Will Women’s Soccer Stay Popular?Women’s soccer has a big popularity bump after the WWC, but can it be sustained?
by Katherine Rupp | Wednesday, July 15, 2015
A ticker-tape parade in New York City with over 200,000 people in attendance. Twenty-three specific covers for Sports Illustrated. A key to the city of New York. No, those things weren’t for a baseball team or for the Stanley Cup-winning Blackhaws, but rather for the United States Women’s National Team.
The USWNT captured the hearts of the nation and its members will return home to their respective home clubs in the NWSL where they will receive an honor fitting for World Cup champions.
Although the Portland Thorns – who have a partnership with Major League Soccer’s Portland Timbers – have the highest attendance rate in the NWSL, the Women’s World Cup and its stars, not only from the USWNT but also players from national teams such as Canada and Germany, will be welcomed back with high praise, and with what many are hoping, a larger fanbase and a more sustainable women’s league.
There have been many conversations about the women’s game versus the men’s game in the United States – as well as other (mainly European) countries that are able to sustain women’s leagues – during and now after the Women’s World Cup.
Although the NWSL is the fourth iteration of a professional women’s soccer league, it looks like – with the NWSL in its third season – this one may just stick. Regardless of where soccer started (in England), the United States is where the women’s game really thrives. However, after every four years, and especially with the advent of social media and the popularity of especially Twitter, it looks to be the best time for the USWNT, as well as Japan and England – who finished in 2nd and 3rd respectively (in addition to Germany, France, Sweden, etc.), to market the product of women’s soccer.
The disparity in England between women’s soccer and men’s soccer is quite the chasm. Normally for the Women’s Super League (or WSL) matches, attendance is around 800 to 1200. The men’s attendances (specifically for Premier League) range from around 20,000 to upward of 75,000. So in comparison, the women’s is paltry but seeing as how the support was incomparable to even the last World Cup, the news that the WSL had recent fan numbers around 2,000 for some games is fantastic.
And jump across the pond to the United States and there are games with fans ranging from 1000 to about 14,000 (which would be the Thorns and that’s absolutely an outlier). However, even if the Thorns are an outlier, other teams pull in respectable numbers like the Houston Dash – similar to the Thorns in their partnership with the Timbers, the Dash have a partnership with the Dynamo – and FC Kansas City.
So with an upward trajectory of attendance rates, the NWSL will need to capitalize on the massive television crowds, huge fan support at restaurants, bars, and public watch parties, as well as the millennials who watch and love soccer, just as much as the women’s teams need the suburbanites with young kids.
Similar to MLS, the NWSL must find a niche who enjoys soccer and wants to follow quality players – and players who have great stories and are great characters as much as they are soccer players.
So with the USWNT winning the Women’s World Cup in 2015, look to see an uptick in attendance rates, conversations, and hopefully more grassroots efforts at spreading the word about the fun atmosphere and games of the NWSL where many of the best players in the world play their club soccer. Yes, the men’s game is fun to watch but there’s no denying that the women’s game in the United States should get more recognition and a few ways to do that: watch the YouTube streams (or better yet, go to the games), buy paraphernalia, and invest discretionary entertainment income on the NWSL. The USWNT winning the Women’s World Cup is only the tip of the sword on how to gain more exposure for women’s soccer, but it’s a great place to start.