NWSL Championship ends season on record-high despite adversity

The National Women’s Soccer League tied a bow on its historic 2023 season in the record-breaking fashion with its NWSL Championship on CBS, earning the title of being the most-watched match in the league’s 10-year history with an average of 915,000 viewers — up 71% from last year’s broadcast.

The championship match had it all: an iconic performance by Portland Thorns striker and league MVP Sophia Smith; a moment of heightened optimism for women’s soccer, a sport fraught with revelations surrounding abusive coaches and the administration’s complicity in violations against players; and, according to ESPN’s The Undefeated, “a clash of past and promise: the legacy club confronting its proximity to the league’s dark history, and a 2-year-old squad that rose from the ashes of its last-place finish the previous season.”

From a marketing perspective, the game provided viral moments and promise toward what’s coming next. The crowning moment for the 2022 NWSL season clearly illustrated the potential with record-breaking attendance at games and expansion teams whose success no doubt intensified bidding efforts for aspiring clubs in future seasons. 

Here are some of the most notable moments, on and off the pitch:

  • Smith, the Championship MVP, went viral on Twitter for her 1-v-1 goal and celebration — running toward the corner flag and the cameras to give everyone her version of the Jordan shrug.
  • The day before the championship, 14 members of the Black Women’s Player Collective met at Hendley Elementary School in Washington, D.C., to speak to the Howard University women’s soccer team about entering the NWSL draft, achieving a healthy work-life balance, and kneeling for the national anthem. They encouraged the student-athletes to cherish their time on a Black soccer team, given how rare they still are at the professional level in the U.S.
  • The Washington Spirit’s independent supporter group by and for people of color, the Rose Room Collective and the club’s LGBT-led support group, the Spirit Squadron, celebrated their position as hosts of the championship match by organizing pickup games, brunches, and bar parties for the thousands of people who flew into the nation’s capital for the big game.
  • Increased investment by sponsors contributed to the high attendance numbers and TV ratings: 
    • During the “Score More for Title IX” summit at the International Spy Museum, Ally chief marketing officer Andrea Brimmer said, “We knew we had to over-invest to start to grow the league. You have to do a little bit of a different valuation when it comes to women’s sports because there isn’t parity yet. And if we as brands don’t over-invest, we’re never going to get to that parity.”
    • Nationwide supported the local community by organizing a sports bra distribution initiative to benefit a D.C.-area school in need. 
    • Mastercard hosted a session on building technology skills for young girls. Following the tech clinic, participants took the field at Audi Field for an accompanying soccer clinic with NWSL athletes.
    • Delta Air Lines launched the “Ask the Athlete” series to connect fans with NWSL athletes. As part of the activation, fans had the opportunity to submit questions to ask an NWSL athlete. Winners were selected to ask their questions, receiving recorded responses on social media from players around the league.
    • After the match, fans had the opportunity to bid on match-worn jerseys in partnership with MatchWornShirt in support of the greater soccer community in meaningful ways. All proceeds from the championship auction benefited Leveling the Playing Field.

Categories: Attendance, Broadcast, Featured, NWSL, Promotions, Soccer Marketing, Sponsorship, Supporters Groups, Television Ratings