The North Carolina Courage won their second straight NWSL title to end a notable season for the league. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
This year has seen a beginning of revolution for women’s professional soccer in North America. From TV deals to higher salary caps to breaking records, 2019 has put the women’s game on a steady rise.
FIFA WORLD CUP
The 2019 FIFA World Cup made the monstrous waves that started much of this year’s success. In Canada, TSN televised every single match from the tournament. Additionally, their analysis panel between games was comprised entirely of women: Kate Beirness, Clare Rustad, Kaylyn Kyle and Diana Matheson. All referees were also women.
The final match was the most-watched FIFA Women’s World Cup game ever with 82.18 million live viewers, which is more than the 2015 and 2011 championship audiences combined. The 2019 tournament had 1.12 billion viewers in total.
“More than a sporting event, the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019 was a cultural phenomenon attracting more media attention than ever before and providing a platform for women’s football to flourish in the spotlight,” said FIFA President Gianni Infantino. “The fact that we broke the 1 billion target just shows the pulling power of the women’s game and the fact that, if we promote and broadcast world-class football widely, whether it’s played by men or women, the fans will always want to watch.”
The United States’ championship win saw their head coach, Jill Ellis, finish her remarkable career by becoming the first coach to ever win back-to-back Women’s World Cups. She is also the second coach in history to win two World Cups. Vittorio Pozzo was the other, coaching the Italian men’s team to the titles in 1934 and 1938.
NATIONAL WOMEN’S SOCCER LEAGUE (NWSL)
Following the 2019 FIFA World Cup, the NWSL secured a TV deal with ESPN for the remainder of their 2019 season. ESPN was given rights to the remaining 14 matches of the year. They made eight available on ESPNews and six – including the semifinals and championship – on ESPN2. All 14 games were streamed live on the ESPN app. The NWSL declined to disclose financial details from the deal.
The World Cup and new TV deal drew so much attention to the NWSL that their average game attendance increased by 70 per cent. The Sky Blue FC and Chicago Red Stars set their own attendance records this season, seating 9,415 and 17,388 fans respectively. With a total attendance of 792,409 this year, the league has the highest average attendance per game out of any women’s professional sports league in the continent.
The increase in exposure and attention opened a door to an expansion for the 2021 season. Louisville plans to have a team and new stadium for the NWSL, with details for colours and logo announced in 2020.
NWSL MVP Sam Kerr broke many of her own records this summer to keep her title as leading scorer. With 18 goals in 21 games, she earned her third consecutive NWSL Golden Boot. The 26-year old recently signed with the Chelsea of the Women’s Super League (WSL) and will become one of the highest-paid women’s soccer players in the world with a salary rumoured to be about $400,000 per season.
Right after Kerr announced her move to Europe, the NWSL stated their salary cap for the 2020 season will rise over 19 per cent to $650,000 per team. The total does not include the $300,000 of allocation money that each club can get from the league.
BEYOND THE PITCH
As much as some people were disappointed to see the dominant USA win yet again, some would say their victory needed to happen. The U.S. women’s national team has a lot to say about oppression and inequality, and they are fortunate enough to have a platform that amplifies their voices.
Earlier this year, the entire USA women’s national team sued U.S. soccer for gender inequality, arguing that the men’s national team got more pay and better training facilities. Megan Rapinoe, in particular, has taken full advantage of her platform as a 2019 World Cup champion, using every speech and opportunity to speak out against homophobia, sexism and racism.
Ultimately, 2019 ended the decade on a high note for women’s soccer. With these new bars set, it’s safe to predict the 2020s will see history made.