Jul 10, 2019

The future of women's soccer after another World Cup win for the U.S.

Photos: U.S. Soccer; Logos: SportsLogos.Net; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
Photos: U.S. Soccer; Logos: SportsLogos.Net; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The U.S. women's national team will bask in a ticker-tape parade through Manhattan today — and then it's back to work.

The state of play ... In the wake of the Americans' fourth World Cup title, the hard part remains: boosting interest in the National Women's Soccer League, where all 23 members of the USWNT spend their springs and summers.

  • Good news: The nine-team NWSL just announced an agreement with ESPN to televise 14 games during the season's second half, and Budweiser signed on as a sponsor. Wider reach plus more money equals better product.
  • Bad news: Capitalizing on the World Cup frenzy is easier said than done, especially when attendance is already somewhat of a struggle. Portland averages 18,000 fans and Utah averages 11,000, but the other seven teams average fewer than 5,000.

The big picture: While the NWSL still boasts the majority of the world's top players (including reigning world player of the year Marta), Europe is beginning to close the gap.

  • Wealthy clubs like Olympique Lyon (France) and Barcelona (Spain) have bolstered their investments in women's soccer, leading to a record seven European countries — loaded with players developed by those clubs — reaching this year's World Cup quarterfinals.
  • If the NWSL can't keep up, the balance of power in the sport could ultimately shift — both at the club level (Americans could be lured overseas by bigger paychecks) and internationally (continued investment could threaten the USWNT's dominance).

The bottom line: The seven-year-old NWSL has already survived longer than its predecessors, the Women's United Soccer Association (2001-03) and Women's Professional Soccer (2007-12), so they're clearly doing plenty of things right.

  • But now, with the future of U.S. women's soccer at stake amid the rise of European challengers, the league must seize the moment like never before.

P.S. … The USWNT will return to action on August 3 at the Rose Bowl in a friendly against Ireland.

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