Heading into its 12th year, the National Women’s Soccer League is forging a strong and viable future for itself.
The effects of the league expansion plans and recent media rights negotiations could entice the NC Courage to bring an on-site sportsbook to WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary.
NC Courage is one of 11 pro sports entities with the opportunity to partner with a sportsbook when online sports betting in North Carolina goes live.
NWSL’s four-year media deals
The league recently announced its four-year deals with CBS, ESPN, Prime Video, and Scripps Sports for $240 million. The lucrative deal pays out $60 million annually, eclipsing the previous media agreement of $1.5 million in 2023 with only CBS.
While the deal is hailed as an unprecedented success for the league, viewership and attendance remain measuring sticks for future performance.
And in that regard, the NWSL has little to worry about. CBS viewership rose 41% year over year and games streamed on Paramount+ increased by 83%.
Studies indicate more women are tuning into women’s soccer, with a significant portion also trying their luck with sports betting.
A study from the German Sport University Cologne discovered that “women’s sports is the leading sport in terms of the number of bettors and bets.”
NC Courage attendance reflects strong performance
NC Courage attendance and viewership are at an all-time high, resulting from the club’s incredible accomplishments this season and last.
On September 9, the team defeated Racing Louisville FC, 2-0, in the 2023 UKG NWSL Challenge Cup final. The win makes it back-to-back for the Courage in the competition.
Two months later, NC Courage’s forward Kerolin Nicoli was named NWSL’s most valuable player. The 23-year-old Brazilian-born attacker scored a career-high 10 goals and three assists in 19 games this season.
The Courage set a new club and WakeMed Soccer Park single-game attendance record during their Oct 7 battle against the San Diego Wave. 10,434 fans streamed through the gates for the first regular season sellout in the club’s history.
“Our fans and supporters have been great all season, but Saturday night was truly special. The atmosphere, the passion, and energy from our community was palpable,” said club president Francie Gottsegen.
Is WakeMed Soccer Park poised to get a sportsbook?
The upgraded TV and streaming deal will elevate the NC Courage a few notches in the sporting public’s eyes. It may also make the team a more enticing potential partner for an online sportsbook interested in entering the North Carolina market.
While the team and the league’s undeniable success suggests some staying power for women’s soccer in North Carolina, women’s soccer leagues have been historically undermarketed. Both the Women’s United Soccer Association and Women’s Professional Soccer–predecessors to the NWSL–failed due to poor marketing, ownership missteps and the overall inability to sustain fans.
For these reasons, NCSharp remains tepid on NC Courage’s position as a viable sports betting partner. However, the NWSL and NC Courage in particular have seemingly made the right moves to solidify the team in the Triangle’s larger sports landscape.
We expect to hear about an NC Courage sports betting partnership in the near future. That doesn’t guarantee we’d see a retail sportsbook at WakeMed Soccer Park, but building one could draw fans if the book provided an engaging guest experience. However, compared to larger pro stadiums like Bank of America Stadium and the Charlotte Motor Speedway, WakeMed sees far fewer fans pass the gates in any given year, thus limiting the appeal to an operator of building a brick-and-mortar sportsbook.
NWSL expansion and the Women’s League Forum
The latest phase of the NWSL expansion process is underway to incorporate an expansion team from Boston, set to begin play in 2026.
The league currently stands at 12 teams. Boston’s new club will be the 15th in the NWSL after Utah Royals FC and Bay FC in northern California become the 13th and 14th teams to join in 2024.
On Nov. 10, one day after signing the extended media deal, NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman briefed the media on updates on the league’s expansion plans.
Berman hopes the league will have 16 teams ahead of the 2026 season. Quite possible given the league has “more than a dozen qualified investor groups from different markets around the U.S. ” ready to infuse capital for the next team.
Part of the expansion process includes shedding two teams, the OL Reign and the Portland Thorns. Expectations are to either sell the two clubs or have them placed in new investor hands by the end of the calendar year.
Introducing the new Women’s Leagues Forum
In her brief, Berman also announced the creation of the Women’s Leagues Forum, a global representative body consisting of 16 international professional women’s leagues.
This alliance of organizational bodies will connect women’s leagues from the United States, Sweden, Spain, Japan, Norway, Australia, Mexico, Scotland, Belgium, Costa Rica, and Panama.
The idea for the forum came to fruition after the NWSL spent the last 15 months convening with other professional leagues around the world.
By sharing ideas and best practices, it dawned on the NWSL that forming such a body would be advantageous; much like the World Leagues Forum – an international body representing male professional leagues formed in 2017 – has been.
Learning from the past, a key to the NWSL’s future
The NWSL’s approach to growth has taken the failures of previous women’s leagues into account. It has expanded its marketing reach to include new demographics on various media platforms, invested in lucrative TV and streaming partnerships and leaned into a growing population of female bettors.
NC Courage and women’s soccer in North Carolina have a bright future, and we expect an infusion of sports betting revenue will only propel them further.
Image Credit: Ben McKeown / AP Images