News — The National Women’s Soccer League is coming back to action. The NWSL is currently among the first professional organizations to lay out a plan — and date — for its return. NWSL preseason had just begun when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the United States and the world.
The league announced plans to return at the end of June. Earlier this week, the NWSL allowed small group training, with full-team training beginning next week. Meanwhile, the league will begin its NWSL Challenge Cup tournament on June 27.
The tournament will last from June 27 until July 26. Format layout includes a World Cup-style tournament, with eight of the nine clubs in the league securing a knockout round spot. Only one club will remain on the outskirts once the preliminary rounds are over. Once the top eight teams are selected, the tournament will turn into a knockout round competition.
Venues include Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman, Utah, and Rio Tinto Stadium, home of the Utah Royals FC and Real Salt Lake of MLS. Zions Bank Stadium will hold the majority of matches. According to the NWSL, the semifinals and final will be held at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Fans are not permitted to attend any matches. However, the entire tournament will be available on CBS All-Access. International viewers can watch the matches via a Twitch stream. Earlier this offseason, a deal between the league, Twitch and CBS was acquired.
Budweiser will be sponsoring the semifinals and final. However, the tournament will be sponsored by P&G and the deodorant brand Secret. In the league’s announcement, a deal with Verizon was also signed. The Verizon deal will last until 2021, according to the league.
U.S. Soccer is supportive of the NWSL's decision to bring professional women’s soccer back to the field. pic.twitter.com/SpoTAayyo0
— U.S. Soccer WNT (@USWNT) May 27, 2020
NWSL Players Association scores big for players
However, work wasn’t done just between the league a few sponsors. Instead, the NWSL Players Association stepped up in a major role to secure benefits for players. According to co-directors Brooke Elby and Yael Averbuch, the NWSLPA secured contract guarantees for all players.
In addition to full contracts being honored, the NWSLPA also secured insurance coverage for the entire 2020 year. Players who have children — including the likes of Jess McDonald, Sarah Gorden and Sydney Leroux — will have accommodations for their children to travel to Utah as well.
“We are proud to move forward supporting this tournament and the NWSL,” Averbuch and Elby said in a release. “We are also appreciative of the extensive planning that has been done by the NWSL and the NWSL Medical Task Force, in collaboration with our Association, in order to protect our players while offering an exciting 2020 competition model. [And] we will continue to work closely with the NWSL to ensure that player health and safety remains a paramount priority.”
NWSL Medical Task Force in Utah
Utah Governor Gary Herbert praised Utah’s “strong” health care systems and medical professionals. He, along with Royals and RSL owner Dell Loy Hansen, expressed excitement having all teams in Utah. In addition to housing being provided, there will be an “Olympic village” like set up to keep teams secluded.
“Public health and safety are always a top priority for our communities,” Gov. Herbert said. “Because of those factors, I believe our state will be a great location for the National Women’s Soccer League to host its competition in 2020. I’m grateful to Dell Loy Hansen for his work to find a solution that we believe will benefit the league and our community as a whole.”
Meanwhile, the NWSL also provided the members of the NWSL Medical Task Force. A doctor from each team is on the committee. According to the league, each player, official and essential staff member will be tested 48 hours before leaving for Utah. Once landed, they will be “subject to consistent testing, temperature readings and symptom review throughout their stay in Utah.”
Lisa Baird, NWSL commissioner as of March, said the NWSL is “thrilled” to be coming back.
“This exciting month-long tournament will showcase our league’s talented players and provide our fans the type of world-class entertainment they’ve come to expect from the NWSL,” Baird said.
Are these the only NWSL games of the year?
Baird: "We have not made that decision. I think we're open to it."
Sources say that's on the backburner right now. Getting this tournament in is priority.
— Jeff Kassouf (@JeffKassouf) May 27, 2020