Why we love the NWSL, and why they have a lot of work to do
Alex Nelson

> Portland drew and average of 16,925 fans per game this year, peaking at the semi-final match on October 2 with a crowd of 20,086 fans.

The 20,086 Oct. 2 semifinal attendance wasn’t the best attendance of the 2016 season. Portland had a 21,144 home sellout vs. Western New York on Sept. 11 of this season.

> Portland held the previous record in the 2015 home opener, with 21,144.

Portland’s 2015 home opener drew 13,386, which was less than any home match in 2016. Portland had two home sellouts of 21,144 attendance in 2015, but neither of them was in the first half of the season (July 22, first home game after the WWC; August 30, the home finale).

> Attendance was a mild 8,255 fans. In a fairly well-educated and well-rounded sports town, a stadium that is about 1/3 full is unacceptable.

The Houston Dash’s average attendance in 2016, at the same stadium, was 5,686.

8,255 was the third-largest NWSL crowd in Houston, behind the Dash’s post-WWC match in 2015 (13,025) and their 9th home match of 2015 (9,530). Their biggest crowd in 2016 was 7,440.

8,255 was about 4,000 more than the 2014 finals crowd, held at the home team’s pitch in Seattle (4,252, at Starfire, capacity around 4,500). It was also smaller than the 2013 home finals in Rochester (9,129, capacity between 13,768 and 15,404).

> One could argue that if this game was played in Portland, Orlando or several other cities, the stadium would be sold out.

The league has never sold out a postseason match. To sell out Orlando’s Camping World Stadium would require selling more than 60,000 tickets, something that hasn’t happened since it hosted 1994 World Cup matches. Despite setting the league’s single-match attendance record, Orlando didn’t sell out any matches this season — Houston’s finals attendance of 8,255 was larger than any other crowd Orlando drew this season.

Portland didn’t even sell out its home semifinals match, and it still set the league’s postseason attendance record by about 6,800.

> One can argue that the key to success for this iteration of the women’s league has been the salary cap, which is $285,000 per team for the 2016 season.

The salary cap was in 2016 was $278,000, not $285,000.

> By comparison, in Major League Soccer, zero players make below the common definition of a “living wage” in the United States, which is roughly $40,000 per year.

This statement is true, but it’s also a very recent development. As of 2014, 18 years into the league’s existence and with vastly more investment than the NWSL, several MLS players made the minimum salary at the time of $36,500, and the median was $25,000/year less. The minimum salary is still $39,000; no teams pay a player that little in 2016, but they’re able to.

And yes, despite this, the disparity with the NWSL was then and remains now quite tremendous. But it’s also a little disingenuous to omit this context about professional soccer players in the US not making a living wage — even the unionized men couldn’t close that gap until last year.

> For the past two seasons, NWSL has signed a multi-game deal with Fox Sports to cover several games during the season, including the two semi-final playoff matches and the championship.

The NWSL has had a television deal with FOX for all four years that it’s existed. If anything, that deal has gotten smaller over time — in 2013, FOX Soccer and FOX Sports aired 9 matches, including the post-season. In 2016, FOX Sports aired 6 matches.

> Financial details of the broadcast contracts with Fox Sports and YouTube are undisclosed

NWSL does not have a contract with YouTube, and they don’t monetize games using YouTube’s tools. They livestream matches for free without YouTube advertisements, and post archived matches on YouTube without advertisements or monetization.

> In the off-season, several soccer cities around the league should be epicenters of women’s soccer. The league should have established training programs in Portland, Houston, Orlando, Los Angeles and potentially a few other cities.

The NWSL, which is operated by the US Soccer Federation, launched NWSL-affiliated USSF girls’ development academies in every NWSL city this summer, alongside another 58 academies affiliated with local semi-pro women’s or MLS clubs in other cities, including Los Angeles, Dallas, and NYC and proposed expansion markets in Salt Lake City and North Carolina. Many of these pre-dated USSF’s girls’ development academy program, including at least the NWSL-affiliated academies in Seattle, Portland, DC, Chicago, Houston, and Orlando. NWSL players and coaches actively work in these academies — in fact, Spirit coach Jim Gabarra was teaching at Spirit-run academies 3 days before and the day after the NWSL finals!

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