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Big wishes for the NWSL’s fifth season

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Here’s what the Sounder at Heart and Ride of the Valkyries staff want to see happen to help grow the game.

In 2017, the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) will enter its historic fifth season. While other women’s professional soccer leagues folded after three seasons, the NWSL continues to grow and looks poised to stay for the long term.

Earlier this year, the league confirmed that the minimum NWSL salary, while still far too low, will more than double — jumping to $15,000 for the season. Meanwhile, the NWSL continues to expand its front-office staff.

Now the league is on the eve of what’s expected to be a significant broadcast deal. On Thursday morning, the NWSL and A+E Networks will host a joint press conference to make a “major announcement.” The event will stream live on YouTube at 7 a.m. PT.

A host of NWSL and U.S. Women’s National Team players will be in attendance, including no. 1 draft pick Rose Lavelle, Stephanie McCaffrey, Kristie Mewis, Samantha Mewis, Alyssa Naeher, Christie Rampone, and 2016 NWSL MVP Lynn Williams. Sunil Gulati will be there as well.

The specific details of the broadcast deal won’t be revealed until the morning, but the cast of characters in attendance — combined with a major cable network — can only indicate positive progress for this young league.

However, while the NWSL has survived longer than any of its predecessors, there is still plenty of room for growth. For example, let’s hope no team has to perform on a field well under regulation size this season.

Earlier this year, I asked Sounder at Heart writers to share their big wish for the 2017 NWSL season. Here’s what they had to say (Note: these answers were shared earlier in January, before news of the broadcast deal emerged).

RJ Allen

I wish for unexpected upsets and tight games where we don't expect them to be. I am hoping to see some teams from the bottom half of the table go out and show that front office's can build a team just as well as a team build with loads of national teamers, maybe even build a better team.

Jacob Cristobal

It'd be easy to say: REIGN WIN NWSL CHAMPIONSHIP TO ANNOY EVERYONE. However in the quest of the greater good, I want a better, in all fairness actual TV deal for the league. Imagine if you will NBC taking the whole thing and obviously you have showcase matches (Seattle/Portland), playoffs & championship game but also put all other matches on their Live Extra platform. And I'd go as far as to say mandate NBC affiliates in cities that have a NWSL team, they must show a few of their matches over the course of the season.

It doesn't have to be a live broadcast; tape delay would be a nice place to start but one of the biggest hurdles when it shouldn't be as they enter Year Five is getting eyeballs on the product. Yes, YouTube streams are incredibly friendly for all, especially those abroad, but I contend even a tape delay Reign FC/Chicago Red Stars match could draw better numbers than a live YouTube stream. It's time for the powers that be put on their grown up FURT pants and demand full season broadcast deals.

Chris Blakely

I echo Jacob's one wish. I would love to see an entire seasons worth of games being televised. I do appreciate the four games a year but I want 20 or more games a year on ESPN or FOX Sports. It would be nice to see a "Game of the Week" that will feature all ten teams The NWSL is entering their FIFTH year and that is historic. No women's league has ever lasted more than three so it's time for the women to get what is deserved, better TV coverage.

Dave Clark

In 2017 I want to see one more person in the Memorial Stadium stands — me. And then I want to see you there. After that I hope to see you as well, and you. The fact is the Reign play entertaining soccer and they deserve our support for it. I've failed in providing live support for them, though I watch on YouTube and read about them. So that's my wish, it's a dream that can come true rather simply. I just need to meet you at Seattle Center.

Susie Rantz

As a fan and reporter who covers the NWSL, I'd love to see more robust stats and analytics made available. While some brave souls began to tackle this on their own, there's no reason a league in its fifth year can't begin making this investment. Australia's W-League began to use Opta — giving fans, analysts, and the media a broader picture of player contributions on the field. Giving people new ways to see, cover, and understand the women's game will do nothing but help the league, and in a small way will help contribute to more TV deals and hopefully more fans in the stand.

sidereal

I'd like to see the league figure out how to market itself, both to fans and broadcasters. I'd especially like to see them figure out how to market the incredible players in the league who don't happen to be USWNT players. They had one of the best players in the world in Seattle for three years but did nothing with her because they're too reliant on US Soccer's marketing of national team players to drive interest.

Well, those are our wishes. What do you want to see from the NWSL this year? Share your big wish below.