Sorting it out: NWSL as it approaches year three

Jeff Kassouf July 25, 2014 76
Harvard Stadium during an early season Breakers match, looking at the side opposite where fans sit. (Photo Copyright Clark Linehan for The Equalizer)

Harvard Stadium during an early season Breakers match, looking at the side opposite where fans sit. (Photo Copyright Clark Linehan for The Equalizer)

Three is an ominous number in women’s soccer. Twice since the turn of the millennium, a women’s soccer league has folded after three seasons.

This time around, the prevailing wisdom among those involved in building the National Women’s Soccer League, now in the stretch-run of its second season, is that there’s no room for error. To steal another sport’s rules, it’s three strikes and you’re out.

“The league’s going to exist next year, I can promise you that,” said Merritt Paulson, owner of Portland Thorns FC, the NWSL sister club to MLS’ Portland Timbers. “The question we all have to focus on is optimizing the league. If there is something broken, fix it. If not fix it, figure out how to do it better elsewhere.”

The questions are recurring, and not dissimilar to the ones Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) faced in its three seasons from 2009-2011. There’s a World Cup in Canada to deal with next summer, an event that will likely create a hole in the schedule and in teams’ rosters for a still-to-be-determined amount of time. Sponsorships, attendance, budgets – they all fall under the umbrella of what everyone really wants to know when it comes to pro women’s soccer in the United States: Can it survive?

NWSL, by all informed accounts, is stronger than its predecessors, WPS and the Women’s United Soccer Association (2001-03). The backing of U.S. Soccer in particular, which has invested finances and manpower in the league with an eye on bettering its women’s national team, has team owners and players more bullish than ever.

“I think everybody is doing considerably better than last year,” said Boston Breakers owner Michael Stoller, who has funded the Breakers through three years in WPS and now in NWSL. “Whether everybody is hitting their budgets or not, I don’t know, but I think it is clearly going to be the least amount of losses that WPS or NWSL has incurred to date.”

Progress is there, but as Stoller notes, the ink is still red for everyone but Portland thus far. But even that is progress; women’s soccer teams have always been about limiting losses, not profiting. For the NWSL, the baby steps are all part of the growing process.

YEAR THREE LOOMS — NOW WHAT ABOUT THAT SCHEDULE?

Of all the questions that hang over the third season of the NWSL – Expansion? Contraction? Salary cap? Roster sizes? – the structure of the 2015 schedule will dictate which direction the other dominoes fall.

The 2015 World Cup runs from June 6 through July 6 next year, smack in the middle of the season in the current early April to late August format. Several options have been explored, and there likely won’t be a resolution before the August 11 owners’ meeting in Chicago.

But figuring out a scheduling structure for 2015 and 2016 – when the Rio Olympics hit from August 5-21 – won’t be easy. There is no consensus on how to deal with next year’s World Cup, a competition that stretches a month but consumes much more of the calendar when pre-tournament training camps and friendlies are factored in.

NWSL executive director Cheryl Bailey. (Photo Copyright Meg Linehan for The Equalizer)

NWSL executive director Cheryl Bailey. (Photo Copyright Meg Linehan for The Equalizer)

Playing through the World Cup without a break looks unlikely. The NWSL stands to lose over one-quarter of its players — its best players, nonetheless — to the competition. There are different lengths of time that could be taken off, as well as starting the season earlier, ending it later or even playing a split season.

There’s an old guard of sorts – Boston, Chicago, New Jersey (Sky Blue FC) and Western New York, teams that competed in WPS and still exist in the NWSL – that has been through this before and seen first-hand the pros and cons of how WPS handled the 2011 World Cup, taking a two-week break that started the day of the World Cup’s first match and included a light schedule of six matches during actual World Cup competition.

And the league rode the World Cup bounce to increased attendance for the final six weeks of the season, highlighted by an over-capacity crowd of 15,404 fans in Rochester, N.Y. on July 20, three days after the U.S. lost the final to Japan on penalty kicks. Those were, however, the last six competitive weeks of WPS’ history.

“I think one of the things WPS did right was how we dealt with the World Cup,” Stoller said. “I’ll leave it at that.”

WPS took a break, but it played through most of June 2011 without U.S. national team players, diluting the play. And that is something that would worry Seattle Reign FC owner Bill Predmore, whose chief concern is maintaining a world-class level of play.

