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NWSL viewership growth exceeds American leagues

NWSL sees a 493% viewership growth in 2020, exceeding NBA, NFL, MLB by a landslide

October 16, 2020 By Juan Aguerrevere
The NWSL’s average viewership rose 493% in 2020 compared to most other professional American leagues and competitions that experienced overall decreases in viewership, including the NBA, NFL, MLB and Kentucky Derby, according to Just Women’s Sports. Here is a recap of how the NWSL rose above a treacherous 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic was a huge blow for the National Women's Soccer League, just as it was for all other professional sports leagues around the country. 

On March 12, 2020, newly appointed NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird, who at that time had just entered her third week at the helm of the league, was forced to cancel the 2020 preseason match schedule. Later that week, Baird announced the cancellation of the 2020 NWSL regular season via a letter titled "A letter to our NWSL family". 

Amid panic around the world regarding the pandemic, NWSL executives and staff remained grounded and keen on coming up with a competition that would offer a safe environment for the players and workers. As a result, the league announced the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup on May 27.

After further planning, the leaguedetermined that the competition would be held from June 27 through July 26, with two games scheduled to be aired by CBS on national television – the tournament opener between the North Carolina Courage and the Portland Thorns, and the final.

The hard work paid off when CBS Sports PR confirmed that the game between the Courage and the Thorns averaged 572,000 viewers, dwarfing the previous record of 190,000 from 2014. And after 31 days of isolation, COVID-19 testing, fierce competition and players' physical and mental endurance, the final between the Houston Dash and the Chicago Red Stars on CBS broke the record again, averaging 653,000 viewers.

The NWSL's dedicated fanbase combined with the increase in appreciation for the two games, which were the only two matches of the 23 Challenge Cup fixtures that were screened on national television, were key factors in this success. Other notable factors that helped were the ongoing growth in competition amongst players and teams within the league and its long-awaited comeback. 

CBS and the NWSL partnered again, carrying over the Challenge Cup success over to the Fall Series. This time, the league and CBS agreed to televise a Game of the Week on the CBS Television Network every Saturday in September – four games – and one of the final games on October 17. Also, CBS Sports Network would televise a Game of the Week two Saturdays in October. 

The first four games screened on CBS Television Network in September were a success, with the least-watched game averaging 299,000 viewers.

Altogether, CBS Television Network and CBS Sports Network successfully screened six matches with the last game between the Orlando Pride and North Carolina Courage set to air on Saturday, Oct. 17, at 4 p.m. ET on CBS. 

On Oct. 14, Sports Media Watch created a table that depicted viewership trends among the United States' professional leagues, excluding Major League Soccer and the National Women's Soccer League.  

However, Just Women's Sports took the initiative to add the NWSL's trend, and as expected, it trumped all the other leagues.

The on and off the pitch successes by the National Women's Soccer League during 2020, a year full of hardship and uncertainty, are proof that the league is showing no signs of slowing down. The statistics and quality on the pitch speak for themselves.

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