All Scores

NWSL sets viewership milestones during banner year for women’s sports

Portland Thorns players celebrate their championship win at Audi Field. (Amber Searls/USA TODAY Sports)

On Saturday, 915,000 people pointed remotes at TVs and sat down to watch the NWSL Championship. It stands as the most-watched match in league history, with a viewership increase of 71% from last year’s final.

Nearly one million people watched as Sophia Smith Michael Jordan-shrugged her way to an MVP trophy, and as the Portland Thorns collected their third championship in franchise history.

But numbers like this aren’t confined to one game or one league. The increased viewership in the NWSL shows a larger trend: If more people can watch women’s sports, more people will watch women’s sports.

Saturday’s contest marked the first time in the league’s 10-year history that an NWSL Championship was played in prime time. The match aired on CBS and streamed on Paramount+.

Before 2022, NWSL finals were held during the day and aired on various cable channels, making access more difficult for prospective viewers.

For NWSL players, especially veterans, Saturday’s prime-time final proved a much-anticipated step forward.

“I was fortunate to play in the first championship game and I think outside of the people in Portland, no one knew that the game was happening,” Christine Sinclair told reporters before the game. “So I’d say it’s what this league, it’s what us as players deserve.

“This, women’s sports in general, all they need is a chance. People will watch, people will come if given the opportunity to do so. For this game to be on prime time — on a major network — it’s just going to continue to grow the game to continue to inspire those youngsters watching.”

The match capped a season in which the NWSL saw record attendance: More than 1 million fans attended games in 2022, the first time the league has reached that milestone.

The demand for women’s soccer extends outside of the United States. Tickets for 2023 World Cup games in Australia and New Zealand rapidly sold out their allotments during the second phase of single game sales, held by FIFA in the early morning hours of Australian Eastern Daylight time on Tuesday.

A FIFA spokesperson told ABC Australia the organization wasn’t prepared for the high demand, calling it “unprecedented,” and said more World Cup passes have been sold in the first month of availability for the 2023 tournament than in the first four months for the 2019 World Cup in France.

Should FIFA have been surprised? Given the current trends in women’s sports, the answer is a resounding “No.”

img
Fans cheer during the NWSL championship game between the Kansas City Current and Portland Thorns at Audi Field. (Amber Searls/USA TODAY Sports)

The 2019 World Cup had 1.12 billion viewers, more than a 50% increase from the previous record. That doesn’t come down to a championship one-off. For the 52 World Cup games, an average of 1.27 million viewers tuned in, an increase of 106% from the 2015 World Cup.

And other women’s sports are showing similar growth. Both the WNBA and women’s college basketball saw similar increases during their most recent seasons.

During a WNBA season that marked the final campaign for veterans Sylvia Fowles and Sue Bird, the league reached its most regular-season viewers in 14 years. Games shown on ABC, CBS and ESPN networks were up 16% from the previous season. League pass subscriptions also increased by 10%.

College basketball also smashed its previous viewership numbers. The title game between No. seeded South Carolina and No. 2 UConn pulled in 4.85 million people, making it the most-viewed college basketball game on ESPN for men or women since 2008.

In total, the season saw an 18% increase in viewership from 2021 to 2022. And this year’s national championship game will be shown on ABC after being broadcast on ESPN in previous seasons, setting it up for even more viewership thanks to better accessibility.

“Women’s NCAA championships continue to generate strong audiences across the ABC/ESPN networks and this move represents yet another unique opportunity to showcase this marquee event and the student-athletes who are competing for a national championship,” Burke Magnus, ESPN’s president of programming and original content, said in a statement following the announcement.

More people are watching women’s sports because more people can watch women’s sports. It’s as simple as that. More accessible TV networks and better time slots lead to more viewers.

People want to watch women’s sports. It’s up to TV providers and the leagues to make sure they can. And if that continues to happen, viewership will continue to skyrocket.