“I think our [Reign FC’s] perspective is that a substantial break during the World Cup is the right thing to do,” Predmore said. “The length of that is up for debate, but the product that is put out onto the field is directly related to the players.”

NWSL Executive Director Cheryl Bailey says that the league has studied how MLS has dealt with men’s World Cups, including this year’s, to learn more about the approach. MLS took a little over two weeks off from regular season play during the 2014 World Cup, though U.S. Open Cup matches were played.

“There are several models that you can look at going forward,” said Bailey, who just returned from Switzerland for a FIFA workshop on the women’s international match calendar. “We’ve also taken a look at choices that MLS has made over the years, relative to this, too. They do have additional information that we don’t have, when you look at a world championship and how it might impact a league – whether you take time off, if you take time off. How much time off is beneficial in terms of keeping connected to the fans, but also being able to get the number of games in that you want? We have several models that we are looking at and we should have them solidified in the next week or two.”

Even with a break, some teams are prepared to be without their U.S. national team players for a significant portion of the season. Canada has already made plans to withhold players from the league before the World Cup, according to late 2013 documents obtained by The Equalizer. Mexico already waffled on its 2013 participation in the league, eventually committing a reduced number of players.

NINE TEAMS: PLUS, MINUS OR PUSH?

No speculation peaks the general interest more than expansion, especially in a fledgling women’s soccer league trying to find stability. Along with attendance, the addition and subtraction of teams is the most outwardly visible barometer for the league’s health.

The Houston Dash were a surprise addition as the league’s ninth team, officially announced in December 2013, exceptionally late in the process of planning the season. But the addition of a second MLS-backed club has been positive for the NWSL, league officials say.

And now what? The prospect of other MLS markets having interest in professional women’s teams is a concept that has existed, in theory, since before the NWSL even did. It was an ongoing tease of an idea in the WPS days, but it never happened.

According to several sources, there are multiple MLS ownership groups intrigued by the prospect of a women’s team under the NWSL model. But Bailey warns that they aren’t the only ownership groups that would be considered.

“MLS does not give a leg-up to any of the other [potential expansion bids],” Bailey said. “I think you have to look at markets. You have to look at the infrastructure that they would have, you have to look at facilities. There are so many key points that we look at in terms of somebody coming in with a franchise, that, no doubt, having the MLS infrastructure and resources is something that, if put on the table, I don’t think it really would preclude a team that is not an MLS team from having an opportunity as well.”

Better infrastructure and resources went a long way in helping Portland average over 13,000 fans per game in 2013, triple the next-closest team. This year, the Thorns will voluntarily share part of their revenue with the other eight teams in the league.

But there is some underlying fear of a league divided: MLS teams and non-MLS teams. Some dismiss the idea, genuinely or otherwise, but at least one high-ranking team official is legitimately concerned by how things may or may not balance out as MLS joins the fold. As Portland turns a profit and Houston tries to do the same, independent teams still lose well into the six figures.

Paulson disagrees that there would be a divide, but he is in favor of more MLS teams joining the NWSL and he says there are other MLS team owners who have expressed interest in a women’s team.

“I think it is never going to be a situation where it is the MLS teams versus the other ones, but I think everybody would agree that there are advantages to being an operator of a Major League Soccer game from a facility standpoint, from an infrastructure standpoint and from a sales standpoint. The more of those teams we get into the league, and get to launch an NWSL team, the better.”

MLS or otherwise, however, the scheduling challenges of 2015 still rears its ugly head over expansion. Will the scheduling structure surrounding the World Cup be adaptable to adding a 10th team?

Furthermore, will every team be back? Multiple team owners say they are not completely convinced that every team will return – citing attendance and lack of revenue in some markets – a fear that circles back to some of the third-year burdens for women’s leagues of yesteryear.

Bailey, however, shows no signs of concern about the teams currently under her leadership.

“We have not had anything along the lines or throughout the season that has given us any pause, whatsoever,” she said. “We have all nine teams fully committed, in terms of their investment with players, with their infrastructure. Several have made changes from year one to year two to increase that staffing, so at this point and time, we feel very confident about the nine teams that we have going forward.”

