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NWSL teams are riding social media growth into milestone season


The 2021 NWSL season, which begins this weekend, already looks a lot different than in years past — and it’s not just fresh kits that are giving the league a new look.

As the season gets underway, NWSL teams have begun to harness the power of social media to change the face of the game. Social has provided clubs with a unique opportunity to grow their brands and engage their communities on their own terms.

NJ/NY Gotham FC, the club formally known as Sky Blue, started 2021 off with a social media campaign to announce its rebrand.

After the initial unveiling, social drove much of the team’s continued rebranding efforts, helping the club introduce itself to its expanded market. Gotham needed to find a way to appeal to both New Jersey and New York fans ahead of the 2021 Challenge Cup. This is where social media really came in handy.

Posting a photo of Jon Bon Jovi in Gotham FC gear to Twitter proved to be New Jersey content gold.

On the New York side of the social media campaign, Gotham engaged with Bronx legend, The Kid Mero, one half of Showtime’s comedy duo Desus & Mero. (Having Midge Purce be the face of their squad doesn’t hurt, either.)

It’s not just anecdotal evidence that underscores Gotham’s success. There are numbers to back up the team’s online strategy, as well.

Data gathered by Zoomph shows that Gotham FC had 12 million Twitter impressions during the 2021 Challenge Cup, the most of any team in the league. This type of engagement underscores an eager fan base and potential for growth, bolstering current sponsorships and attracting future partnerships.

The team’s online victory also transferred to the field, with Gotham narrowly losing to Portland in the Challenge Cup final.

The Orlando Pride are another NWSL squad operating at the forefront of social media. The team currently has the most Twitter followers of any club in the league at 125,000 and counting.

The 2020 Challenge Cup was a turning point for the team both on and off the field. When the Pride were ruled out of the tournament due to COVID-19 protocols, the social team decided it was an opportunity for them to try something new.

Even though they weren’t physically in the bubble, they made their presence known online. The team continued to put out creative content that struck a conversational tone and resonated with fans. As a result, Orlando led the league in Twitter engagements during a tournament it didn’t even attend.

The Pride’s social strategy has lived on since their time as Challenge Cup outsiders, evolving into one of the most successful campaigns in the NWSL. Zoomph estimates that Orlando’s Twitter impressions during the 2021 Challenge Cup alone were worth a quarter-million dollars.

New clubs are getting in on the online action, too. In their debut season, Racing Louisville ranks third on Twitter and Facebook for social value, according to Zoomph. Angel City has yet to field a team and already boasts 82,000 Twitter followers.

All of this creative energy going into social campaigns is translating to dollars, which ultimately benefits league sponsors.

Data shows that Budweiser’s NWSL sponsorship has affected consumer behavior. According to a Zoomph report in September, NWSL fans, when compared to the average sports fan in the United States, are 1.7 times more likely to have an affinity for beer, and especially for Budweiser.

To Just Women’s Sports CEO & Founder Haley Rosen, social media numbers show just how undeniable women’s sports are. When players like Alex Morgan have 9.2 million followers on Instagram, the conversation advances beyond interest toward investment.

Players and teams are becoming increasingly savvy in the ways they engage with fans and communities directly through social media, cultivating trusted relationships and distinct brands.

As the NWSL moves into the regular season, the teams’ growing online platforms provide a new lane for audience growth, engagement, entertainment and investment.

Sofia Huerta signs contract extension with Seattle through 2027

(Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

Former Oregon soccer players detail instances of verbal abuse from former USWNT assistant

(Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via Imagn Content Services)

Members of the Oregon women’s soccer team are saying they received harsh treatment and even verbal abuse from head coach and former USWNT assistant Graeme Abel. 

During the 2023 season, the team had zero wins, and upon its conclusion a total of 12 of the team’s 29 players departed the team. Former players told The Oregonian that Abel would verbally attack them, threaten to kick them off the team and at times would even throw objects.

"When I’d make a mistake at practice, it felt like he made it a job to embarrass you to the point where you just wanted to walk off the field,” one player said. “He’d stop the practice – and I know it’s college soccer, it’s very competitive — but he’d stop practice and just keep going nonstop on this one thing."

In total, the Oregonian spoke with 14 former players – including 12 who agreed to be interviewed in depth. All said that they experienced verbal abuse. Six of the players were among those who transferred following the season. 

One instance of Abel’s tirades included him throwing a water bottle that narrowly missed players’ heads. 

