The 2019 Women’s World Cup has proven there’s a massive domestic TV audience for the sport. Many of the World Cup’s top performers (around 55 in all) play professionally in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). Broadcast giants ESPN have token note of how strong the ratings are over at FOX and decided to capitalize on it as well.
The NWSL has landed a television contract with ESPN to air 14 league matches for the remainder of the season, including both semifinals and the Championship match.
The league’s previous deal with A&E Networks, which also included a Game of the Week each Saturday on the Lifetime Network, ended abruptly in February when the broadcaster pulled out of the three-year contract one year early.
Has women’s soccer found a lasting TV audience?
The USWNT‘s run to Sunday’s World Cup Final has certainly shone a spotlight on the women’s game. Once again it raises the seemingly eternal question: why can’t the success of the women’s international game translate to the club game?
In some respects, it already has. This is the NWSL’s seventh season, two previous women’s pro leagues in the United States failed to make it past year three. Since the Women’s World Cup is setting viewing records, worldwide optimism that this might be the time is high.
The league may also be better served by throwing in its lot with the “worldwide leader in sports” ESPN, rather than A&E/ Lifetime, which was not an experienced player in the sports programming.
Better put: if anyone can sell the women’s game and support it with digital content, it’s ESPN.
“NWSL is a global leader in women’s professional soccer, with collectively the most talented players in the world. Together with the reach of ESPN’s vast network, we have the opportunity to bring more games to a broader audience across the country and world,” said NWSL President Amanda Duffy. “Even in the year leading up to the Women’s World Cup, we have continued to experience tremendous growth through the support, engagement, and visibility from our fans.”
ESPN should be better placed to make connections between the World Cup and NWSL. A total of 55 of the league’s players, including every member of the USWNT, play in the league.
“NWSL is a global leader in women’s professional soccer, with collectively the most talented players in the world. Together with the reach of ESPN’s vast network, we have the opportunity to bring more games to a broader audience across the country and world.”– NWSL President Amanda Duffy.
NWSL loaded with World Cup stars
For example, the first match to air under the new deal features the Portland Thorns versus the Orlando Magic on ESPN News on July 14. The United States could be just seven days removed from raising the World Cup. For a league desperate to capitalize on the expected wave of goodwill, the pressure figures to be enormous on the American World Cup players to line out for Orlando and Portland on the 14th.
And it is quite a list. Orlando is led by Alex Morgan, fellow USWNT players Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger, and Brazilian duo of Camila and the legendary Marta.
Portland may be even more loaded with star attractions. Led by USWNT stand-outsTobin Heath and Lindsey Horan, the Thorns also feature teammates Adrianna Franch and Emily Sonnett. Joining them are Australian starter Caitlin Foord and Canada’s superstar Christine Sinclair, who ended her World Cup with 184 international goals, leaving her just shy of American legend Abby Wambach’s total of 182.
Not a bad attraction for the league and the network to kick off their new deal.
NWSL on ESPN channels and schedule
The NWSL deal features a total of 14 games to be televised by ESPN, including eight matches on ESPN News and six games on the more widely available ESPN 2. The two semifinal matches and the NWSL Championship Game on October 26, will air on ESPN 2.
Some of the league’s brightest stars have already returned to action, with Sam Kerr making a huge splash on her return, scoring a hattrick for the Chicago Red Stars in a 3-2 victory over Orlando.
Fresh off of scoring five goals for Australia, who were eliminated in the Round of 16, Kerr vaulted into the NWSL Golden Boot lead by scoring her seventh goal for the Red Stars in her last three games. Remarkable.
Kerr was the subject of rumors that she would be leaving the NWSL for an unspecified league in Europe, although Kerr refuted those rumors, saying that she is very happy in her current situation.
The league certainly hopes so.
NWSL current standings
With the victory in the first game of the second half of the NWSL’s 24 game season, the Kerr’s Red Stars sit in sixth place, with 14 points.
After 10 games, the Portland Thorns top the table with 19 points. They’re followed closely by the Washington Spirit, with 18 points. Washington is led by Rose Lavelle and Mallory Pugh.
Megan Rapinoe and the Seattle Reign follow with 17 points. The Utah Royals, also with 17, feature Becky Sauerbrunn, Christen Press, and Kelley O’Hara.
The defending champion North Carolina Courage will look forward reintegrating their returning stars Crystal Dunn, Sam Mewis, and Abby Dahlkemper. They look to move up the table from their current fifth-place position with 14 points.
Sixth place Chicago will be looking to climb with Kerr back, and with 14 points they sit just five from the top spot.
With 13 points seventh-place, Houston Dash is the lone team without a U.S. national team representative, although players like Keah Ohai, Sofia Huerta, and Jane Campbell were all contenders for places. Fans will remember England’s Rachel Daly, who started against the U.S. in that thrilling World Cup semifinal.
With just five points from 11 games, Orlando would seem to be out of contention, perhaps unable to overcome the World Cup absences of Morgan, Marta, and company.
