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Will anticipated 'World Cup bump' bring more interest to Utah Royals FC, National Women's Soccer League?

United States fans cheer prior to the Women's World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Spain and United States at Stade Auguste-Delaune in Reims, France, Monday, June 24, 2019.
United States fans cheer prior to the Women's World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Spain and United States at Stade Auguste-Delaune in Reims, France, Monday, June 24, 2019.
Thibault Camus, AP

SANDY — Ahead of Friday afternoon’s much-anticipated FIFA Women’s World Cup quarterfinal between the United States Women’s National Team and host nation France in Paris, interest in the tournament is certainly high here in the United States.

The Washington Post reported Thursday that television ratings are up significantly compared to the 2015 tournament even though games are being played in the middle of the afternoon here. It’s a big topic of conversation on Twitter during games as measured by Lehi-based social media marketing company Nuvi. Plus, a number of local establishments have held special watch parties.

Away from the games themselves, controversy that has dominated headlines arose earlier this week when USWNT star Megan Rapinoe said she would not visit the White House if the squad wins the World Cup, prompting a firestorm of tweets from President Donald Trump on Wednesday morning.

Members of the National Women’s Soccer League’s Utah Royals FC squad are hoping the interest in the World Cup will lead to more interest in their squad and the NWSL in general. As URFC and USWNT defender Kelley O’Hara said before the tournament, according to USA Today’s Nancy Armour, “Well, they can see (USWNT players) on a regular basis in the NWSL ... they can see the talent week in and week out.”

Indeed, all 23 USWNT players are in the league and are expected to return to it after the conclusion of the World Cup, and 58 players total (roughly 25 percent of the league) were named to World Cup rosters and will be trickling back to the NWSL over time after their teams are eliminated.

“The World Cup is huge for women’s soccer and the visibility for this league,” said URFC forward Amy Rodriguez, who appeared in the 2011 and 2015 tournaments for the USWNT. “I hope fans are excited about the World Cup, enjoying the World Cup. I hope we can gain a few more Royals fans for the Utah people who are out here.

"I hope that there is a trickle-down effect with the NWSL and I hope people come out and watch because it is an exciting game and we’ve got some excellent players in this league.”

After strong attendance numbers for URFC in 2018, it hasn’t been as good in 2019 for a team that is just a point out of first place in the NWSL heading into Friday night’s contest against Washington-based Reign FC at Rio Tinto Stadium.

Although reported numbers of tickets distributed skew actual attendance numbers, the club has averaged a reported number of just 6,561 tickets distributed for its two most recent home games.

Can the so-called “World Cup bump” help?

“I think that the further the U.S. gets, it’s better for the NWSL,” midfielder Mandy Laddish said. “If they end up winning it, that’s great for us. If they don’t win it, it’s not so great, but still, women’s soccer is in everybody’s eyes right now, so hopefully that transfers to the NWSL.”

Both Laddish and URFC head coach Laura Harvey feel that efforts could be better from a marketing and support standpoint as players transition back into the league from the World Cup, with Laddish specifically calling upon U.S. Soccer to help more in that regard than it did in 2015.

“We’re really hoping that they pick up and do that for us this time around,” she said. “I think the transition could be a little better. They could hype it up a little more.”

Harvey has bigger aspirations, with hopes that there’s not just a bump in interest this year, but that it stays in the years to come.

“For me personally, I think that we have to solve making sure that it’s not a bump, it’s everlasting,” she said. “We didn’t capitalize on it as best we could in ‘15 as a league, I don’t think. We got the bump toward the back end of the season but then that didn’t continue into ‘16, ‘17, ‘18, so for me, we’ve got to work out why, what that reason was and use the bump for not just the end of this season, but leading into 2020, 2021 (and so on).”