NWSL commish sees ‘explosive’ soccer growth before next World Cups

NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman said she expects the United States to see an “explosive” growth in interest in soccer ahead of the 2026 World Cup.

The United States will co-host the men’s World Cup in 2026 with Mexico and Canada and is bidding to host the Women’s World Cup in 2027 with Mexico, while the arrival of Lionel Messi at Inter Miami CF in July has caused a huge surge of interest in the sport.

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Speaking to reporters at the Financial Times’ Business of Football summit in London, Berman said: “We know that in the U.S., the next four to six years, there is going to be an explosive growth, with or without the intentional investment we’re making. … With the World Cup coming in 2026 and the possibility the Women’s World Cup will come in 2027, there is an incredible amount of interest.

“There’s this age-old question: When is America going to start paying attention to this global sport? Well, it’s happened. They are paying attention, they love this sport, and we have this halo effect of the U.S. women’s national team and their incredible success

“[Soccer] is one of the few sports where when you ask 100% [of the] people in the U.S. to close their eyes and imagine ‘greatness, soccer and America’ they think of women.”

The 2024 NWSL season is scheduled to begin on March 16, with the Kansas City Current hosting the Portland Thorns in the league opener.

In November, the NWSL announced a new four-year media rights deal to partner with CBS Sports, ESPN, Prime Video and Scripps Sports in 2024.

Berman, who has served almost two years as league commissioner, said the “superpower” of the NWSL was its “independence” — notably from men’s clubs and leagues, which is not the case in Europe.

It was a sentiment echoed by Michelle Kang, owner of the Washington Spirit, Lyon and the London City Lionesses, who spoke earlier at the conference and said a multiclub ownership model was perhaps the only path forward for women’s clubs.