Ninth and last place is the troubled Sky Blue FC, who remain winless through nine games. At least they have Carli Lloyd’s return to look forward to.
What NWSL teams do the USWNT play on?
Below is a complete list of USWNT players and the NWSL clubs that they represent. If you have enjoyed watching their exploits at the FIFA Women’s World Cup, go out and see them.
Adrianna Franch | Portland Thorns FC
Ashlyn Harris | Orlando Pride
Alyssa Naeher | Chicago Red Stars
Abby Dahlkemper | North Carolina Courage
Tierna Davidson | Chicago Red Stars
Crystal Dunn | North Carolina Courage
Ali Krieger | Orlando Pride
Kelley O’Hara | Utah Royals FC
Becky Sauerbrunn | Utah Royals FC
Emily Sonnett | Portland Thorns FC
Morgan Brian | Chicago Red Stars
Julie Ertz | Chicago Red Stars
Lindsey Horan | Portland Thorns FC
Rose Lavelle | Washington Spirit
Allie Long | Reign FC
Samantha Mewis | North Carolina Courage
Tobin Heath | Portland Thorns FC
Carli Lloyd | Sky Blue FC
Jessica McDonald | North Carolina Courage
Alex Morgan | Orlando Pride
Christen Press | Utah Royals FC
Mallory Pugh | Washington Spirit
Megan Rapinoe | Reign FC
It was a day of contrasts for New York’s MLS sides on Wednesday.
The 3-0 thumping New York City FC put on Seattle in front of a pre-holiday crowd at Yankee Stadium was impressive. However, the New York Red Bulls traveled all the way to Texas only to endure a 4-0 hammering at the hands of the Dynamo.
With these results, the boys in blue climb above the Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference standings into fifth place. The MLS originals slip to sixth.
Red Bulls missing defenders disappoint in Houston
The Red Bulls had fullback Michael Murillo back in the lineup on his return from representing Panama in the Gold Cup. However, they were without center back Aaron Long, who was in action in the U.S. semifinal win over Jamaica on Wednesday night. They were also without Kemar Lawrence, who lined out against Long for the Reggae Boyz in Nashville.
Additionally, Red Bulls coach Chris Armas was missing his other regular center back with Tim Parker through injury forcing 5’7” (maybe) Connor Lade to play center back alongside Amro Tarek versus Houston.
Armas also sat star striker Bradley Wright-Phillips on the bench, only using his recovering goal scorer for 17 minutes. Instead, Armas turned to youngsters Brian White and Tom Barlow, neither of whom were able to beat Joe Willis in the Dynamo net.
It wasn’t a great night for the revamped Red Bulls backline with of Armas’ center backs getting beaten for a goal apiece and Murillo ending the match in the locker room after earning a late red card for a second yellow card offense.
New York had particular trouble with Houston speedster Alberth Elis, who assisted on Mauro Manotas’ opening goal before striking for a late brace.
The Red Bulls will be looking to get back into the win column when they travel to Atlanta to face the Five Stripes on Sunday, July 7th before hosting rivals NYCFC seven days later.
NYCFC impressive in pre-Fourth blowout
It was a happier pre – Fourth for the blue half of New York, with NYCFC running out 3-0 winners on a steamy night in the Bronx behind a three-goal second half.
In the midst of a three game winning streak, and with one more match, Sunday, July 7th vs Portland, remaining on a four-game homestand, New York remained unbeaten at home on the season, improving to 9w-0L-5D.
Wednesday night’s loss is the third in four games for the slumping Sounders. Seattle will welcome the return of Nicolas Lodeiro for its next match on Saturday in Columbus. The star playmaker was late returning from Copa America action with Uruguay. Panamanian defender Roman Torres was available to coach Bran Setzer but did not get the call. Howver, Xavier Arrenga, Seattle’s new DP, made his debut at center back after wrapping up Copa duty with Ecuador.
With the USMNT having advanced to Sunday’s Gold Cup Final, Schmetzer will have to make do without Jordan Morris and Christian Roldan for another few days.
Neither side troubled the scoreboard operator in a somewhat disjointed opening 45 minutes in the Bronx but the home team finally got untracked, with a little bit of luck, in the second half. Maxi Moralez opened New Yorks account, and that was no surprise, given that Moralez has found the net in three of his last four games while notching either a goal or an assist in seven consecutive matches.
On Wednesday night, Moralez goal had a touch of luck to it, eluding Stefan Frei after taking a deflection off of a Seattle defender. Fortun played a role in NYC’s second goal as a shot from Vincente Castellanos was directed to the net by Jesus Medina for Medina’s first goal of the season but no such claims can be made concerning the final NY tally of the night, laser off the left boot of Ebenezer Ofori that beat Frei from about 242nd Street.
With the victory, New York continues to have just one mark in the L as it concludes its four-game homestand on Sunday versus Portland ahead of A New York Derby showdown with the Red Bulls on Sunday, July 14th at Red Bull Arena.
Seattle will look to Lodeio to change its luck when they travel to Columbus to face the Crew at MAPFRE Stadium.