Do WOSO fans care about the NWSL Shield?

The NWSL regular season on the field has been fantastic this year. The race for the NWSL Shield is coming down to the last couple of games and a couple of teams have a legitimate shot of being the number one seed going into the NWSL playoffs. With all the possibilities one would think that the league fans would be into the race for the NWSL shield, but there doesn’t seem to be much discussion around it. Why?

What is the NWSL Shield?

The Shield is a yearly prize presented to the team with the best regular season record and the number one seed going into the playoffs. Since 2013, the Shield has been presented annually, and the league views it as a significant trophy. So far, the North Carolina Courage have won the most shields of any NWSL team (3) and the current holders are the Portland Thorns.

The organizational structure of the NWSL was designed to be similar to MLS, with a regular season and an end of season playoff tournament that both had prizes. Originally the top four teams competed in the NWSL Playoffs after the regular season to earn a spot in the playoff title game, but due to expansion of the league there are now six playoff spots.

Playoffs verses the regular season in WOSO

Six of the league’s twelve teams are now a part of NWSL’s playoff format. Having half the league make the playoffs downplays the significance of the regular season trophy with most of the fan focus going to play off positions. Fans of both BROSO and WOSO will be familiar with the MLS supporters shield and its secondary status compared to the MLS Cup.

However, the top four leagues in American sports have a playoff at the end of their regular season but don’t have a celebrated regular season trophy that fans truly care about (or at all in some cases), so WOSO fans that are fans of the major sports leagues aren’t pre conditioned to care about a regular season team award like the Shield. Fans take their biases and understanding of the general American league structure with them across the individual sports, so winning a trophy for regular season performance is something WOSO fans will have to learn to care about.

Making the Shield Count

If the league wants the Shield to have more fanfare, then they should market the value of the regular season more. The NWSL has branded the shield race as the “Road to the Shield” and sold the rights to CarMax, but what else is there? Fans have asked fore more wrap around coverage from the league in general, so its not surprising that the league doesn’t produce much content around the NWSL shield.

The NWSL doesn’t do a good job promoting on the types of on-field storylines that make fans care about the cycle of a complete season (pre-season challenge cup, regular season, playoffs). The NWSL shield is an opportunity for the league to promote the WOSO regular season, and encourage fans to care about something that they seemingly don’t.

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