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Volume 26 No. 227
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NWSL Commissioner Baird Bullish On League's Restart, TV Numbers

The NWSL Challenge Cup’s opening match on Saturday was the most-watched contest in NWSL history, averaging 572,000 viewers, an increase of 201% over the previous record. NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird during Part 1 of SBJ: The Road Ahead Virtual Series attributed that success to “creating a product that fans wanted to watch” and then promoting it alongside broadcast partners CBS and Twitch. Baird: “We got the press out, literally making sure that everything that we could do got people to tune in, and they did.” Baird also addressed the benefits of adding on national sponsors. “We agreed, the ownership and I, agreed upfront that if we were going to tell the players, we're going to pay them through the end of the year,” she said. “We had to raise the money to do it. Having Proctor & Gamble and Secret come on enabled us to do that. Having Verizon come on and being able to announce them the same day with a multiyear agreement allowed us to do that. … Also, I think last week, we were able to sign Google as our partner.”

FIRST THINGS FIRST: Baird spoke about the NWSL being the first major North American league to return. She explained, “There was a ‘Let's get it out there soon,’ but (our intention) wasn't to be the first. It was more my looking at the spread in the incidence of COVID, and not that I knew anything about the future, but saying, ‘You know what, let's get back in. Let's do this soon. We want to be out there with soccer.’ And I don't know what the future in the fall holds.” She added, “A tournament like this, an Olympic-style tournament, gives a lot of people an easy access point, particularly in America where soccer is still growing and with its popularity on the rise.”

SPEAK OUT! Baird credited the agreement struck between the NWSL and NWSLPA to support the tournament for laying the groundwork for player protests of social injustice. She said, “We wanted to have a collaboration with our players association, and we put together a very unique agreement.” Baird added, “That collaboration with the players extended into what they were feeling and what America was feeling, following what happened to George Floyd. And while the heart of it still was kneeling in position on the soccer field, it did evolve into a statement when the National Anthem played. But I think the heart of it is for us, we're always going to be the league that supports the expression, public or private, of what our players want to say.”