The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) is receiving growing revenues from broadcast deals, merchandising and sponsorships on top of a record-breaking viewing audience. However, amidst all of the growth for the NWSL, an independent report finds systemic abuse and misconduct within the organization. 

 The NWSL was founded in 2012 and is composed of 12 teams. In 2022, the league gained four official sponsors including SiriusXM and CarMax and entered into the playoffs with 14 total partners. The NWSL commercial revenue has increased by 33% each year, and along with these numbers, it has seen a significant shift in the amount of viewership for their games. At the NWSL championship on Oct. 29, a record viewing audience of 915,000 watched the Portland Thorns defeat the Kansas City Current 2-0 for their third title in the league. For the first time in league history, the championship game was streamed on a primetime slot on CBS at 8pm ET instead of noon, contributing to this climb in views. In 2022, the league’s regular season broke a record with 1,042,063 total fans. It also experienced its highest-attended regular season match with 32,000 spectators in September with the San Diego Wave’s win over Angel City FC 1-0. 

The Portland Thorns pose with their trophy after defeating the Kansas City Current 2-0 on Oct. 29 for the NWSL Championship. (PHOTO: Nick Wass)

Former attorney general Sally Q. Yates wrote an independent report on the NWSL that was released in early October. Yates was contacted by U.S. Soccer to investigate allegations and complaints on reports by The Athletic and The Washington Post regarding former NWSL coaches Christy Holly, Paul Riley and Rory Dames. These coaches face allegations of sexual misconduct as well as physical and emotional abuse. Yate’s report is also addressing the negligence against these claims despite years of complaints from players. Megan Rapinoe, a member of the US Women’s National Team and NWSL team OL Reign, spoke out at a press conference on behalf of all of the players in the league:  “Those people are in positions that have responsibilities and they didn’t fulfill those responsibilities. They didn’t protect the players at all amidst year, after year, after year. I feel like it’s impossible to overstate that every single year someone said something about multiple coaches in the league about multiple different environments,” Rapinoe said. “None of those people have shown they deserve to be around this beautiful game.” 

In response to Yate’s report on Nov. 4, U.S. Soccer announced a new initiative called the Participant Safety Taskforce. The Taskforce, led by Chair Mana Shim, is charged with “coordinating and collaborating on conduct-related policies and procedures from the youth level all the way up to professional leagues and senior national teams”, according to the U.S. Soccer website. This new Participant Safety Taskforce will “push beyond [Yate’s] recommendations to drive change across the entire soccer ecosystem.”

The Taskforce wants to work towards changing the culture of the game and rebuild its foundations to shape a safer environment within U.S. Soccer. The Taskforce will acknowledge these new priorities in the first quarter of 2023 such as developing an action plan concerning Yate’s report, altering its practices and expertise and developing educational services. “U.S. Soccer is deeply appreciative of the time and dedication of all members of the Taskforce – especially Mana, Shannon and Greg for their commitment to leading the important work ahead,” said U.S. Soccer CEO and Secretary General JT Batson. 

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