Sep 4, 2020 - Sports

A big moment for women's soccer

A female soccer player holding a soccer ball.

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Women's soccer will get major U.S. exposure this weekend, with the NWSL kicking off its seven-week "Fall Series" on CBS and the FA Women's Super League (England) beginning its season on NBCSN.

Why it matters: It's an exciting time for the sport, which has grown from four million players worldwide in 2006 to roughly 30 million today, and is still riding the momentum of the 2019 Women's World Cup.

  • That momentum was halted this spring when the pandemic shut down most European leagues and forced the NWSL to play in a bubble.
  • But the bubble worked, as the NWSL became the first U.S. pro sports league to start and complete a quarantined tournament; and though they weren't able to finish their seasons, WSL teams still made some blockbuster signings.

🇺🇸 NWSL snapshot: Following the success of July's Challenge Cup, which drew record TV ratings, the NWSL's nine teams will play 18 matches from Sept. 5 to Oct. 17, all in home markets.

  • Pods: Teams are split into three "pods" to minimize travel. West: OL Reign, Portland Thorns, Utah Royals; Northeast: Chicago Red Stars, Sky Blue, Washington Spirit; South: North Carolina Courage, Orlando Pride, Houston Dash.
  • Expansion: The NWSL is expanding to Los Angeles in 2022, with a star-studded ownership group of almost entirely women that includes Serena Williams (and her daughter, Olympia!). Racing Louisville FC will debut in 2021, and a Sacramento team is coming in either 2021 or 2022.
  • Thanks, football: When the SEC delayed the start of its football season by three weeks, an opening was created on CBS, which the NWSL happily filled. CBS will broadcast an NWSL Game of the Week throughout the "Fall Series."

🇬🇧󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 WSL snapshot: Top clubs like Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City (signed USWNT stars Rose Lavelle and Sam Mewis) and Manchester United (expected to sign Tobin Heath and Christen Press) are investing more money in their women's teams.

  • Sponsorship: Barclays made the "largest single investment in British women's sports" last year, signing a three-year, $11 million deal to rename the league the Barclays FA Women's Super League.
  • Record contract: Chelsea signed Danish striker Pernille Harder from Champions League finalist Wolfsburg for ~$355,000, a record for women's soccer.

The big picture: Everyone is still chasing Lyon, which just won its fifth straight Women's Champions League title and kicks off its season this weekend, as well.

  • The French club's men's and women's teams share the same training facilities and charter planes, and received equal bonuses for reaching the Champions League semifinals.
  • Lyon is evidence of what's possible when a club fully invests in its women's team, and it's a model that more clubs are starting to follow.
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