Why The NWSL Will Grow After The Women’s World CupLeague in stronger position than WUSA, WPS were in previous cup years
by Ray Marcham | Friday, June 26, 2015
Unlike previous leagues in past years, the NWSL is not in trouble where its post-World Cup future is in doubt.
But now is the time for the league to take advantage, on numerous fronts.
The publicity that the NWSL got from the goal scored by Portland goalkeeper Michelle Betos on Friday night was huge, and that does nothing but help the league get its product out. It also showed fans that there are good, up-and-coming players that didn’t get called up for the Women’s World Cup that are playing in the league, and playing well.
It also helped confirm to some that the NWSL will not go the way of WUSA or WPS, at least for the foreseeable future. WUSA and WPS both folded after seasons where a World Cup was played (WUSA in 2004, WPS after 2012), but the problems those two leagues faced aren’t the biggest issues the NWSL have.
One thing that is always good for league is expansion interest, and the NWSL is fortunate to have that. There has been interest from Real Salt Lake in having a team, and Atlanta is also in the mix. Those two were specifically mentioned by NWSL Commissioner Jeff Plush in an interview back in March, and would likely be the prime candidates to join the league. There also has been a push from Pittsburgh, where the new ownership of the Riverhounds have talked openly about wants to get into the NWSL. Sacramento ownership has also talked about the NWSL as part of its long term plans, and it’s that type of planning for the league that puts it well ahead of where WUSA or WPS was.
With an expanded league comes new financial pressures, and that would mean a bigger commitment from NWSL owners and from the North American federations who contribute to the league. While the federations pay the salaries for their national team members, the rest of the players have to fit in under a salary cap that’s $265,000 per club, with a minimum salary of just under $7,000 per year. If they want to keep young players in the league and not leaving the game to find “real” jobs, then there has to be more help from the federations, and more flexibility from the league to owners to allow for an increase of pay, to keep those players in the league instead of ending their playing career.
There also has to be an increased marketing push, and there are many angles that can be used. The league can, and should, take advantage of Portland and its amazing crowds and atmosphere. There’s Seattle, home of arguably the league’s best coach (and most active trader) in Laura Harvey and US Soccer’s two most controversial players, Hope Solo and Abby Wambach. There are the defending champions in FC Kansas City, the current league leaders (and long-time stalwarts of women’s pro soccer) Chicago Red Stars, and exciting teams in Washington and Houston. There is the large number of NWSL players who are/have played in this year’s World Cup (50 players from 10 countries). There is much for the league to promote, but they have to do it right.
Of course, a national television deal would be great. Plush mentioned in an interview this month that a deal is close, and it is needed if the NWSL advance with expansion and raising salaries. Whether it’s on ESPN or Fox, the need to have a broadcast outlet to go with an expanded online presence is great. The money that would come in will help at numerous levels.
There will also have to be decisions made about some of the current clubs and whether they can be viable in the NWSL’s future. Sky Blue FC is last in attendance (and has been since the league began) and last in the 2015 standings, and unless they can establish a partnership with one of New York/New Jersey’s men’s professional clubs (most recently, they have had discussions with New York City FC), their future may be the most precarious. Chicago seems to be getting better, and FC Kansas City’s partnership with Sporting Kansas City has been a help for the stability of FCKC. But the most stable clubs are those with MLS connections (Portland/Houston) or those with strong supporter bases (Seattle/Washington/Western New York). Those will be the teams who will carry the league into the future.
However, the future is now. With expansion on the horizon, the World Cup raising interest in the league’s players and a new TV deal coming, it’s now time for the NWSL to take advantage, much like the WNBA does with its Olympians. With Plush now in charge (he took over at the beginning of 2015), it’s his responsibility to ensure that the league comes out of this World Cup year stronger and able to set it up for not just the near-future, but many years down the line.
It’s the opportunity that WUSA and WPS never got. The NWSL can’t mess this up.