The National Women’s Soccer League made history with the debut of the Challenge Cup tournament beginning in late June 2020. Aside from being the first professional sports league in the U.S. to return to action amid the global pandemic, the Challenge Cup opening match was the first women’s club soccer game aired on a major U.S. network, according to The Athletic.
“People overlook the fact that, in the history of the world, professional women’s club soccer has never appeared on network television,” Lindsay Barenz, NWSL president and general manager, told The Athletic. “Never! This will be the first time. And it will be two games; it was two games in the original deal and two games now. That is such a monumental leap forward for soccer, for women’s professional soccer.”
In the monumental tournament, the CBS flagship station aired the opening and final match, while all games were available to stream live on CBS All Access and Twitch, and rebroadcasted on CBS Sports. The three-year television agreement with CBS was established before the global pandemic and the Challenge Cup. In addition to the CBS deal, the NWSL signed an agreement with Twitch to broadcast its games on an international level.
The opening match and final game aired on CBS broke NWSL records. According to Reuters, the opener brought in 572,000 viewers and surpassed previous viewership records by 200 percent. It was the highest viewership since August 2014.
Despite being the only team without a member on the U.S. Women’s National Team, the Houston Dash’s Challenge Cup final game set a record for NWSL viewership, surpassing the opening game. The Challenge Cup championship was the most-watched match in league history, and averaged 653,000 viewers, according to CBS. Compared to last year’s final match, the Challenge Cup final received an increase of viewers by 293 percent.
In an article for The18, Travis Yoesting wrote the viewership for the first game was higher than the average for the Premier League in the U.S.
“The NWSL return had more than 60,000 more viewers for the Manchester City-Chelsea match that clinched Liverpool’s first league title in 30 years on Thursday,” Yoesting wrote. “It’s amazing what happens when major networks pay attention to women’s sports.”
With games being aired on Twitch, the NWSL has an opportunity to create more content. The Twitch platform has an opportunity to have more interactivity that is focused on the league and players. The combination of more accessible viewership opportunities and increase in marketing tactics will draw a larger audience to the league.
Building on the success of the Challenge Cup, the NWSL returned in September for the NWSL Fall Series. According to CBS, the network will televise an NWSL Game of the Week every Saturday in September, as well as the final match scheduled for mid-October. Each NWSL team will be featured at least once during the Game of the Week, and other games will be streamed on CBS Sports Network, CBS All Access, and Twitch.