As Women’s Soccer Booms, The NWSL Looks to Make its Presence Felt at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup: “We Play Here”
June 8, 2023
Less than 45 days separate us from the official kick-off of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, and as the tournament breaks new ground, it will arguably be one of the most historic editions ever.
This year marks the first time the women’s World Cup will be jointly hosted by two countries: Australia and New Zealand. It’s also the first time that 32 nations will be competing, from the previous number of 24, a sign of the remarkable growth surrounding international women’s soccer over the last few years.
To that end, this year’s World Cup will play a crucial role in helping maintain the upward trajectory the sport has experienced, especially here in the U.S.
No, not because the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) are favorites to win (again!), or the fact that they’re the most dominant nation in the tournament’s history with four titles. It’s because of FINN Consumer Lifestyle and Sports client the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), and the opportunity the league has to use the World Cup as a foundation to make a broader impact on how women’s sports are seen and invested in in the future.
World Cup years are massive cultural moments, and it just so happens that the NWSL is currently experiencing one of its own with a seismic shift in popularity.
The League Is Expanding And Expansion Teams Are Setting Valuation Records
Just a few years ago, teams were selling for a few million dollars and some players were changing into uniforms in porta-potties. In recent months, global investment firm Sixth Street Partners won a bidding war to become majority owner of a NWSL expansion franchise in the Bay Area for $53 million.
That team, along with the return of a team in Utah, will bring the league to 14 teams in 2024. A 15th franchise, in Boston, will launch at a later date.
Surging Media Rights Opportunities
The NWSL is in the midst of shopping its media rights and anticipates making a deal this summer, according to Commissioner Jessica Berman.
CEO Alan Waxman of Sixth Street, which has $65 billion in assets under management and investments with Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, called the NWSL one of the most lopsided investment cases he’s seen. He thinks in a decade, the league’s rights could be at parity with the MLS’s much larger deal.
A Promising Future
Expected to represent 25-30 percent of the players featured international this summer, this is the NWSL’s chance to tell the story of the exceptional talent – foreign and domestic – who come to the U.S. to play at the highest level of women’s club soccer and showcase our national league against the backdrop of entertainment culture and sport.
In the words of NWSL Chief Marketing Officer Julie Haddon: “World Cup years are massive culture moments. Remember the impact of the 1999 Women’s World Cup? We still hear people talk about Brandi Chastain like it was yesterday. Or the most recent World Cup in France in 2019 when the USA won its fourth title? Can you imagine what the next 10 years may bring? The choice is ours.”
Our close work with the NWSL has shown that the momentum towards the 2023 World Cup began nearly a decade ago, and all of the pieces that have played a part in pushing the ball forward were important. Seeds were sowed in 2019 when the Portland Thorns invested in 13-year-old soccer phenom Olivia Moultrie; the now 17-year-old signed an official three-year contract with Portland in 2021, and is living up to the hype this season as her playing time has expanded. Seeds were sowed in July 2020, when it was announced that a new LA-based NWSL team would begin competition in 2022. Look at that team now: Angel City FC is the subject of a new three-part HBO series examining how the team came to represent the significance of women’s soccer and how far-reaching the impacts are off the field.
Some say women’s sports are having a moment. Our work with the NWSL has showed us that it’s not just a moment in time – women’s sports are undergoing a ‘movement’ – an ongoing shift that will continue to propel the sport forward. The World Cup will serve as a time to bring together all of those who are continuing to push for equality in sports for a collective look at the sustainable change created over the years, and why there is so much more we can achieve. Be a part of the movement, go out, watch a game and see the women “who play here.”
Manny Cedeno, Associate Vice President, Consumer Lifestyle and Sports Practice
Manny’s experience spans sports entertainment, consumer products and adventure travel in Finn Partners New York office. He has lead client relations and PR initiatives for the International Champions Cup –the annual summer soccer tournament that brings the top European football clubs to the U.S., including Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United, Liverpool, and Bayern Munich, among others –in addition to Nutribullet, Theragun and Life Time. Manny consistently has his finger on the pulse of the ever-evolving media landscape and ongoing trends across several industries.
Madelyn Flax, Senior Media Specialist, Consumer Lifestyle and Sports Practice
Madelyn Flax joined Finn in September 2022, joining the Sports team after spending two years at Berk Communications, where she worked with Berk’s roster of sports talent & personalities. She previously spent time at Creative Artists Agency –CAA Sports where she handled media outreach and marketing opportunities for the agency’s NFL clients. Prior, she worked in the communications department at SHOWTIME Sports where she assisted on marquee boxing events. She played both lacrosse and field hockey at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, and American University in Washington, D.C., where she earned a degree in communications.