In one of the strangest years ever for sports — and well, everything else — the National Women’s Soccer League saw its television viewership grow 500% year-over-year in 2020, SportsPro reported last week. The NWSL became the first American professional sports league to bring sports back safely during the COVID-19 pandemic with its first-ever Challenge Cup in Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman, Utah, which kicked off on June 27 and culminated with a final on July 26. The electric hot Houston Dash ultimately defeated the Chicago Red Stars in the final 2-0 to capture their first trophy in club history.
In the first year of the league’s broadcast deal with CBS, which saw all 23 of the NWSL Challenge Cup games stream on CBS All Access, a record 653,000 viewers tuned in to the final of the Utah bubble tournament. The NWSL also has its games available to international viewers on Twitch and described the additional streaming provided by the streaming platform as “significant.”
Following the success of the Challenge Cup, the NWSL held a Fall Series, which ran from September 5 to October 17. CBS All Access broadcasts of the series averaged 383,000 viewers, and the seven matches aired live on CBS Television Network were the seven most-watched games in NWSL history. Compared to 2019’s numbers, NWSL domestic TV audiences were up nearly 500% in 2020.
The NWSL’s digital growth skyrocketed this year as well, with mentions of the league on social platforms up 152% year-over-year, and traditional news media coverage up 55%.
In a year where many professional sports leagues saw their TV ratings fall — the NBA Finals were down 48% from last year, and two World Series games set back-to-back low viewership records — the NWSL appears to be trending in the opposite direction. It is also worth noting that the WNBA saw its average viewership numbers multiply as well, during its “Wubble” season at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, as women’s sports were presented with more opportunities from larger TV networks and, in turn, delivered record viewership numbers.
In recent years, the NWSL has seen its popularity among U.S. fans increase, especially as the success and prominence of the U.S. Women’s National Team continues to permeate mainstream media. Now in its seventh year of play, the NWSL is the longest-lasting professional women’s soccer league in the U.S. Ahead of the 2020 season, the league secured large sponsorship deals with companies like Budweiser, Secret Deodorant and more, according to Front Office Sports. The league also recently announced two new highly-anticipated expansion teams, Racing Louisville FC and Angel City FC, which will take the total team count to 11. Racing Louisville FC will take the field next season while Angel City FC will begin play in 2022.