Cup heading to Gotham took place over the past week.

It's quite possible that we all just witnessed the inflection point for the next version of the NWSL. The new TV deal is a massive 3,600% increase from the previous contract. Friday night is locked down on Prime Video and ION – a channel you might not have heard of but almost certainly already get – will have Saturday night double-headers. Plus there will be 10, TEN, matches on CBS with other games on CBS and ESPN properties.

That's a dramatic expansion of women's soccer's availability in the US.

And the fans are ready for it. Saturday's match was the second time 800,000+ have watched an NWSL game, both were finals. The Rapinoe finale ago at Lumen had over 600,000. These are on par with matches from other leagues on over-the-air stations (except Univision when it airs Liga MX finals and the UEFA Men's Champions League).

On Saturday the most watched soccer games were:

  1. Tigres men vs. America
  2. Pumas men vs. Guadalajara
  3. Reign vs. Gotham
  4. Newcastle at Bournemouth
  5. Luton at Manchester United

La Liga only had one match crack 150k. No other league was on a Nielsen-metered channel or beat the lower limit that Sports Media Watch tracks.

The NWSL isn't just popular with eyes on television. There was a strong crowd at Snapdragon Stadium. More than 25,000 fans showed up for a match that didn't feature a local team, setting a new NWSL Championship record.

Attendance for the league was up big in 2023, 32%. San Diego, Los Angeles, and Portland are all strong. The next tier of Reign, KC Current and Washington Spirit is now past 10k as well, making various 2019 stadium dreams around the league too small.

Throughout the greater Puget Sound there were watch parties. Not just the normal places where Royal Guard and other fans have been supporting for years, but local restaurants and brewpubs everywhere turned their screens on to watch our chance at a cup.

The passion of diehard NWSL fans has never been in doubt.

In 2023, like in 2019, that passion spread like a wildfire of joy to many more people.

TV contracts, advertising programs, stadium plans, and team valuations are all booming. The league isn't at an inflection point, because it's not at a stable state. Every four years it leaps forward, grabs people by the face, gives them a massive hug and says "Watch this! You will love it!"

And it's true.

Even better is that this year's boom wasn't about a Women's World Cup title for the United States. Every sports marketer thought that would be essential for the NWSL to continue to grow. But the late-season attendance numbers grew despite the USWNT having its worst World Cup performance ever.

The TV contract grew anyway.

Saturday's final (yeah, we have to think about it again) was amazing television. The goals and the drama were perfect. You didn't need to know the players or the teams. A neutral who enjoys soccer could watch it with joy.

I cried tears of joy during the final moments of the Reign's last regular-season home match. Seeing that crowd was the culmination of so many of us who had dreamed of how grand Reign and the NWSL could be.

During NWSL Cup, at some point I realized that the final regular-season game wasn't an endpoint. It was merely a waypoint on this path toward a fully mature women's soccer league in the United States.

I cannot wait to see what's next, because at every moment these players keep showing us that they've got more in store for us.

- Dave

Looking back at the weekends's news

Puget Sound Soccer

Sounders are off this weekend for the international break; Reign are in an NWSL trade period before the coming expansion draft