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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Athletes Unlimited, a network of women's sports leagues that uses fantasy-style scoring, successfully completed its first season of softball last month.

Why it matters: While most leagues scrambled to create one-off bubble tournaments, Athletes Unlimited didn't have to change too much about its model, which was already designed for short, single-site seasons.

  • "Our vision was always to host each season in a single market and build storytelling and other elements around that," co-founder and CEO Jon Patricof tells me.
  • "Not having in-person fans certainly changed things, but ticketing revenue was never a huge part of the equation for us anyway."
  • "If you put medical/testing aside, the pandemic changed call it 10% of our model; whereas for most other leagues it changed 90% of their model."

What's next: Athletes Unlimited will take what it did with softball this summer and try to apply that model to two other sports next year — possibly with fans in the stands this time.

  • Volleyball: February 2021 (Nashville)
  • Lacrosse: July 2021 (TBD)

The big picture: There are clear avenues for growth in women's sports, and the pandemic has helped revealed them.

  • WNBA ratings are up.
  • NWSL ratings are way up.
  • The NWHL is maturing in promising ways.
  • And now, softball, volleyball and lacrosse have a new professional home.

Go deeper

Dec 21, 2020 - Podcasts

Milwaukee Bucks owner: NBA teams will lose money this season

The NBA tips off tomorrow night, making it the first major U.S. sports league to play a second season amidst the pandemic. No bubble this time, but also not many in-person fans.

Axios Re:Cap talks with Milwaukee Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry on the business of basketball, how much he expects to lose this season and that massive new deal for two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Dave Lawler, author of World
1 hour ago - World

Americans increasingly see China as an enemy

One in three Americans, and a majority of Republicans, now view China as an enemy of the United States, according to a new survey from Pew Research Center.

By the numbers: Just 9% of Americans consider China a "partner," while 55% see Beijing as a "competitor" and 34% as an "enemy."

Scoop: Leaked HHS docs spotlight Biden's child migrant dilemma

A group of undocumented immigrants walk toward a Customs and Border Patrol station after being apprehended. Photo: Sergio Flores/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Fresh internal documents from the Department of Health and Human Services show how quickly the number of child migrants crossing the border is overwhelming the administration's stretched resources.

Driving the news: In the week ending March 1, the Border Patrol referred to HHS custody an average of 321 children per day, according to documents obtained by Axios. That's up from a weekly average of 203 in late January and early February — and just 47 per day during the first week of January.