By the time the NWSL wrapped up its inaugural month-long Challenge Cup last year in Utah, it had secured record-setting sponsor support, much of which carried into the remainder of its 2020 campaign. As the 2021 season approaches, the league appears to be continuing where it left off, signing insurance company Nationwide as a new national partner.
The league declined to disclose financial details of the multi-year Nationwide sponsorship. The deal makes Nationwide the NWSL’s first exclusive insurance partner and includes plans for the company to carry out community work in conjunction with NWSL athletes and in league cities, where thousands of Nationwide employees and millions of customers reside.
“We are excited to embark on this partnership with Nationwide, a powerful brand with a long history in engaging sports fans,” NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird said in a release. “The NWSL and Nationwide are committed to the growth of this sport, investing in our athletes and creating a platform where we can make a difference in NWSL communities together.”
The deal comes after an impressive season of growth for the 10-team women’s soccer league, capped by a massive 493% spike in viewership year-over-year, particularly notable given that the NBA, NHL, NFL and MLB all experienced double-digit declines.
A new broadcast deal with CBS and Amazon-owned streaming company Twitch contributed to the boost. A record 653,000 viewers watched the 2020 Challenge Cup championship last July on CBS.
Both CBS and Twitch are back for this season’s tournament. Women’s deodorant brand Secret also returns as the Challenge Cup’s presenting sponsor, as does Verizon, which signed on as a multi-year sponsor last year. Budweiser, one of the league’s earliest and most vocal commercial supporters, rounds out the Challenge Cup’s official partners.
Prior to the beer company’s 2019 deal with the NWSL, the league only had a handful of supporters, headlined by Nike and supplements brand Thorne. Budweiser launched a campaign to expand that roster, which also includes an e-commerce partner in Legends. CBS and Twitch were the first to follow, signing the league to its first multi-year deal on a major network last March just before COVID completely altered the league’s season.
Individual NWSL teams are also seeing increased partnership interest. Los Angeles-based expansion club Angel City, set to debut in 2022, has recently inked a series of lucrative seven- and eight-figure deals with companies, including food delivery company DoorDash, footwear brand Birdies and health food chain Sprouts.
Clubs across the country have also seen spikes in investor interest and increased financial support. Tennis star Naomi Osaka added North Carolina Courage owner to her resume, while former First Daughters Chelsea Clinton and Jenna Bush Hager are part of the Washington Spirit’s expanded ownership group. Clubs in Chicago and Kansas City have recently added new investors as well.
The NWSL was the first to return to play last year amid the pandemic. This year’s 21-game Challenge Cup kicks off on April 9 at reigning champion Houston’s BBVA Stadium.