Looking to build on its biggest year yet, the National Women’s Soccer League opened with a flurry of excitement — and tension.
In a year of few events with fans and diminished broadcast numbers across most sports, the NWSL nearly tripled its viewership record with help from new deals with CBS and Twitch, as well as an infusion of interest from athlete and celebrity investors.
The uptick in popularity lured Google, Verizon, and Procter and Gamble as corporate sponsors.
Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams, Abby Wambach, and Brittany Matthews, fiancee of Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick Mahomes, bought into NWSL teams at the ownership level in the last year. The 10-team league, which debuted Racing Louisville FC and Kansas City this year, will expand to Sacramento and Los Angeles next season.
The league’s first week produced considerable headlines, not all of which were positive.
- Four red cards were given out in four minutes in a match between Kansas City and the Portland Thorns after Kansas City’s Kristen Edmonds hit Portland’s Morgan Weaver amid a scuffle over the ball. Edmonds was suspended for two games.
- The NWSL is investigating claims by Sarah Gorden of the Chicago Red Stars of racial profiling by a security guard after a match against the Houston Dash.
- The opening weekend also had a number of first career goals, including one by Trinity Rodman, the daughter of former NBA star Dennis Rodman, who plays for the Washington Spirit.
With live fans returning, the NWSL will look to keep its momentum through the Challenge Cup, which lasts through May 8, and into the regular season at a time when it’s getting more attention than ever.