The end of 2022 closed the book on a landmark year in women’s sports, one full of triumph and turmoil.
We’ll always remember the title runs for the Las Vegas Aces, Portland Thorns and South Carolina basketball, among other champions, just as we’ll never forget the reverberations from the NWSL abuse reports and Brittney Griner’s detention in Russia.
As 2023 dawns, though, Just Women’s Sports looks forward, as our writers and editors provide New Year’s resolutions for women’s sports.
Women’s sports gave us much to celebrate in 2022, but hanging over all the little victories was a resounding heaviness.
The NWSL reckoned with years of systemic abuse and cover-ups, as multiple investigations revealed the power imbalances that allowed coaches to sexually and emotionally harass players. The WNBA, meanwhile, kept Brittney Griner front and center throughout the 2022 season as was wrongfully detained on drug charges in Russia. Both situations reached a resolution in recent months, with the release of two detailed reports on NWSL abuse and Griner’s return home via a prisoner swap. The NWSL has plans in place to support its players and fix the systems that enabled abuse, while Griner said she intends to play for the Mercury in 2023.
The leagues are trending in a positive direction as we head into the new year, but that doesn’t mean the next steps will be easy. Players will cope with their traumas, the leagues will be held accountable to their decisions, and may we all continue to respect their humanity as much as their performances on the field and court. — Hannah Withiam
From both a product and business perspective, women’s sports took a giant step forward last year. The player talent pool and the games themselves are better than ever, and the results are showing in record-setting attendance and viewership numbers. NWSL expansion clubs Angel City FC and San Diego Wave FC were living proof of what good investments in women’s sports can look like on the field and off. The NWSL plans to add two more teams by 2024. We’re ready for more.
WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert recently walked back that league’s timeline for expansion, with the expectation that one team will join the league in 2025 as opposed to up to two in 2024. Expansion has never felt more urgent in the WNBA, as a strict salary cap continues to limit roster spots and preseason becomes synonymous with a revolving door of both waived draft picks and seasoned veterans. As Engelbert referenced, and as we saw with Angel City and San Diego this year, due diligence is required for expansion to be done right. Here’s to hoping the WNBA figures it out before more quality talent is wasted. — HW
Happy New Year 🎉 pic.twitter.com/qg4JED8cmk— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) January 1, 2023
Happy New Year 🎉 pic.twitter.com/qg4JED8cmk
The 2022 NCAA basketball tournament proved upset central, headlined by No. 10 Creighton’s Lauren Jensen hitting a 3-pointer to send her team past No. 2 Iowa in the second round. In 2023, let’s keep our fingers crossed for even more craziness, both during March Madness and in the regular season. Unranked Michigan State ended 2022 by toppling previously unbeaten No. 4 Indiana, which could be a good omen of chaos to come in 2023.
Yet while women’s college basketball has more parity than ever, lack of TV time could prevent us from enjoying it. Several top-25 matchups have been aired on local channels, apps or shoddy online streams, rather than the prime-time spots they deserve. In 2023, I want women’s college basketball to get all the attention it deserves, on national television. — Eden Laase
The broadcast issue for women’s sports extends beyond college basketball.
The sports landscape is at an interesting moment in its relationship to television. Some broadcasters have picked up league rights to bolster streaming catalogues, while others are committed to spreading properties to all platforms, from flagship channels to exclusive social media streams. With the ground constantly shifting, it’s important that women’s sports not be lost in the shuffle.
The NWSL’s current deal with CBS expires in 2023, so it will have the opportunity to negotiate a new contract that reflects both the rising viewership numbers and the potential of women’s sports for the next decade. Whether the league renews for a mixture of games on CBS platforms or finds a better partner through a bidding war, a strong TV deal would provide an influx of investment. The next step is bigger and better production standards, to make it easier for fans to enjoy games and showcase the obvious talent on the field. — Claire Watkins
When discussing women’s soccer in the U.S., we frequently refer to “the 2019 moment,” as the USWNT’s World Cup win in France ushered in a new era of popularity for the sport back in the States. Attendances across the NWSL rose, as new soccer fans became hooked on watching their favorite players every week, and the momentum carried through the following four years.
The 2023 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand might not have quite the same impact, with time zones limiting accessibility for casual viewers in the Western Hemisphere. Still, every tournament year is a fresh opportunity to grow the game.
The tournament features an expanded field of 32 teams, so the 2023 moment could — and should — reach much further than the U.S. Debut nations, more parity at the top, and rising support for women’s soccer across the world should create the most competitive World Cup we’ve ever seen, with new opportunities to create dedicated women’s soccer fans. The next step, then, would be pivoting that energy to the domestic club game, to continue to build the new bedrock of the global game. — CW
TFW when the clock strikes midnight to ring in a @FIFAWWC year! pic.twitter.com/yrdH0VIeTX— U.S. Women's National Soccer Team (@USWNT) January 1, 2023
TFW when the clock strikes midnight to ring in a @FIFAWWC year! pic.twitter.com/yrdH0VIeTX