On June 27, the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) became the first U.S. team sports league to make its return to play with the Challenge Cup. One month and 23 games later ― and despite the absence of WNT standouts Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath and Christen Press ― the tournament obliterated previous viewership records.

Despite mainstream sports reporting focusing more on return-to-play scenarios for men’s pro leagues and college sports, the Challenge Cup Final drew an average audience of 653,000 viewers on CBS, the second most watched soccer match in the U.S. that week and far exceeding the “MLS Is Back” Final with a reported 394,000 on ESPN platforms.

But there are bigger reasons brands should take note of the opportunities the NWSL presents.

Building Momentum
The NWSL features many of the world’s elite players and is beginning to attract big-name media rights, sponsorship partners and investors.

Kicking off CBS’ new three-year media rights agreement, the Challenge Cup’s opening game and final game was the first time a women’s professional soccer league was broadcast on a major over-the-air network. For the league’s newly announced fall series starting on Sept. 5, CBS will now air a “Game of the Week” every Saturday in September. Amazon’s Twitch came on board this year streaming league games domestically and internationally. Verizon and Google joined the likes of Nike, AB InBev and P&G on the league sponsorship roster just prior to the start of the tournament. And last month’s announcement of the new Los Angeles franchise – under an unprecedented ownership make-up of Hollywood stars (Natalie Portman, Eva Longoria, Uzo Aduba, to name just a few), athletes (Serena Williams, Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach, etc.), entrepreneurs and venture capitalists – earned an estimated $31M in media value with essentially zero marketing spend.

Granted, the tremendous popularity and following of the U.S. Women’s National Team has yet to fully carry over to the domestic league. The league still has to fight every day for mainstream media attention (outside of the opening and final game, the Challenge Cup matches were only made available via stream). And European clubs represent an increasingly attractive alternative for top players.

However, it is easy to forget that after the previous failed attempts of WUSA and WPS, the NWSL is still only eight years old, and creating a fan base takes time. For those who remember, the MLS was inches away from ceasing operation in 2001 at the time of its eighth birthday.

The Ultimate Endorsement
Insiders know how passionate, united and loyal NWSL fans are to the game, the movement and its partners. As a matter of fact, rEvolution’s research team conducted a fan study focused on sponsor friendliness across 25 traditional and emerging sports in the U.S. and UK. The result: women’s soccer is the most “sponsor friendly” of all traditional and emerging sports in the U.S. Read that again.

Making a Difference
There are many variables to consider around the league’s future ― but what else is new in today’s world. While its story is only just beginning, the league’s and players’ sociocultural significance and empowerment has already captivated the young leaders of tomorrow. More than ever, fans and aspiring players will endorse and reward pioneering brands who share their vision and want to make a difference ― rather than being another logo in the crowd of established leagues.

With such an avid and growing fan base and plenty of ownable space in the young commercial program, the time is opportune for incoming sponsors to put an imprint on the present and help blaze the trail for its future. And we’ve got some ideas to do just that.

If you are interested in setting up time to talk about how to find the right approach for your brand, you can connect with me here.

//

About rEvolution
rEvolution is a fully integrated sports and lifestyle marketing agency and has been a mainstay in the soccer space, especially women’s soccer. Among others, our award-winning work with Continental Tire has established the tire brand as a true supporter and champion of women’s soccer, through its U.S. Soccer, North Caroline Courage and player partnerships – including Alex Morgan and Tobin Heath.

About Chris Sonntag // Vice President, Client Development
With 15+ years of experience in global sports marketing, including leadership positions with IMG and FIFA, Chris holds a deep knowledge of the industry through the lens of rights holders, brands, agencies and talent. Multilingual, having called five different countries home, he has worked on sporting platforms and events across 40+ countries with major properties and Fortune 500 companies.