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Analysis

The NWSL’s average attendance is up, but the gap from top to bottom is widening

Remove a few outlier games and some teams saw a decline. There are also now clear groups of haves and have-nots. Can everyone keep up?

Abe Arredondo-USA TODAY Sports

“Attendance and ticket sales are the rocket fuel that feeds the growth of this league,” is an expression National Women’s Soccer League commissioner Jessica Berman has grown fond of in 2023.

Berman first used the phrase after this year’s historic opening weekend when over 90,000 fans — or an average of about 15,000 fans per match — attended the season’s first six games, shattering the previous record average of 10,150 set in 2022. Most recently, Berman used the phrase during the announcement of the league’s new media rights deal at championship weekend in San Diego, while she discussed the importance of broadcasting in local markets.

Ticket sales are clearly a priority for the commissioner and the league, which makes sense considering that they are still typically the largest source of revenue for each NWSL club. While most professional sports leagues generate the majority of their revenue through broadcast rights, it’s unclear whether NWSL clubs will see any of the $60 million annual revenue from the new media deal. This leaves club sponsorships and ticketing as the biggest sources of income for each team. And that means that for teams to be sustainable, they need to be selling tickets.

The good news for the NWSL is that, overall, 2023 brought significant growth. The league reported a 26% increase in average attendance in 2023 with 1.2 million tickets sold. And just as the season opened by breaking records, it closed that way, too, with the NWSL Championship drawing a record 25,011 fans to Snapdragon Stadium in San Diego to watch NJ/NY Gotham beat OL Reign and take home their first championship trophy.

But while the NWSL is growing overall, not every club has caught hold of that rocket ship. And if most clubs are, in fact, growing, are they all growing enough to be sustainable?

To truly understand the ways in which the NWSL grew — and did not grow — in 2023, let’s take a deeper look at some key takeaways from this season’s attendance.

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