Clark, Martin Square Off in First Pro WNBA Matchup

Kate Martin #20 of the Las Vegas Aces and Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever look on during the game
Things looked a little different Saturday night as the former Iowa teammates went head-to-head in Las Vegas. (Jeff Bottari/NBAE via Getty Images)

Former Iowa teammates Caitlin Clark and Kate Martin shared the court once again on Saturday, this time as professionals.

It was Martin’s Aces that got the 99-80 win over Clark’s Fever in Las Vegas. The pair's former coaches Lisa Bluder, Jan Jensen, Jenni Fitzgerald, and Raina Harmon were all in attendance to watch their Hawkeyes — Clark, Martin, and former national player of the year Megan Gustafson — take the court.

"It’s super special. It’s cool for our program, cool for Lisa, for Coach Jan, for all of them," Clark said in a pregame press conference. "They’ve known me since I’ve been 13 years old and now I’m 22 getting to live out my dream and they’ve been a huge part of that and helping me get here and helping Megan and Kate to get here too. It’s a great moment for them and I’m sure they’re not complaining about a trip to Vegas."

As for her college teammate, Clark had nothing but good things to say ahead of the showdown. 

"I’m just really happy for her and everything Coach [Becky] Hammon says about her is so true," she said. "Every person that played at Iowa and was around her knows that to be true. She’s the ultimate teammate, ultimate person, ultimate leader."

In the end, Martin stole the show with 12 points and seven rebounds in 22 minutes, while Clark amassed eight points, seven assists, and five rebounds over 29 minutes of playing time. 

"It was weird," Martin admitted after the game. "I'm not going to lie — just looking out on the court and seeing her in a different jersey than me, it was obviously different. But it's really fun. We're both living out our dreams right now."

The Aces next meet the fever on July 2nd at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Barcelona Beat Lyon to Win Back-to-Back Champions League Titles

Barcelona's Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas celebrating after beating Lyon at the 2024 Champions League final
Ballon d'Or winners Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas helped Barcelona to a second-straight UWCL title on Saturday. (Ramsey Cardy - Sportsfile/UEFA via Getty Images)

Barcelona was crowned champion of the Champions League on Saturday with a 2-0 win over Lyon in Bilbao.

Alexia "La Reina" Putellas, who recently re-signed with Barcelona, came off the bench to score the team's second goal. Fellow Ballon d’Or winner Aitana Bonmatí provided the team’s first. After the game, defender Lucy Bronze said Putellas was nicknamed "the queen" for a reason.

"Alexia is the captain of the team and she's the queen of Barcelona for a reason,"  defender Lucy Bronze told DAZN. "She's got the quality to do that in the last minute of the Champions League final when we were up against it at the end and it just sealed the win for us. It was amazing."

The victory marked Barcelona's first win over Lyon in a UWCL final, having previously gone up against the French side at both the 2019 and 2022 Champions League finals. It's also Barcelona's second Champions League title in a row.

"It's hard to win it once, but to do it back-to-back, Lyon showed how difficult it is and this team has finally done that," Bronze said. "I think we go down in history as one of the best teams in Europe."

This season, the team also secured a quadruple for the first time in club history, having already won Liga F, the Copa de la Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. The win ensures that coach Jonatan Giráldez — who has officially departed the team to join the NWSL's Washington Spirit — leaves Europe a champion.

"It was an incredible game. I am really happy, it's one of the best days of my life for sure," Giráldez told broadcaster DAZN after the game. "We did an amazing job. I am very proud of all of them."

Following the win, Putellas said her team "can't ask for anything else."

"Our objective was to win four out of four," the Spain international told reporters. "We have achieved everything we wanted. Every minute of sacrifice has been worth the effort — and I'd say that not after the game, but before, just entering in the stadium, with all the support we had here, it was worth it."

2024 Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year Aitana Bonmatí said that the crowd support made it "feel like Camp Nou."

"I am on cloud nine right now," she said. "It is an historic day which we will remember forever."

