The other part of the equation is actual physical attendance at games. The onus to drive attendance falls more on each club than the league overall by virtue of their diverse geographical locations and markets, but there are certainly top-down strategies NWSL can employ. Earlier this month, league commissioner Jeff Plush mentioned that NWSL would be looking more national marketing and some “salesmanship 101” tactics to be shared as part of best practices for every club.
Plush also mentioned that the league would soon have access to demographic data, examining who NWSL fans are and enabling the league to better target them. Demographic data also tells you who your fans aren’t, which can help you decipher what your fans get out of your league and what you might be missing.
Without specific demographic data, though, we can probably create some general categories for NWSL fans. At the top level, there’s the casual/hardcore divide. Casual fans are there for a variety of reasons: family experience; curious about their local women’s professional league; saw a national team game and wanted another taste of that hype.
Hardcore fans tend to be either big-time fans of certain players (usually national team players) and will follow them to any team in any league, or big soccer fans, or some blend of the two. Hardcore fans are the ones who wake up at ungodly hours in order to watch a grainy livestream from across the globe, buy the limited merchandise, and travel multiple time zones for games.
So clubs have two tasks: keep up their casual numbers through their high turnover rate, and expand and solidify their hardcore numbers through deep fan outreach and cooperation. Limited resources means having to decide which group gets which amount of focus, but the division isn’t as hard a choice as you might think.
Contrary to first assumptions, hardcore fans can be much easier to please than casuals. What hardcores want is a good product on the field and some acknowledgment from the team for their time and devotion. That attention can generally take the form of a few concessions from the team: acknowledging them on social media, giving them their own section in the stadium, and designating a tailgate spot by the venue. NWSL hardcores, usually members of a club’s supporters group, tend to understand the limited resources their teams have and will adjust their requests accordingly.