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Sunday, April 14, 2024
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NWSL Sets Attendance Record, Plans 2026 Expansion 

  • Boston is a potential expansion city, with Commissioner Jessica Berman expecting two new teams in 2026.
  • Berman is “very bullish” on the league’s media rights value and hopes to announce new deals before the end of this season.
Commissioner Jessica Berman expects the NWSL to reach 16 teams in 2026 with two expansion clubs.
Russell Lansford-USA TODAY Sports

More than one million fans —1,060,978 to be exact—have attended NWSL matches through Week 18 to set a new season attendance record for the league with four weeks remaining in its regular season. The record comes as Commissioner Jessica Berman reiterated Friday that the NWSL will begin an expansion process later this year to add two more teams in 2026.

“It will be a similar process to what we launched when I first began about a year and a half ago,” Berman said in a Friday press conference. “We’ll look at the market, ownership groups, facilities, and the value in terms of what the prospective group is willing to invest to ensure the team is successful.”

Berman specified that the expansion process will begin in the fourth quarter of this year. The two teams would push the NWSL to 16 teams in 2026. The Utah Royals and Bay FC will begin play in 2024 to push the league to 14 teams from its current 12 clubs. Boston is one potential market for NWSL expansion.  

Sixth Street has “set the bar high,” Berman said, for prospective ownership groups after the private equity firm invested $125 million in Bay FC, including a $53 million expansion fee. The NWSL’s Chicago Red Stars were recently sold to Laura Ricketts for roughly $35 million, and Berman said the league’s two other clubs currently for sale— the Portland Thorns and OL Reign—expect to have sales deals finalized by the end of this year. 

This weekend’s UKG Challenge Cup, the NWSL’s mid-season tournament, has a $1.1 million prize pool. The NWSL’s current broadcast deal with CBS, reportedly worth $4.5 million over its three-year term, is set to expire at the end of this season.

“We are very bullish and hopeful that we will end up with deals that will make our fans super excited and allow for us to continue the growth of the league,” Berman said. “We know that all our metrics are up 20% on CBS and 50% on Paramount+. We hope to be in a position to finalize our media deal in conjunction with the playoffs and the conclusion of our season.”

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