Sky Blue FC’s General Manager, Alyse LaHue, joined Lindsay Barenz, Acting President and General Manager of NWSL Media, and Gretchen Hamm, Chief Revenue Officer of Washington Spirit, for a panel discussion on the business of women’s soccer last Thursday evening. The panel was co-presented by Sky Blue and the Spirit and moderated by Meg Linehan, NWSL/USWNT Staff Writer for The Athletic.
The panelists focused much of their discussion on the growth of women’s soccer in recent years. They all noted that there was a clear shift in the league during the 2019 season after the U.S. Women’s National Team’s FIFA World Cup victory. While every NWSL team saw an increase in attendance post-World Cup, the league also saw an impressive growth digitally. Barenz noted that NWSL Media experienced over 100% growth on Instagram and a double-digit growth on all other social channels. The league’s shift did not just involve audience size, but audience composition as well. The panelists all agreed that women’s soccer has outgrown its traditional “role model for young girls” image and has embraced a more sophisticated space that includes something for everyone. Through initiatives like adult soccer clinics and a robust league partnership with Anheuser-Busch (Budweiser), teams have been able to appeal to a wider audience. While young soccer players are still an integral part of the women’s soccer community, the fanbase is becoming more diverse, and this gives teams more flexibility in how they market themselves to supporters.
As the game continues to grow, many companies have begun to realize the value of professional women’s soccer. As Barenz pointed out, businesses no longer just partner with the NWSL for the social impact, but the financial impact as well. The league’s fans are notoriously very loyal, and this loyalty tends to spread to businesses that invest in the women’s game. Budweiser’s recent partnership with the league proved that investing in women’s professional soccer can lead to a positive return on investment (ROI), and the panelists hope that many companies will see this as a reason to work with the NWSL in the future.
Before signing off, the panelists made sure to address the impact of the pandemic on NWSL’s business operations. While the current situation is not ideal, it has provided a unique opportunity for teams to connect with their fans in new ways. LaHue mentioned that while trying to fill the void that the season left, teams have developed fan engagement tools that they will take with them when the season finally returns. While front offices are hard at work keeping fans entertained, the fans have returned the favor by keeping their support strong in this difficult time. Hamm mentioned that very few season ticket holders have asked for refunds, demonstrating their commitment to the league while they wait for the moratorium to be lifted. Additionally, support from sponsors has remained strong despite the uncertainty surrounding the season. Whether it be the league’s staff, fans, or partners, everyone has proven their devotion to seeing the NWSL through this unprecedented time.
While the panelists covered many topics, one common theme remained over the hour-long zoom call: the future of women’s soccer is very bright, and not even a global pandemic will stop the game from reaching its full potential.