2015 was, in many ways, a banner year for women's football. The summer's Women's World Cup was both a viral sensation and a ratings juggernaut, garnering tons of attention on Twitter and scoring viewership figures typically unprecedented for the tournament. Particularly in the United States-whose women's national team won their third Women's World Cup title in 2015-the tournament was a hit. Airing on the Fox Network, the tournament garnered a little shy of 23 million American viewers-not only making it the most-watched soccer game ever for U.S. audiences, but also delivering numbers comparable to Game 7 of the Major League Baseball World Series. Considering that baseball is generally much bigger in the United States than soccer, that stat is a remarkable one.
Women's football also got more interest in Europe last year. The Women's FA Cup-played at Wembley Stadium between Notts County and FA WSL champions Chelsea-drew an attendance of over 30,000 fans. That figure shattered the previous Women's FA Cup attendance record of 24,582 from 2008.
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Now, with the England's top ladies division-the aforementioned FA WSL-set to become bigger and better for the 2016 campaign, it only stands to reason that women's soccer will continue to grow, as well. Last year, the ChelseaÂ FC notched their first-ever top-flight league title in a division that included eight teams. Each football club played just 14 games, and the Blues won with a record of 10 wins, two draws, and two losses.
It's tough for a season not to seem minor when it only features 14 games per team. While the 2015 FA WSL was spread out, running from March 25th to October 4th, it was still a minuscule football campaign compared to the men's English Premier League, which features 20 teams and consists of 38 weeks of competition.
Slowly but surely, though, the FA WSL is expanding. In 2016, the league will feature nine teams, meaning the game count for each soccer club will increase to 16. It's not a huge expansion, but it will add more competition into the mix and will hopefully bring more attention to the still-fledgling women's league.
Last season's top seven teams will all be back for the 2016 FA WSL season, including Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal, Sunderland, Notts County, Birmingham City, and Liverpool. Also joining the league this year are Reading and the Doncaster Rovers Belles-the top two soccer clubs from last year's WSL 2. Bristol City (formerly known as Bristol Academy) were relegated from the top-flight at the end of last season and will participate this year in the WSL 2.
Given their recent victories in both the 2015 FA WSL and the Women's FA Cup, Chelsea have to be considered the frontrunners for the 2016 season. The Blues also narrowly missed out on a WSL title in 2014, finishing with the same point tally (26) as eventual champions Liverpool, but losing the title on goal difference. After the Women's Super League (both divisions) was established in 2011, Arsenal won the top-flight title twice in a row, followed by back-to-back wins for Liverpool. Will Chelsea continue the trend by winning a second consecutive trophy in 2016?
Of course, Arsenal and Liverpool cannot be discounted, given the still-recent nature of their titles. Arsenal finished third on last year's table, five points off Chelsea's winning score. Liverpool, meanwhile, tumbled to seventh place and earned just 13 points, winning just four of their 14 matches. Will the Reds bounce back in 2016, or continue to fade away?
Also worth watching are Manchester City. In just their second season in the WSL, the Manchester City women's football club strung together a record of nine wins, three draws, and two losses. That record put the Sky Blues just two points behind Chelsea in the overall standings-making them natural dark horse contenders for the title in 2016.
Are you excited to see women's football continue to grow in 2016? Stop by Soccer Box today to pick up a brand new Chelsea women's home jersey 2015/16 for your collection!