The first round of the National Women’s Soccer League playoffs was record-breaking — literally. Both of Sunday’s games shattered playoff attendance records.
The Houston Dash hosted the Kansas City Current for the first of Sunday’s two games and had hoped for a sellout crowd of 21,500, which would surpass the previous attendance record of 13,025, set in 2015, according to Just Women’s Sports.
While falling short of their sellout goal, Houston did break the NWSL playoff attendance record with 21,284 fans in the stands, the league announced on Twitter. Despite the large home crowd, the Dash fell 2-1 to the Current in Kansas City’s first playoff appearance in team history.
A few hours after Houston’s announcement, the attendance record was shattered again in San Diego. The San Diego Wave’s match against the Chicago Red Stars drew 26,215 fans.
Attendance at the playoff game fell just short of the regular-season attendance record the Wave set on Sept. 17 at their stadium opener, when 32,000 fans sold out the brand new Snapdragon Stadium.
A night of history making in San Diego
On Sunday, the Wave became the first expansion team in the NWSL to play in the playoffs in their first season, according to the team’s Twitter. Thanks to Alex Morgan’s game-winning goal in overtime, their historic season will continue.
“The atmosphere tonight was incredible,” Morgan said, according to Just Women’s Sports. “It was so much fun to play in front of our fans for one last time this season.”
Despite missing the last two games of the regular season, Morgan led the league in goals scored with 15 and won the Golden Boot award. She is also an MVP finalist.
The Wave’s Naomi Girma is also up for MVP and Rookie of the Year. Kailen Sheridan is nominated for goalkeeper of the year and coach Casey Stone is in the running for head coach of the year.
The Wave and Current will both head to the Pacific Northwest to play in the semifinals on Oct. 23. The Wave will face the Portland Thorns, and the Current will play the OL Reign in Seattle.
With just 12 teams in the league, only six teams qualify for the playoffs. It’s a single match, win or go home style tournament. Seeds three through six play in the first round, and whoever wins advances to the semifinals to play one of the top two seeds, who automatically qualified for the semifinals.
The Current’s game against OL Reign in Lumen Field is the only remaining game being played in a venue with the capacity to beat the attendance at the Wave-Red Stars match. Lumen Field can host up to 37,722 fans for soccer games, according to the stadium’s website.
A new attendance trend in women’s soccer
Women’s professional soccer attendance grew throughout this year. The Houston Dash’s club president told Just Women’s Sports that the club has seen average attendance increase by 60% since last season.
That trend may have started across the pond.
In this summer’s European Championship, all three of England’s group stage matches sold out, as well as their final against Germany in the 90,000-seat Wembley Stadium, according to CNBC. While not every ticket holder showed up to the match, 87,192 fans did.
That momentum carried over to England’s friendly against the United States in Wembley, which sold out in 15 minutes.
The support is not exclusive to national team matches. England’s Women’s Super League broke an attendance record when Arsenal Women hosted and beat Tottenham in September, drawing 53,737 fans to Emirates Stadium, CNBC reported.
In January, Barcelona of the Women’s Champions League sold out its match against Real Madrid, three months before the game, ESPN reported. The stadium holds 99,354 fans. Then in April, Barcelona’s semifinal match against Wolfsburg sold out in 24 hours.