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NWSL continues to grow approaching its 12th season

By Tyler Trent

Photo courtesy of Laura Stroud/LensByLaura

With the 11th season of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) finished, fans anticipate the biggest season yet for the 2024 season. The NWSL has expanded from the original eight teams in 2013 to 14 in 2024, including two new expansion teams - a return of Utah Royals and a new California club, Bay FC. However, Boston has also been confirmed as the 15th expansion team for the 2026 season, and a currently unannounced 16th team will be arriving sometime in the near future.

Earlier this month, The Athletic reported a regular season attendance of over 1.2 million, which was a 26% increase over the previous season. The median attendance grew by 40% compared with last season.

The single-game NWSL attendance record was broken multiple times this season, ultimately in Megan Rapinoe’s final regular season game for OL Reign, with 34,130 supporters in Seattle. Earlier in the season, OL Reign recorded an attendance of 42,054, but that was part of a doubleheader with MLS club Seattle Sounders. Social impressions for the NWSL also continued to rise this year, with the league reporting an increase of 233% in video views across their social platforms in June.

Along with the continued growth comes increased spending and investment. Reports suggest that the Seattle Sounders are looking to purchase OL Reign. Michelle Kang recently purchased the Washington Spirit, the North Carolina Courage continues to receive additional backing from investors, including names like tennis star Naomi Osaka among a host of other investors, and the Sacramento Kings ownership is reportedly in talks to buy the Portland Thorns, according to Sportico.

The 2023 valuations for the 12 NWSL clubs can be found below. The two newest teams currently top the valuation list.

Graphic and data courtesy of Sportico

League commissioner Jessica Berman shared that the number of games with 10,000+ fans doubled from the previous season. A new four-year media deal was announced for the league with CBS, ESPN, Amazon, and Scripps for a combined value of $240 million.

Commissioner Berman commented on the crucial opportunity to grow as a league, saying, “As we look ahead to 2024 and beyond, we are at an inflection point,” Berman said in her opening remarks. “We have our new media deals. You’ve heard us talk about how this is the beginning of our future. This is a moment not to be complacent. It’s a moment to invest for the future. It’s a moment that we don’t take for granted. We believe we have an unprecedented opportunity to grow this league and build for the future, which is what we are prepared to do."

While there are debates on which league is currently the best in the world, Berman's goal is for NWSL to be that league.

“Our aspiration is to be the best league in the world, and we’re prepared to make good decisions and investments that are necessary for us to make that a reality.”

Access to professional opportunities in the United States will grow even more soon, with two others currently targeting their own professional leagues, the USL Super League and WPSL Pro League. While the details of the leagues and their status on the professional level are still undecided, creating more opportunities for players and fans across the country will help continue to elevate the game and, ultimately, the NWSL.

Women's sports worldwide

Women’s soccer has been setting new records at every turn for the last few seasons. Some of the most notable attendance records outside the NWSL include a 91,648 attended UEFA Women’s Champions League match hosted by Barcelona against Wolfsburg, another 91,000+ attended game against Real Madrid, and two 80,000+ attended games at Wembley for England's Lionesses.

Women’s sports outside of soccer are also booming.

The WNBA saw a 16% increase in attendance this season, the most fans attending games in the last 13 years. The University of Nebraska set the world record for a women’s team sport this season with 92,003 fans attending a volleyball game against Omaha hosted at Memorial Stadium.

Women's college basketball has continued to grow in popularity with the rise of superstars like Caitlin Clark, Angel Reese, Elizabeth Kitley, and Paige Bueckers. Last year's national championship game brought in 9.9 million viewers on its way to becoming the most-viewed women’s college basketball game on record and the most-viewed college basketball game (men’s or women’s) ever on ESPN platforms.