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.
📍HOME. pic.twitter.com/pHq4MDn5mY— NJ/NY Gotham FC (@GothamFC) April 6, 2021
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.
Some teams send their merch to space, we send ours to New Jersey legend @jonbonjovi 👍 pic.twitter.com/cVFqpM2D57— NJ/NY Gotham FC (@GothamFC) April 30, 2021
Some teams send their merch to space, we send ours to New Jersey legend @jonbonjovi 👍 pic.twitter.com/cVFqpM2D57
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.)
@NWSL CHAMPS BOOK IT JUHUURDDDD https://t.co/eAAODtdDgN— THE KID MERO 🇩🇴 (@THEKIDMERO) May 3, 2021
@NWSL CHAMPS BOOK IT JUHUURDDDD https://t.co/eAAODtdDgN
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.
"I'm really trying to buy into this whole good girl gone bad theme that I did, is like the Sky Blue to Gotham thing... We are not the same team that we used to be." - Midge Purce postgame tonight#NWSL— Steph Yang | Horrible Soccer Goose (@thrace) April 21, 2021
"I'm really trying to buy into this whole good girl gone bad theme that I did, is like the Sky Blue to Gotham thing... We are not the same team that we used to be." - Midge Purce postgame tonight#NWSL
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.
Our @NWSL Challenge Cup #PrideStan has been nominated for the Best in Sports Social Media Award by the @sbjsbd: https://t.co/xkAdocX34e We're honored by the nomination and big thanks to everybody that joined the stan! pic.twitter.com/ZJilDqSUKn— Orlando Pride (@ORLPride) May 3, 2021
Our @NWSL Challenge Cup #PrideStan has been nominated for the Best in Sports Social Media Award by the @sbjsbd: https://t.co/xkAdocX34e We're honored by the nomination and big thanks to everybody that joined the stan! pic.twitter.com/ZJilDqSUKn
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.
NEWS: @budweiser becomes the first official beer sponsor of the #NWSL.Details ➡️ https://t.co/jzYdmdUVvY pic.twitter.com/oIlkvoDLsW— National Women's Soccer League (@NWSL) July 7, 2019
NEWS: @budweiser becomes the first official beer sponsor of the #NWSL.Details ➡️ https://t.co/jzYdmdUVvY pic.twitter.com/oIlkvoDLsW
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.
Shout it from the rooftops. 👏 https://t.co/wf6qrKzCgp— AlexisOhanian.eth 7️⃣7️⃣6️⃣ (@alexisohanian) May 6, 2021
Shout it from the rooftops. 👏 https://t.co/wf6qrKzCgp
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.