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There are so many sponsors!

Harlan Roberts/Twitter

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Ahead of the NWSL Challenge Cup getting underway, let’s talk about how the league is actually going to make money without fans in the stands: Lots of ads. Folks, there are going to be so many brands pumped into your eyeballs this month.

Landing sponsors hasn’t always been easy for NWSL and its clubs. Budweiser was a big game-changer for the league, and the beer giant even went out of its way to pitch the league to other brands. Between its presence and a change in strategy around the league, business appears to be picking up.

The NWSL Challenge Cup was made possible by a big sponsorship from Proctor & Gamble, who is getting the most out of its investment by plastering Secret deodorant advertising all over the athletes’ villiage. You can see it all over Yuki Nagasato’s first vlog from Utah, and it’s pretty clear P&G’s going to get some pretty nuts ROI by getting in players’ social media posts without even paying them directly. The league also announced a new partnership with Google on Friday morning.

But the even more important thing for the league’s business is how much better individual teams have gotten at securing the bag. The Washington Spirit and Chicago Red Stars unveiled kits with new big name sponsors on Thursday. Both clubs have significantly increased local sponsorship income recently, something Portland Thorns owner Merritt Paulson previously told me teams needed to focus on rather than waiting for big league-wide sponsorships.

Throughout the Challenge Cup, you’re going to have nine team sponsors right in front of your face at all times. Some teams probably got a few sponsors competing against each other to get on the seat coverings.

All of this is to say that NWSL, a league that has been historically atrocious at securing corporate partners, now has a hell of a lot of them. This is important for the league’s financial future given that it can’t sell tickets right now, but also stunning given the state of the world. The advertising business has collapsed around the country since lots of stores are closed and unemployment is at record highs. People don’t have a lot of money to buy stuff or places to buy it, so advertising to them is a colossal waste of resources. Despite all that, brands want to be associated with women’s soccer and pitch themselves to women’s soccer fans.

This is more time than I, a known Capitalism Disliker, ever wants to spend talking about brands. But the ability to secure and retain corporate sponsors is perhaps the greatest indicator of the health of a sports league, and NWSL is doing better on that front than it ever has before. It’s an incredible acheivement during a pandemic.

What we’ve been up to at All For XI

You can find all of our NWSL Challenge Cup team previews right here, along with an introduction explaining why we’re doing normal team previews during a very weird situation. I spent a lot of time talking to coaches and local beat reporters, as well as pouring through StatsBomb data, so I hope you come away from them feeling like you know all the teams well.

Stephanie Yang has been on top of this week’s two biggest news stories, the Orlando Pride having to withdraw from the Challenge Cup due to a Covid-19 outbreak at the club, and the joint Australia/New Zealand bid winning the rights to host the 2023 FIFA women’s World Cup.

News from around the world

Sources: Orlando Pride players who tested positive for COVID-19 now testing negative | Jeff Kassouf, The Equalizer

Orlando still can’t play at the Challenge Cup, but it’s great news that fewer people are sick than initially feared.

Women’s Champions League: Glasgow City and Arsenal Women to resume quarter-finals | BBC News

The UEFA Women’s Champions League is going to conclude in August, with teams playing neutral site matches in the Basque Country.

New Pro-Am Tournament Rescues UWS Season | Hannah Clarke, Her Football Hub

Women’s soccer is more than just NWSL, and Covid-19 has hit the lower levels of the game hard. Hopefully United Women’s Soccer can get some competition in safely.

Allie Long spent lockdown becoming a celebrity gamer | Anne Peterson, AP

Long built up a solid Twitch following when she couldn’t play soccer, and she’s pretty good at Call Of Duty.