Sun’s Alyssa Thomas Ejected After Flagrant 2 on Sky Rookie Angel Reese

Angel Reese said there were "no hard feelings" stemming from Alyssa Thomas's flagrant foul. (Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Angel Reese might have gotten knocked down on Saturday, but she got right back up again. 

Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas was ejected from the Sun’s 86-82 win over Chicago following a flagrant foul 2 on Reese — the first of her career. While the two were battling for a rebound, Reese took a clothesline hold around the neck courtesy of Thomas before hitting the ground.

After the game, Reese told reporters that there were "no hard feelings" and she appreciated Thomas for playing her hard beneath the basket.

"I know she purposely probably didn’t do it towards me," Reese said. "But just being able to come out there and just be strong and stand on two feet, it was going to be a tough game and that’s what I’m built for. And my teammates had my back throughout the whole game. So I was prepared for it."

She also didn’t buy into the idea that it was a "Welcome to the WNBA" moment, but thanked Thomas "sending a message" because it helped her get back up and "keep pushing."

"It’s not just because I’m a rookie. I’m a player. I’m a basketball player. They don’t give a damn if I’m a rookie. I mean, I want them to come at me every day. I want them to come at everybody," she added. "I mean, they’re not supposed to be nice to me. I hope y’all know that. They’re not supposed to be nice to me or lay down because I’m Angel Reese or because I’m a rookie."

Reese finished the game with 13 points, five rebounds, and two assists over 33 minutes.

Barcelona to Face Lyon in Champions League Rematch This Weekend

UEFA Women's Champions League Final"Barcelona FC - Olympique Lyonnais"
Saturday's game will be the third UWCL final meeting for Barcelona and Lyon, having previously gone up against each other in 2019 and 2022. (ANP via Getty Images)

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off in Bilbao on Saturday, with a couple of familiar foes set to face off for the trophy.

Olympique Lyonnais Féminin, making its 11th final appearance since 2010, will go head to head with a Barcelona side making its fourth final appearance in a row.

This will be the third time these two teams meet in the UWCL title game, having previously appeared in the 2019 and 2022 finals. Lyon won both of those prior games against Barcelona, alongside a total of eight Champions League trophies. That’s double that of any other club, with Eintracht Frankfurt coming in a distant second with four. 

Should Barcelona win, this would be the team's third title — breaking a tie for the third in the UWCL total titles race. 

But as these teams return to the UWCL final, it also marks the end of an era for both clubs. The game will be the last for both club managers, as Barcelona’s Jonatan Giráldez and Lyon’s Sonia Bompastor depart for new jobs after the season's end.

Giráldez is set to leave for the NWSL's Washington Spirit, while Bompastor will take over for incoming USWNT coach Emma Hayes at Chelsea. Both coaches have earned one UWCL trophy during their tenures, while Bompastor also brought two Champions League trophies to Lyon as a player. She was the first coach to win a UWCL trophy as both a coach and player.

This season, Barcelona is looking for its first quadruple, having won a fifth Liga F title alongside the Copa de La Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. 

"We hope he can go out with the four trophies because we know how competitive and ambitious he is," Barcelona midfielder Patri Guijarro told ESPN. "It has been a winning era with him in charge and for him to go out with all four trophies would be historic and incredible."

But Lyon's Damaris Egurrola is excited about her team's chances of overcoming Barcelona once again — and to do it in front of family and friends.

"Lyon have something special," she told Forbes ahead of the weekend's final. "We have a great team and we have the players with enough talent to win any match."

The game will be a homecoming for Egurrola, who began her professional career with Athletic Bilbao.

"I’ve been thinking of this day and night," she said. "I’ve been dreaming of playing this match. Having the opportunity to play in San Mames is amazing. This is where it all started for me."

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off Saturday, May 25th at 12 PM ET and is free to stream on DAZN.

Start your morning off right with Just Women’s Sports’ free, 5x-a-week newsletter.