DEVELOPING LOCALLY AND NATIONALLY

“We’re only in nine markets,” Bailey says, reflecting on the league’s geographical footprint. “We’re not at a national level even like the MLS – it’s far more national. When you start out, you have to tap into the resources and what you have. Each of these teams has their own market.

“To be fair, nine teams do not necessarily make us national. That doesn’t mean we don’t continue to try.”

With a league concentrated in the Northeast, Pacific Northwest, and three teams down the spine of the U.S. map, there are gaping geographical holes for the NWSL. And the divide in opinion regarding national versus local initiatives may as well be the distance from Boston to Portland.

Portland Thorns fans at Sunday's match vs. Boston, when 14,383 fans showed up. (Photo Copyright Patricia Giobetti for The Equalizer)

Portland Thorns fans at Sunday’s match vs. Boston, when 14,383 fans showed up. (Photo Copyright Patricia Giobetti for The Equalizer)

Paulson can’t use the word “local” enough. Sure, the soccer culture in the Pacific Northwest is unlike almost anywhere else in the country, but local tie-ins, marketing and sales have helped the Thorns in becoming the league’s flagship franchise. And it’s where other teams need to focus, he says.

Stoller, on the other hand,  would like to see an increase in national marketing and media campaigns to push awareness of the league as a whole. The NWSL just debuted on ESPN2 on Sunday (Portland and Boston put on a show, with the Thorns winning 6-3), the first of nine matches this season on an ESPN platform.

Perhaps no markets are more critical to the NWSL’s success than the Pacific Northwest, an area that buoyed MLS in its rise in popularity particularly over the last half-decade.

Seattle has been running away with the league’s regular season title since Week 1, and it has led to an attendance and revenue improvement of nearly 70 percent. Still, the Reign are averaging a shade over 3,400 fans per game this season.

Predmore sees the potential from Seattle Sounders FC, who average north of 40,000 fans each year in MLS, and even from the Thorns.

Paulson believes that a healthy rivalry with Seattle – and a Seattle team drawing big crowds – is a necessity for the NWSL. Paulson is confident the market is there in Seattle, just as it is in Portland, a slightly smaller city. He wants to see Seattle crowds similar to those in Portland.

“I really want Seattle to be drawing 10,000-plus people a game,” Paulson said. “The more strong markets, the better. They have a lot of really good players and they are really playing good soccer this year. What they’ve done is amazing, in terms of only one loss so deep into a season.”

Whether or not the Reign and Sounders men partnering would boost attendance and awareness remains to be seen. Predmore calls Sounders FC an “informal” partner as a fellow professional soccer club in the city.

“I think we are both at a point where we can both imagine a deeper partnership,” Predmore said of the NWSL and MLS clubs, without specifying what “deeper” could mean. “Whether that happens now, a year from now, 10 years from now – I don’t know. But I don’t think that it is required for the Reign to be successful.”

FUTURE USSF INVOLVEMENT

U.S. Soccer’s involvement sets NWSL apart from its predecessors. That the federation is directly involved in funding and helping operate the league brings the hope for longevity. How long that connection lasts could be a strong indication of the health of the league, even more than the involvement of Canada and Mexico.

It’s unlikely that U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati would allow this venture to fail – at least this early in the process – knowing that he was a big part of the decision to start and support a league instead of sending the U.S. women into residency. There’s a personal stake in this for him, and for everyone at U.S. Soccer, let alone all the individual owners.

So for 2015 World Cup and 2016 Olympics preparations, the NWSL is U.S. Soccer’s vision for preparation and development of its players. That’s why every national team player has returned to the States instead of playing abroad.

But exactly how long U.S. Soccer will be needed to help support the league is unknown. In an ideal world, the NWSL would get to a point at which it is sustainable on its own, those involved hope.

“I think that’s been the goal all along, to be honest,” Bailey said. “To be able to have U.S. Soccer come alongside, in addition to Canada and Mexico paying for players and providing players. To be able to provide that stability within the league, that, over time, we will be in such a place that we can stand without that support.”

Bailey says she isn’t sure of what the timeline may be for that. She saw “a great deal of stability” from year one into year two, and forecasts the same for the transition into year three.

These sort of questions are monitored on and change from a year-to-year basis. They are the realities of women’s soccer as it tries to break the mold, get past a third season and ultimately thrive, not just survive.

