By Alberto Lopez
When the U.S. Women’s National Team beat the Netherlands 2-0 in July’s Women’s World Cup final, 16 million Americans tuned in. The white home uniforms the USA wore that day in Lyon, France, became Nike’s top-selling soccer jersey of all time for a single season. Four years earlier, 25 million people watched the U.S. women beat Japan in the 2015 final, a record for a men’s or women’s match. But despite the obvious popularity of the team, the media still treats women’s soccer like a sideshow.
That doesn’t have to be the case. Fans may not be aware, but all 23 players who won the Women’s World Cup play in the National Women’s Soccer League, a collection of nine teams across the country.
But with the exception of Portland Thorns FC, who averaged 16,578 fans in 2018, NWSL teams struggle to draw crowds. Seven teams averaged fewer than 5,000 fans, including New Jersey’s Sky Blue FC, which averaged a league-worst 2,390.
Some journalists cover the women’s game with the enthusiasm it deserves. But far too many sports networks and publications overwhelmingly favor men’s soccer, even covering foreign leagues more than female teams—stacked with star footballers, from both the national team and elsewhere—in the U.S. That includes social media: @ FOXSoccer tweets eight or more times a day about men’s soccer, but the account’s last tweet about women’s soccer was on Aug. 3, during the USWNT’s win over Ireland on their World Cup victory tour.
But there are signs that the media is starting to appreciate the women’s game. The NWSL recently signed a television deal with ESPN to broadcast 14 games. And while those matches will be broadcast on ESPN News or ESPN2 rather than ESPN, it’s a step in the right direction.
After the announcement of the deal, ESPN executive Burke Magnus said, “We are pleased to once again televise the National Women’s Soccer League and showcase many of the world’s top female players when they return to their professional club teams.” It’s long overdue, but it’s a positive sign that ESPN is recognizing the value of pro women’s soccer.
Despite the inadequate coverage, fans are showing more interest in the league. NWSL attendance rose by 70 percent after the Women’s World Cup, according to USA Today, and even long-struggling Sky Blue had to relocate its upcoming match against Reign FC—featuring USWNT star Megan Rapinoe—to Red Bull Arena because of high ticket demand.
But as the World Cup fades from memory, the media needs to continue covering the NWSL. Women don’t just play soccer once every four years—they play every day.