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The NWSL is growing, but it cannot get complacent about potential stumbling blocks

• A new media rights deal looms, and the NWSL and its clubs could stand to improve in the media department
• Expansion is a net positive, but sales of two existing teams present further challenges

Photo: Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

The National Women’s Soccer League season kicks off Saturday, and for the first time in four years, the start of the season coincides with the start of the ‘season.’ In other words, after the COVID-abridged 2020 season and two years of deferring the regular season for the Challenge Cup, this time we’re getting things started with the real thing right off the bat.

The streamlining of the schedule is one of the wins for commissioner Jessica Berman during her first year on the job. On Monday, Berman held a one-hour news conference ahead of the season. Although Berman offered a positive outlook about the future of NWSL, there was not much to be said in terms of news. Among the positive nuggets is that, with a week to go until opening day, season ticket sales are already up about 20% from the end of last season. The commissioner declined to go into team-by-team specifics on ticket sales.

On April 13, the NWSL will be a decade-old in terms of playing games. For those of us who remember those prehistoric days, the growth has been remarkable. And that growth is continuing. Look no further than the $35 million valuation pinned on the Washington Spirit last year and the $50 million the league is expected to fetch for pending expansion clubs in the Bay Area and Boston. The addition of Angel City and San Diego last season cannot rationally be considered anything but a dual success at the highest level. Meanwhile, Utah Royals are already in (at a long-ago negotiated discount price), and league owners have committed investment to launch Video Assistant Referee (VAR) for all matches beginning this weekend.

It sounds like a fairytale story of a league on the precipice of an explosion in growth and popularity. But are there landmines lurking that could stunt this growth? Or, is the NWSL on a collision course with a ceiling it is unwittingly setting far too low? These questions will shape the league’s future.

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