The NWSL opened its Challenge Cup with record television viewership, and it ended it with even more.
The Houston Dash's 2-0 victory over the Chicago Red Stars on CBS on Sunday averaged 653,000 viewers, significantly bettering the previous record set for the opener between the Portland Thorns and North Carolina Courage, which averaged 572,000.
The matches were the only two broadcast on over-the-air CBS, with the rest of the tournament aired on the network's streaming service, All Access. The Challenge Cup was the start of the three-year media rights deal between the league and CBS, which had to adjust for 2020 after the league's regular-season plans were altered by the pandemic. It's unclear whether there will be more NWSL matches in 2020, and if there are, what kind of format or stakes they will entail.
According to Showbuzz Daily, the Challenge Cup final was the second-most watched soccer match in the U.S. last week, trailing only Manchester United's season-ending win over Leicester City, which cemented the club's berth in the Champions League and averaged 750,000 viewers. The final had almost identical numbers to Sunday's Yankees-Nationals baseball game on TBS, which was airing in an overlapping time slot.
The two Challenge Cup matches on TV dwarfed the previous viewership mark, which was 190,000 viewers for a Portland-Houston match in 2014.
What makes the final's number stick out even more is that the match didn't feature the league's teams with the most U.S. women's national team cachet. Houston, for instance, is the only team in the NWSL that doesn't feature an allocated U.S. national team player.