“He kicked all of our staff out of the locker room, kicked a trash can, threw a white board, sat on the trash can and started screaming,” one player recounted. “He wanted us to tell him what we thought went wrong in the game. Me and another player spoke up, and he said, ‘You’re just (expletive) wrong.’ And that if we didn’t want to be in this program, we could all quit, and he’d sign our release paperwork tomorrow.”

While Abel was not made available for an interview, he did say in a statement that “at no point have I used threatening statements or financial repercussions as a part of coaching.”

Instances of emotional distress stemming from Abel’s alleged harsh treatment date back to 2021 – his first full year leading the team following an abbreviated 2020 campaign.

Other former players contacted by The Oregonian detailed positive overall experiences, and described his style as “normal coaching.”

Others, like USWNT players Becky Sauerbrunn and Lindsey Horan, did not respond to requests for comment, although Sauerbrunn wrote in 2019 that she had a “great relationship” with Abel. 

Still, multiple players interviewed had similar stories, with one saying that girls would be “crying in the locker room” after practice because of what he would tell players. Attempts to speak with the administration about his behavior, players say, was “discouraging.”

“His office is like the scariest place,” one player said. “You’d have to sit there while he’d belittle you and say all these nasty things, and gaslight you into believing you’re not good enough. ... Our team fell apart because of the environment he created. We were just trying to get through the day. There was no way we could focus on soccer.”

Multiple players said they experienced suicidal ideation while playing at Oregon. In part of his statement, Abel wrote that “at no time do we put our student-athletes in any danger.”

Abel is currently in his fifth and final year of his contract at Oregon.

Gotham FC unveil Championship rings ahead of banner reveal

Gotham FC players celebrate Lynn Williams' goal in the first half of the 2023 NWSL Championship. (Ray Acevedo/USA TODAY Sports)

Gotham FC has unveiled their 2023 NWSL championship rings — and safe to say, they deliver.

The reveal has led to a little bit of trash talk ahead of the team’s matchup with Kansas City this weekend, as both teams have NFL owners. While the Current are co-owned by Patrick and Brittany Mahomes, former Giants quarterback Eli Manning is a co-owner of Gotham. 

On Wednesday, Manning took to Sportscenter to give Mahomes a bit of a hard time.

“He may have one more Super Bowl ring than me, but he does not have a NWSL championship ring like I do,” Manning joked.

“Come Sunday night at Red Bull Arena, April 14th, we’re dropping the banner on Kansas City. We got the ring ceremony, the players get their rings and their championship afterwards. This is it, I’ve got something to talk a little trash to him about because I can’t do it about football anymore, I gotta find something else.”

The appearance came after Manning posted to social media, inviting Mahomes to “come see [the championship ring] up close this Sunday.”

Mahomes responded in kind, writing that “we’ll see y’all Sunday!”

Gotham takes on current league-leaders Kansas City on Sunday at 6pm ET. The game is available on NWSL+.

Oregon State hit by transfer portal again as Raegan Beers departs

ALBANY, NEW YORK - MARCH 31: Raegan Beers #15 of the Oregon State Beavers shoots a free throw during the first half against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Elite 8 round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at MVP Arena on March 31, 2024 in Albany, New York. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Oregon State leading scorer and rebounder Raegan Beers announced on Thursday that she is entering the transfer portal. 

"Thank you for all of your endless love and support these past two years," she posted on social media. "I will never forget my time at OSU and I am thankful for the opportunity I had to meet and play with incredible people. My journey as a Beav was a special one and I am grateful for my teammates, coaches, fans, and friends who have changed my life throughout my time here."

A sophomore forward, Beers is a two-time All-Pac-12 selection who averaged 17.5 points per game last season while shooting 66.4 percent from the field. She also added 10.3 rebounds en route to earning third-team All-American honors from the AP. 

She’s the fourth Oregon State starter – and seventh player overall – to hit the portal this offseason. She joins Talia von Oelhoggen and Timea Gardiner in the transfer portal, as well as starting freshman Donovyn Hunter. 

Beers and Gardiner were both top-10 recruits in ESPN rankings coming out of high school. 

With the dissolution of the Pac-12, the program will join the WCC next season and no longer be a part of the Power 5.

Conference realignment is hitting the team hard, with coach Scott Rueck saying during the tournament that he knew it could seriously affect his team moving forward. 

"That's reality," Rueck said. "I can't control that, other than just keep doing what I'm doing. I think the opportunity within that for a leader provides a discipline that you'd better be on your A-game all the time. You'd better take care of people, and you'd better provide a great experience. That's the approach going forward and what happens, happens. We'll find a way."

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