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NWSL Challenge Cup final TV ratings top MLS

NWSL Challenge Cup final TV ratings top MLS is Back Tournament final’s

August 14, 2020 By Juan Aguerrevere
The MLS is Back Tournament final failed to attract more viewers than the tournament's opening game and the NWSL Challenge Cup final.

The National Women’s Soccer League broke its TV viewership record when the Houston Dash defeated the Chicago Red Stars in the NWSL Challenge Cup final, attracting a record-breaking audience of 653,000 on July 26. Meanwhile, the MLS’ post-pandemic tournament final between the Portland Timbers and Orlando City SC’s viewership ratings in the U.S. failed to impress, drawing 394,000 viewers on ESPN platforms.

Some argue that one of the reasons for the viewership let down has to do with the fact that the men’s final took place on a Tuesday evening, unlike the women’s final, which was played on a Sunday at noon. However, The MLS is Back opening match between Orlando City and Inter Miami attracted 503,000 viewers and was played on a weekday, Wednesday, at 8 p.m. ET.

Attracting higher viewership traffic in an opening game rather than a final was not a good look for Major League Soccer. It’s important to note that ESPN broadcasted both games on its platforms.  

On the other hand, the NWSL and CBS achieved the complete opposite, attracting more viewers in the NWSL Challenge Cup final. The league first broke its viewership record on June 27, when the Portland Thorns and North Carolina Courage attracted 572,000 viewers on the CBS network. The women’s soccer community in the U.S. celebrated again, not only because the Dash stole the hearts of fans by winning their first-ever tournament, but by pulling a new record of 653,000 viewers after just breaking the record one month prior.

Another argument is that the MLS is Back Tournament had no competition with other leagues in its early stages. But things changed when the NBA resumed its season on July 30. The leagues were not only sharing the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, but also viewership ratings with both tournaments going on simultaneously. To put it into perspective, the NBA’s Trail Blazers-Mavericks’ game tipped-off just hours before the start of the MLS is Back final and attracted 928,000 viewers on network television. 

However, the NWSL final had to compete against Premier League, MLS, MLB and WNBA games on July 26 and still had success.

Whether it be the tight-knit and healthy women’s soccer community in social media where people even gave away free subscriptions to get people to watch the NWSL Challenge Cup or the fact that the MLS looks to have hit a ceiling in terms of viewership due to its current rules and structure, it is obvious that the NWSL has a closer connection to its fans than the MLS does. 

Kim McCauley made a good point ina Twitter thread that is not available to share. The current rules regarding the salary cap and contracts, as well as the league’s structure, could use some change. The league fears such change because expansions will not cure the disease.


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