Sandy • Before the United States Women’s National Team played even one game in the Women’s World Cup, Utah Royals FC coach Laura Harvey had already thought about what a championship run by the U.S. Women’s National Team would mean for soccer in this country.
Harvey, who is from England, said last month that if the USWNT won the whole thing, it would be “ the best thing” for the National Women’s Soccer League. That notion will be put to the test in earnest now that all the U.S. players are back with their respective clubs and the league looks much like it did before World Cup preparations started in May.
“Hopefully people come out and support this league,” said Desiree Scott, Royals midfielder and member of the Canadian national team. “You have the world's best playing in this league — from all over, not just the U.S. You’ve got countries from all over the world playing right here where you can come watch them week in and week out.”
Early returns indicate positive momentum for the NSWL. The league and ESPN announced a broadcast partnership that will air 14 games on two of the cable network’s channels. The Royals received one of those games. The first of those nationally televised games brought in 77,000 viewers, per The Washington Post, and that was just on ESPNEWS.
The NWSL also inked a multi-year agreement with an official beer sponsor. And on Thursday, Houston Rockets star James Harden joined the ownership of the Houston Dynamo, which also owns the NWSL’s Houston Dash.
Locally in Salt Lake City, the Royals took out a full-page advertisement in The Salt Lake Tribune to promote Friday’s game against the Portland Thorns. All six of Utah’s World Cup players are expected to be available to play. And throughout the tournament, Harvey, Amy Rodriguez and Vero Boquete appeared on the Fox affiliate to provide analysis.
Becky Sauerbrunn said she thinks the league saw a bump in attendance and interest even before the USWNT players went back to their teams. She added that the recent business partnerships the league has taken on are a good sign.
“What I hope and what I anticipate is that attendance will be up and hopefully we can carry that momentum through the rest of the season,” Sauerbrunn said. “I think it’s great that we’ve gotten new sponsors for the NWSL and hopefully more companies will take part and sponsor this wonderful league.”
UTAH ROYALS FC HOME ATTENDANCE
Apr. 20: 18,015
May 3: 16,556
May 11: 10,138
May 25: 7,345
June 15: 5,777
June 28: 6,910
The Royals had an announced attendance of more than 18,000 fans for their home opener on April 20, then drew over 16,000 for their next home game in early May. Since then, though, the numbers have dropped. The Royals have averaged 6,677 fans during their their three most recent home dates.
Team officials say they had sold 15,000 tickets for Friday’s game agains the Portland Thorns at Rio Tinto as of Thursday afternoon.
Royals general manager Stephanie Lee told The Salt Lake Tribune last month that one of the biggest challenge the club has faced in regards to ticket sales is dealing with what she described as “a little bit of saturation and cannibalism” in Salt Lake City’s soccer market. When Real Salt Lake has a home game, she said, the marketing, ticketing and social media teams at the Royals can’t use certain promotions because they will get lost among the messaging promoting RSL.
“I think that it's been a balance of figuring out how and when do we focus, from a marketing and a ticketing sales perspective, on the Royals vs. RSL,” Lee said. “I think that there's a dance there that we're still learning in how to keep both teams fresh in the media, in the news, in the public's eye without hurting one at the expense of the other.”
Some of the USWNT players have taken the opportunity to promote the league in other venues that don’t have much to do with soccer. Megan Rapinoe recently did an interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and appeared on the political podcast “Pod Save America.” Alex Morgan mentioned the NWSL at the ESPYs when accepting the award for Best Female Athlete.
Sauerbrunn said it’s incumbent on both the league’s players and the league itself to help grow interest in the game on a domestic level.
“The responsibility falls on both,” Sauerbrunn said. “As individual players, I think we have platforms and followers that maybe the league doesn’t have quite yet. So I think it’s important for us and it’s a responsibility for us to promote the league in the best way possible. … But also within this league, you have so many wonderful players that don’t play for the national team. So I think it’s really important that the league also recognizes that, keeps promoting these players that maybe don’t play intentionally, but are still world-class in their own way.”
UTAH ROYALS FC VS. PORTLAND THORNS
At Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy
Kickoff » Friday, 8 p.m.
Radio » 700 AM
Last meeting » Portland 0, URFC 0 (June 21, Providence Park)
Records » URFC 5-4-2, Seattle 6-2-4
About Portland » Midge Purce leads team with six goals. … Sit second place in the league standings. … Has won two of its last three games. … Has won the most road games of any other team in the league.
About URFC » All six World Cup players will be available for selection. … Currently on three-game winless streak. … Has not scored in previous three games. … Amy Rodriguez leads team with five goals. … Sit fifth place in league standings, below the playoff line. … Vero Boquete listed as questionable with an ankle injury.