More good news for fans as U.S. pro sports leagues continue to figure out ways to return to action amid the coronavirus pandemic. The latest: The National Women’s Soccer League said Wednesday that it has finalized plans to play a 25-game tournament in Utah for all nine of its teams beginning next month.
The 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup will not have fans, but all games will be streamed live on CBS All Access, with the tournament opener June 27 at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman, Utah, and the final July 26 at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, both to air live on CBS.
Each of the nine clubs will play four games at three Utah venues in the preliminary rounds to determine seeding, with the top eight teams advancing to the knockout round. Both the semifinals and final will be played in Sandy.
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The nine teams feature all 19 members of the defending Women’s World Cup champion Team USA. It’s unclear how many of them will participate in the tournament, which will mark the league’s first competition since the 2019 NWSL championship in October.
The plan has the sign-off of the league’s players’ association and the NWSL board of directors.
“As our country begins to safely reopen and adjust to our collective new reality, and with the enthusiastic support of our players, owners, as well as our new and current commercial partners, the NWSL is thrilled to bring professional soccer back to the United States,” NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird said today. “This exciting month-long tournament will showcase our league’s talented players and provide our fans the type of world-class entertainment they’ve come to expect from the NWSL.”
Dell Loy Hansen, owner of league’s Utah Royals FC, will accommodate all housing, training, and competition needs and create an “NWSL Village” to create as safe an environment as possible. Each player, official, and essential staff member will be tested 48 hours prior to departure for Utah and will be subject to consistent testing, temperature readings, and symptom review throughout their stay.
“With the efforts of our frontline workers, our state’s early adoption of preventative measures, and our facilities at Zions Bank Real Academy, Rio Tinto Stadium, and America First Credit Union Field, Utah is uniquely prepared to host the nine teams in the NWSL and put on a tremendous tournament,” said Hansen. “With the full support of the Governor and the medical experts in our community, we are thrilled to bring the tournament to Utah.”
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Utah currently has 8,658 cases of COVID-19 statewide, with 103 deaths. It’s now No. 34 among the U.S. states in confirmed cases, and the majority of the state is currently in the Yellow, or low-risk, phase of reopening.
The idea for pro sports leagues to restart games in a centralized location has been kicked around by Major League Baseball among others; one MLB idea was to have teams play in their Arizona and Florida spring-training homes in Cactus and Grapefruit leagues, with the winners to face off in a modified World Series. No final plans have been made.
TV networks have seen strong ratings for the return to action of NASCAR (on Fox and Fox Sports 1) and even golf, with The Match over the weekend on Turner Sports’ networks pitting Tiger Wood and Petyon Manning against Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady scoring an average of 5.8 million viewers across TNT, TBS, truTV and HLN, the most-watched golf telecast in cable TV history.
Also airing in the U.S. are Korean pro baseball (on ESPN) and the German Bundesliga pro soccer league (on Fox).
American TV’s biggest draw, the NFL, plans to return to the field with its full 17-week season set to start as planned September 10.
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