On Tuesday, the Washington Post reported that the National Women’s Soccer League is considering a tournament-style competition to open its summer season, if it ever happens.
The month long tournament would bring all nine teams to Salt Lake City, Utah for at least a month of play. A regular season in the teams home markets could ensue after the tournament, if health concerns allow.
In Utah, players would remain in a “controlled environment” in dorms, and spectators would not attend games. Testing players remains a question.
The coronavirus infection rate in Utah is growing. But Salt Lake City has fewer cases than other NWSL hubs like New Jersey, Seattle, and Chicago.
Two weeks ago, Utah Governor Gary Herbert moved most of the state’s coronavirus risk from an “orange” moderate risk level to a “yellow” lower risk level. Only two cities in the state remain at a moderate risk, one being Salt Lake City.
With a decision expected by the end of the week, the NWSL could become the first U.S. league to return to professional team sports.
The league’s tournament plan is similar to the proposed NHL plan, where 24 teams enter a playoff-style tournament upon the season’s resumption. The NBA, MLB, and MLS are working on reopening plans. The WNBA, however, has not released a reopening plan.
If the NWSL tournament goes through, the league’s games will be broadcast on CBS Sports, which signed the league to a multiyear media rights agreement in April.
If the season happens, the NWSL will want to continue to ride the wave of viewership momentum they received from the 2019 Women’s World Cup. All of the USWNT players play for an NWSL team and their star power has brought the game to a larger audience. Additionally, the USWNT and NWSL stars have helped highlight pay disparities between men and women in sports and society.
The NWSL could be the first team sport to restart in 2020. If they move forward, be it with a tournament, a regular season, or both, the league could provide a roadmap for the reopening of professional team sports.