The Expansion of NWSL and Larger Partnership with MLS

As of the end of 2023, there were almost half the number of National Women’s Soccer League teams compared to Major League Soccer teams in the United States. There are twelve nationally recognized teams for women and twenty-six teams for the men. Within the past couple of years, the NWSL has been expanding and gaining help from MLS. Will MLS benefit from this partnership or will it take the attention away from them? From a business perspective, there are many aspects in which both organizations will benefit and thrive from the affiliation partnerships. Women’s sports in all leagues have been dramatically increasing in both participation and viewership, and soccer is the next major organization to participate in the expansion and rise. 

According to Ellie Schneider, there are currently only three NWSL teams under the same affiliation as an MLS team, out of the eight cities that have both men and women teams. The cities with confirmed affiliation between the leagues are Portland, Orlando, and Houston. Kansas City has some affiliation but they are not under the same ownership. The goal is to have at least 75% of NWSL teams affiliated with an MLS club. A strong supporter of this goal and partnership is Don Garber, the Commissioner of Major League Soccer. Don Garber expresses that it just makes sense on a business level for the teams to affiliate with one another that have the proper and adequate infrastructure to do so. 

From a marketing perspective, a huge benefit of a partnership would be the ability to market and promote a “one team” morale. One of the main motives a fan has to support or attend a game is community pride. Statistics show that when a women’s team affiliates themselves with a strong and growing men’s team, the fan base is loyal to the whole organization. Soccer fans are very committed to the overall love of the game and will watch and support any gender/team that is on the field. Another marketing strategy that would benefit both leagues under affiliation is participating in double header games. This marketing tactic will not be focused on increasing revenue but to grow the popularity of soccer overall, not one gender of another. Also, by creating these partnerships the leagues can share resources, which in the long run will create more revenue for the organization to allow them to provide more for their fans. 

There is a lot of potential for the NWSL in the next upcoming years. In this upcoming season, two teams have already announced their entrance into the league, Bay FC and Utah Royals FC. There is also a possibility that Boston may be joining by the end of 2026. The National Women Soccer League is expanding in participation as well as viewership each year, and it is just a matter of time until more MLS teams join Portland, Houston, and Orlando in combining ownership between the leagues. The future is bright for NWSL and MLS, and now they just need to realize how successful they could be with more combined forces.

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