The growth of women’s soccer is one for the ages in the United States. Ever since the United States Women’s National Team 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup win, viewers have been glued to the women’s national team.
Their matches only got more popular with many popular players announcing their retirement. When Abby Wambach, Shannon Boxx, Lauren Holiday, and Lori Chalupny retired, it drew in viewers. Starting off the new year right, the first ever SheBelieves Cup was held in the United States in March. It was a tournament in which the United States took on fellow powerhouse teams- England, Germany and France- and claimed victory, winning all three of their matches.
Bringing in new players like Crystal Dunn, Mallory Pugh and Allie Long helped out as well. Bringing those same players, along with the other players on the 18-player roster for the 2016 Rio Olympics had fans geared up in their red, white and blue, hoping to see the USWNT make history as the first ever team to win a World Cup and an Olympics back-to-back.
However, history was not made, as Sweden defeated the USWNT in penalty kicks in the first elimination round match. The USWNT were then thrown into the spotlight with Hope Solo’s “cowardly play” comments directed toward Sweden. Even though the USWNT did not win in the Olympics, they still had faithful viewers whenever they performed in friendlies.
So the USWNT has a faithful following in viewers when it comes to the national team, but what about their club play? All of the players on the USWNT and many other players are in a system called the National Women’s Soccer League, the highest tier of American women’s soccer. However, the only way to watch NWSL matches are on YouTube.
However, Fox Sports decided to change that last year. Last year, after the FIFA Women’s World Cup, Fox Sports signed a deal with the NWSL to broadcast the NWSL semifinals and final matches. This year, they took a further step, pushing their footage from only three games to six matches.
While it still isn’t nearly as much coverage as men’s soccer gets, it’s a step. Fox Sports became an ally for women’s soccer. ESPN had never shown a professional women’s soccer game, aside from a national team match.
Many people forget how big the NWSL following is. On Tumblr, the NWSL has a faithful following, with many users updating followers on the matches. On Facebook’s official page for the NWSL, they have a following of 161,937 faithful fans. On their Twitter page, they have a following of 90.4K users.
It might not be as much as the Major League Soccer (they have a Facebook and Twitter following of over two million), but it’s getting there. The NWSL’s popularity is rising, with the entire league earning the expansion team the Orlando Pride.
The allying of Fox Sports to the NWSL will bring nothing but positives. Three of the six matches have already been aired, but viewers can still see the Washington Spirit against the Chicago Red Stars in the first semifinal game on Friday, September 30. The second semifinal match, between the Portland Thorns and the Western New York Flash, will air on Sunday, October 2. The final match will be aired on Sunday, October 9.