Portland Thorns FC's season opener against the North Carolina Courage may not have gone their way, but it wasn't all bad news that came out of the match.
The Thorns' 2-1 loss to open the NWSL Challenge Cup, which was the first American professional sports game to occur since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, was the most-watched NWSL match of all time with an average audience of 572,000 viewers, CBS Sports announced.
It smashed the previous record holder of Portland vs. Houston on August 3, 2014 (190,000) by 201%.
CBS aired the match as a part of the NWSL's new broadcasting deal reached with the network back in March. Under the agreement, CBS will broadcast the league opener and NSWL championship, while CBS Sports Network would broadcast another 14 games with 71 more games airing on CBS All Access: CBS' streaming platform that charges a minimum of $5.99 per month to subscribe to. The NSWL also planned to stream 24 matches on Twitch.
The game was not only the first NWSL game of the season, but it kicked off the NWSL Challenge Cup: a 25-game tournament in Utah that was scheduled due to the coronavirus pandemic suspending the season.
According to the NWSL, the format of the tournament will feature the league’s nine clubs each playing four games in the preliminary rounds to determine seeding. The top eight teams will advance to the quarterfinals, when the tournament becomes a knockout competition. The semifinals and Final presented by Budweiser will be played at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, with the Championship match slated for July 26, 2020 where they will also announce the tournament MVP Award presented by Budweiser.
However, the Orlando Pride will not participate in the event “due to positive COVID-19 tests amongst players and staff.” The Athletic’s Meg Linehan reported that “multiple players visited a bar in Orlando that prompted additional testing,” leading to the positive tests.
No spectators are allowed at the games.
Could this newfound audience allow the NWSL to continue this momentum? Perhaps. However, many future games may be hidden behind a paywall which would limit the audience for the league.
But, with a return like that, perhaps the NWSL and CBS could agree to broadcast more games on the main network available to any household with an antenna.
Back in May, Thorns FC defender Meghan Klingenberg joined the Talkin' Blazers Podcast and stated that she hoped the NWSL could take advantage of the drought of professional sports in the United States.
It's like the biggest opportunity but also the biggest problem, right?...How do we take advantage of this time, in like a really positive way? It just feels like there's a really limited path forward and I don't know how to make that path work without more resources. - Meghan Klingenberg
Well, the league found a way to return safely in the form of the NWSL Challenge Cup.
Thorns FC will play next on Wednesday, July 1 against the Chicago Red Stars at 9:30 a.m. (PT) and then again on Sunday, July 5th, at 7:00 p.m. (PT) against the Washington Spirit as a part of the qualification round of the NSWL Challenge Cup.