The first professional sports league to return to play during the COVID-19 pandemic was the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). When the league returned, it broke its viewership records by nearly 300 percent. According to Sports Illustrated, the NWSL Challenge Cup averaged 650,000 viewers, significantly higher than the previous record of 572,000 viewers.
The new-found interest in the sport came after the U.S. women’s national team won the 2019 Women’s World Cup. Since then, many new television deals have been signed, particularly with CBS Sports, NBC Sports, and Amazon’s Twitch streaming service, in hopes of allowing a larger audience for the sport.
With this new spike in viewership of the sport, there has been a dramatic increase in prominent figures looking to get involved in the league.
Recently, Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams faced off in the semi-finals of the Australian Open. While Osaka and Williams are two of the top female athletes in the world, their commitment to women in sports goes far beyond tennis.
Osaka and Williams have recently become owners of teams in the NWSL. Osaka is a part-time owner of the North Carolina Courage. At the same time, Williams is part of an investment group in the Angel City FC, a NWSL expansion franchise in Los Angeles, with her husband, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian.
“I feel like women’s soccer is one of the most exciting sports ever, so it’s super exciting to watch,” Williams told reporters. “And to support them and to bring a major league into the United States is definitely something that’s super important.”
Williams stressed the importance of giving women an equal stage to compete in sports, just like the World Tennis Association (WTA) has given her throughout her incredible career in tennis.
“I know how I have benefited from playing on the WTA Tour, and these athletes are so good at what they do, and so exciting, and they’re so amazing, and so it’s really awesome to be a part of supporting other women athletes.”
Osaka and Williams are not the only two women to take on ownership positions with NWSL teams. The Washington Spirit, Washington D.C.’s team, recently welcomed a new ownership group including former presidential daughters Chelsea Clinton and Jenna Bush Hager, as well as Olympic gold medalist Dominique Dawes, and former USWNT member and former Washington Spirit coach Briana Scurry.
“It is fitting that the Washington Spirit have an investor group commensurate with the dynamism and diversity of D.C. and its place as the most powerful city in the world,” managing partner Steve Baldwin said in a press release. “Our club has big ambitions globally.”
Not only does the investment group bring women into ownership positions within sports, but the group also reflects D.C.’s political roots, sports legacy, international reach, and thriving business and technology community. This is something that Devin Talbott, the lead investor of the group, is proud of.
“We share a common vision and committed purpose to elevate women’s soccer, both for Washington Spirit players and the young girls pursuing their passions on the pitch and beyond,” added Talbott.
While these teams are beginning to reshape ownership boundaries for women in sports, other NWSL teams are welcoming women into front-office positions. Recently, FC Kansas City introduced Amber Cox as their new Chief Operations Officer. This is a continued effort by the Kansas City club’s owners to build a culture of individuals proud to represent the city and team
FC Kansas City, formerly known as the Utah Royals, was purchased by Angie and Chris Long, founders of Palmer Square Capital Management, and Brittany Matthews, a trainer and former pro soccer player, in December 2020. The Longs dreamed of bringing professional women’s soccer back to Kansas City, and they are proud to be able to do so.
“Growing up a female athlete and not having the opportunity to play for a professional women’s soccer league, you could feel the power of women’s sports and the power of soccer,” Angie Long said.
The overall rise in anticipation and excitement surrounding the NWSL is phenomenal for the sport. It gives women the opportunity to compete at the highest level in their sport, and it is clear that plenty of new opportunities will arise from the further expansion and development of the league.