On June 26, the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) was the first professional team sports league in the United States to return to play amid the COVID-19 pandemic. That day, the NWSL safely and successfully brought live sports back to action with the 2020 Challenge Cup. Broadcast both domestically and internationally, the unprecedented, month-long tournament in Utah concluded July 27 with the Houston Dash crowned as champions. The tournament was an exemplary success with zero confirmed COVID-19 cases, multiple new corporate sponsors, and record-breaking TV ratings.

NWSL Lead Up Promotion

The Challenge

The challenge at hand was to create a safe environment for teams to compete in meaningful competition and to form lasting sponsorships to grow the league. Additionally, Stone Ward needed to create a unique digital experience for both domestic and international fans and leverage avid supporter groups along the way. Our NWSL client immediately sprang into action to find solutions for the many hurdles presented by the pandemic, ideating with our team on new fan experiences and unique sponsor opportunities.

NWSL Challenge Cup Graphics

The Solution

As the creative agency for the NWSL, Stone Ward worked closely with the league and tournament sponsors to build a branded, visual design system for the Challenge Cup. Our team provided support for almost every aspect of the tournament – from unique logo design and merchandise to the winning trophy and Championship stage. Other assets included in-stadium print and digital LED presentation, hotel signage, a tournament animation package and real-time social media graphics support.

The Success

With in-person social gatherings on hold, and the league’s new broadcast partnerships with CBS (U.S. & Canada) and Twitch (international), creating a stadium design and visual experience fit for broadcast was at the forefront. We designed a premier environment that gave exposure to league sponsors, teams and team sponsors, all while digitally captivating avid fans around the globe. The NWSL shattered its domestic television record twice in 30 days, drawing an average of 653,000 viewers on the main CBS network for the Championship match, which became the most-watched match in league history.

NWSL Challenge Cup Viewership Graphic

Behind The Scenes

During each game, Stone Ward provided real-time creative support by curating a unique social media experience to bring fans closer to the action of one of the most competitive women’s leagues in the world. Throughout the course of the four-week tournament, Stone Ward created customized graphics and assets for the NWSL, its major corporate sponsors and numerous teams. This ultimately helped increase the league’s combined social media following by over 132,000 followers. Through these graphics, we also helped drive sponsorship value for key partners like Budweiser, Google, Nike, Verizon, Secret and Procter & Gamble.

The NWSL Challenge Cup laid the groundwork for the rapidly rising league, with supporter groups growing larger and stronger. The NWSL also announced their expansion to Los Angeles backed by a majority woman-founded group led by Academy Award-winning actress and activist Natalie Portman, technology venture capitalist Kara Nortman, media and gaming entrepreneur Julie Uhrman, and tech entrepreneur and venture capitalist Alexis Ohanian. We are proud to serve the NWSL and the elite athletes who make it great. We can’t wait for the next return to action!

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