Five Softball Things To Look Forward To In 2023
Softball at every level is exploding in popularity, and it is one of the sports in the United States with the most recent growth at the start of 2023. Last year, the Women’s College World Series averaged 1.7 million viewers, outpacing the viewing numbers for the Men’s College World Series—and that was slightly down from 2021’s 1.85 million viewers. With its made-for-television game, softball continues to wow national audiences and in-person fans alike.
With such a bright future ahead of the sport in 2023, take a look below at five things in softball we are looking forward to this year.
College Softball At All Divisions
At the Division I level, Oklahoma took down Texas in 2022 to win its sixth national championship. Despite Oklahoma's dominance, there’s still plenty of room for parity and new faces in the NCAA Tournament in 2023. Many mid-major schools performed well in the 2022 NCAA Tournament, once again proving talent at the collegiate level isn’t bottlenecking anywhere. James Madison’s miracle run to the WCWS semifinals in 2021 stands as one of the best Cinderella stories in all of sports, but there’s plenty of reason to believe other schools can do the same in 2023.
The Women’s College World Series draws more and more viewers each year, with USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium often selling out its 13,000-seat venue. The pinnacle of the college softball world in 2022 saw an unranked Texas team storm through Oklahoma City to earn a spot in the championship series, only to then be trounced by Oklahoma, the current powerhouse of college softball.
The WCWS will be shown to a national audience again in 2023, with hopes of surpassing the two-million mark for viewership. Intriguing storylines, perpetuated by broadcasts to a national audience, allow for the casual viewer to be drawn into the WCWS on a deeper level. There are so many talented teams throughout college softball entering 2023, and fans are sure to see the best of the sport on display in June.
Athletes Unlimited Season
Created in 2020 as a high-powered, new approach to professional softball, Athletes Unlimited has captivated an audience looking to continue following the careers of some of the best collegiate softball players in the country. The five-week schedule, redrafted teams and a points system that affords a single player with a win is a unique way to revolutionize a sport whose professional sphere has historically struggled.
Next season, reigning AU champion Dejah Mulipola will look to defend her crown against a new crop of emerging stars. This year should be just as exciting for the new league, as softball fans continue to acclimate themselves to the interesting world of Athletes Unlimited.
Women’s Professional Fastpitch (WPF) Season
Any conversation about the WPF season in 2023 has to start with the addition of the Oklahoma City Spark, the expansion team that is now the professional softball home of Jocelyn Alo. The team also added former Oklahoma State standout Chelsea Alexander, keeping her in-state after she played five seasons with the Cowgirls. Founded by USA Softball, USSSA and Smash It Sports, the WPF is emerging in place of National Pro Fastpitch, with hopes of providing a more traditional professional landscape for softball players. Former Major League Baseball All-Star Brandon Phillips also just became the owner of a fourth WPF team located in Dallas.
WBSC Women’s Softball World Cup Group Stage
All roads lead to Italy in 2024, but in order to get there, 18 teams representing five Olympic continents will compete in the group stage of the World Cup tournament beginning in 2023. The World Cup implemented a new two-stage format that allows more teams to play, with the 18 squads divided up into three groups of six teams for a chance to qualify for the World Cup Finals in 2024. The WBSC awarded Ireland, Italy and Spain hosting rights for the group stage, which will take place in July.