Well-known NWSL athletes opting to play overseas could prove worrisome for the popularity of the league

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Aria Khalique, Multimedia Editor

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many US players have not been able to play during the regular NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League) season. This is why many stars of the NWSL have moved to play for European club teams leaving the best women’s soccer league in the world questioning how to retain viewership. 

 

The NWSL has long been the league every woman soccer player aims to play for. The league is made up of domestic teams residing in cities like Orlando, Portland and Washington D.C. amongst others. It also offers the highest level of competition outside of major titles like the World Cup and Summer Olympics. But big stars like Alex Morgan and Tobin Heath leaving the NWSL to play for FAWSL (FA Women’s Super League) in Europe threatens to cause a shift in this ranking.

 

The idea of NWSL players leaving to play overseas is not new and was made popular in 2019 when former Chicago Red Star Samantha Kerr moved to play for Chelsea. The Australian superstar accepted a salary of $400,000 from the club, a number the NWSL did not have the budget to meet. 

 

This year, compensation is not as much of a motivator as the prospect of being able to play in far more games. The UK has significantly lowered its COVID-19 cases and begun to bring back live sports. This proved enticing to former North Carolina Courage star Sam Mewis who accepted an offer from Manchester City to play for one year. She was followed by her USWNT teammate Rose Lavelle who also agreed to play for the club.

Soon after USWNT players Tobin Heath and Christan Press revealed they too were moving overseas to play for Manchester United. And at the end of the transfer window two-time FIFA World Cup winner Alex Morgan announced she would be moving to Tottenham Hotspur. But the chance to play might not be the only factor motivating the athletes. The increase in funding that FAWSL can provide proves to be important to the move as well. 

 

“If this country decides to invest on the women’s side, they have more resources than most, so there’s a huge opportunity there,” Press said as United officially introduced her at a press conference (Inquirer). 

“If this country decides to invest on the women’s side, they have more resources than most, so there’s a huge opportunity there,”

— Christan Press

The NWSL had to slash budgets for the upcoming season due to fewer games being played. Because of this, they could not provide excess funding or salary boosts for any player. This deficiency was why the league lost Kerr as well, illustrating that if a solution is not found to their lack of funding, more and more players will make the transition to play overseas. 

Budgets are not the only threat to the NWSL, with FAWSL gaining an abundance of well-known players, their viewership is sure to boost tremendously meaning a decline in popularity for the former best women’s league in the world. NBC has already expressed interest in FAWSL and agreed to stream 50 of the season’s games online. Such press will be an incredible opportunity for the league to become recognized worldwide. 

 

But the looming success of FAWSL means the NWSL should be worried. Men’s soccer provides a perfect example of the appeal of European leagues. MLS (Major League Soccer) viewership pales in comparison to the UEFA (Union of European Football Associations). 

 

Despite funding and viewership being definite concerns, the NWSL still has hope. Most of these departures are one-year agreements meaning the NWSL still has rights to the players. With luck, games will run smoothly next year and players will be inclined to come back and play. A resurgence of games would mean more funding and viewership which could help the NWSL regain their status in the world of women’s soccer.

 

But regardless of the state of next year, this coming season will prove critical for both leagues as the NWSL aims to retain viewership and FAWSL strives to take advantage of opportunities created by the new additions to their league.