This Saturday the Portland Thorns return to the Rose City for a match against the Chicago Red Stars after travelling north for a road victory over the Seattle. The Thorns are second in the NWSL power rankings and boast a record of 6-1-1.
The Thorns’ success has been largely led by players like Christine Sinclair and Alex Morgan, who are both on the league’s leaderboard for goals scored and games played. While the team’s record and success is already impressive, perhaps even more noteworthy has been the support of the Thorns fans.
Portland, a soccer-loving city, has established itself as one of the most supportive towns in the NWSL. In the Thorns’ home-opener, Jeld-Wen Field had 16,000 in attendance – a women’s professional soccer record. As the year progresses, the team has also developed a devoted following who proclaims themselves on twitter with #BAON. #BAON is a salute to Shakespeare’s famous line in Romeo and Juliet: “That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet” (Act 2, Scene 2). The phrase is meant to represent that it’s not what on the outside but what’s on the inside of every player.
While Portland’s support has flourished, it’s important to keep an eye on NWSL support across the nation. With the league in its first year, the NWSL is still sensitive to the possibility of being disbanded as it has been in years past. While attendance numbers aren’t necessarily the greatest measure of support, they are one of the few indicators on paper. It’s also safe to say that if you don’t have people in your stands, it’s a long shot that your team will last long.
Fortunately for the NWSL, the numbers look good. According to equilizersoccer.com, which calculates attendances each week, the league is averaging just below 3,000 fans a game as of week 7. Portland leads the league averaging 13,336 fans every game – this makes the team an outlier and not included in the league’s average calculation. Median attendance is at 3,108, with the lowest average attendance being at Sky Blue FC with 1,586.
Ironically, Sky Blue FC is tied with the Thorns for 1st place. It may strike as a point of concern that the team with the lowest attendance isn’t the worst but in fact one of the best, meaning the cause may boil down to a lack of interest and not a bad soccer club.
The league’s greatest test may be in the months to come. The newness of the teams has worn off and with summer arriving, families and fans are more available to choose leisure activities. It will be crucial to see if women’s soccer is among those choices.
For now as a whole attendance is average but Thorns fans can be proud to say they’re doing their part. There’s no need to panic yet but part of the health of the NWSL is dependent on crowd support. With that in mind, the Thorns may be the healthiest of them all.
Samantha Saldivar is on Twitter. Follow her at @SammySaldivar