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Following the USWNT’s World Cup Victory in 2015 the NWSL has seen an increase in ticket sales and popularity.  The newest franchises, Houston (2014) and Orlando (2016) are among the most popular teams in the league and a national television contract for the late season and playoffs has been announced for the second consecutive year. The numbers are still not sustainable for most of the franchises, without a lucrative full season television deal, and Olympic Gold seems to be the league’s best bet at higher attendance and viewership numbers in the fall.


Last season the NWSL’s attendance saw a massive increase. Perhaps buoyed by the interest created by the Women’s World Cup overall league attendance jumped by 21% with only Western New York experiencing a decrease in attendance. The largest jump was in Houston that saw league attendance rise by 1800 fans per game (or slightly more than the Sky Blue attendance per game from 2014.) The effect was most prominent after the World Cup when most teams set attendance records for their respective stadiums. American’s do love a winner afterall.


Even without the addition of Orlando league wide attendance is up about 4% in 2015, although three teams (Houston, Chicago, and Sky Blue) are each seeing slower ticket sales than last season. What is most notable is that Orlando is doing so well that the overall rate of attendance sees a 15% increase when they are included in the calculation. More notably still, Orlando trails only Portland - long an outlier in soccer attendance - and attracts close to  double the fans of the third best team (Houston.)



Team

2014

2015

2016 - Orlando

2016

Portland

13362

15369

16735

16735

Houston

4650

6413

5846

5846

Chicago

2949

4210

2948

2948

Washington

3335

4087

4131

4131

Seattle

3666

4060

4288

4288

Kansas CIty

2018

3091

3781

3781

Boston

2437

2863

3542

3542

Western New York

3177

2860

3672

3672

Sky Blue

1656

2189

1879

1879

Orlando

 

n/a

 

10694

Total

4,138.89

5,015.78

5,202.44

5,751.60


The biggest issues for the league appear to be Sky Blue and Chicago. While the Red Stars are excellent on the field, and are led by National Team stars Christen Press and Julie Johnston, the fluctuation of their attendance must be frustrating to a league that needs stability in order to grow. Sky Blue just doesn’t appear to be in a viable long term home and one wonders if Atlanta, Indianapolis, or Sacremento, all cities that have expressed an interest in joining the NWSL wouldn’t make a better long term home for a team in a league with only ten members. Chicago, conversely, has to succeed as a destination. In the Country’s third largest city, with the star power mentioned before, and a team that appears poised to compete for the playoffs on an annual basis the NWSL needs Chicago to be a cornerstone franchise. Which is where Olympic Gold comes into play.


Should the US win Gold this August one would expect an increase in ticket sales and interest in September games and the playoffs. If the televised games can garner anywhere close to the ratings that the USWNT get then the league could make a strong case for a full season national contract next year, although only on a lower tier network like FS1. Having full stadiums will be an important part of that picture. Watching Portland or Orlando play at home on youtube still feels like an event. Watching Sky Blue or Western New York play at home feels like a home video all too often.


The NWSL is already the most successful women’s professional soccer league in US history. The poor pay and traveling conditions suggest that their business model requires some significant growth in order to remain viable. An Olympic Gold Medal, the year after winning the World Cup, could go along way to providing the necessary profile and popularity for the league to help make it a viable long term option for female soccer players, and fans of the sport.


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