For now, though, survival remains a large part of the game. And while there’s a good deal of optimism surrounding the league, those sentiments have existed before from teams and leagues that have failed. Time will tell whether the NWSL can create a different fate.

  • VaFan51

    Do people ask these same questions of viability, profitability, even “success” about German women’s leagues?
    Perhaps the most prominent lesson from this summer’s Men’s World Cup and the recent history of both the German men’s and women’s teams is that the road to success on the pitch is paved (sodded? turfed?) with financial investment.
    It would be nice if NWSL were profitable or broke even, but its real role is development of players. In that sense, it is a huge bargain for the USSF and, if I had my wish, USSF would throw a lot more money at the league.

    • Lorehead

      I don’t know enough about the situation in Germany, but the Frauen-Bundesliga has existed since 1990, and I haven’t heard any rumors that it’s likely to fold.

      • Guest

        Most teams in european women’s leagues 99% are apart of huge mens clubs. There are incredibly few independently owned women’s clubs. That helps with stability. Unless the mens club is going under or they just decide to cut funding for the women’s team, generally you don’t have an issue. In the U.S you have the opposite. 98% of NWSL is independent which means those clubs have virtually no chance of getting the type of resources MLS clubs have.

        • Steglitz49

          Today, yes; in the beginning, no.

          In the early days, many (most) women’s teams were little independent outfits. Most have gone to the wall. A few, like Umeå, Potsdam and Frankfurt, remain.

          It all started to change about 6-7 years ago, when the Chairman of Lyon put decent money to the ladies with obvious returns. Other teams followed suit not just the Emir. Granted, Arsenal always supported their ladies, but they were not terribly generous, while Man Utd closed their women’s wing and Chelsea almost did. It is not over yet. Recently we read about a Spanish club that is closing its ladies section, having cut the funding since a couple of years ago.

          You mention that the MLS clubs have such great resources. Why? How come?

          The US has dominated women’s soccer for decades. There would not be a women’s world cup but for the US. Why no resources to match MLS, the NT of which last did something in 2002.

          • Lorehead

            So, it’s more a process of natural selection: the more-established leagues are composed of little-sister teams because singleton teams (and leagues of singleton teams) folded?

          • Steglitz49

            Yes. Though the time-scale has varied between countries and a few independents soldier on and some still do rather well, like Frankfurt and Potsdam.

            There is little real interest in women’s club football in Europe. This year’s women’s Champions league final in Lisbon attracted 11,200 spectators. (The Algarve cup has been running for 20 years.) More people go to a Portland game.

            This year’s women’s FA cup final attracted 15,000 spectators, considerably up from the 2,000.

          • Herbert Wurst

            “There is little real interest in women’s club football in Europe. This
            year’s women’s Champions league final in Lisbon attracted 11,200
            spectators”

            590.000 Germans watched the match on tv.

            ” The German women’s cup final got 16,500 spectators.”

            1.63 million Germans watched the Cup final on tv.

            ” The average league attendance in Germany was 1,185 with 3 teams managing >2,000.”

            On average 200 000 watch the Frauen-Bundesliga match broadcasted on Eurosport in Germany.

            If you include tv audience, the Frauen-Bundesliga is actually doing well (probably better than NWSL).

          • Steglitz49

            Thank you. 1.63 m Germans, though only 2% of the population, is still a fair number.

            FIFA did an in depth analysis of the world wide viewing pattern of WC-11. I have not seen one for Euro-13. WC-15 will be interesting to observe.

    • jasperjenkins

      Bear in mind that the Frauen Bundesliga and other European leagues have promotion and relegation, which helps mitigate some concerns about stability and viability. Fans are used to several teams coming and going every year, so if a team bombs out (or completely collapses like Tyreso), it doesn’t have the same repercussions as it would here since there’s already a system in place to slot someone else in the following year. Of course, I’m not sure that such a system would be viable in the US, at least in the short term, since you need robust lower divisions, and here most of the W-League and WPSL teams are college amateurs with NCAA issues to deal with.

      • Lorehead

        There would be a lot of questions about how to bring pro-rel to the United States. One is how to combine it with all the mechanisms intended to create parity. For example, all player contracts are with the league, not the individual teams, so if Boston got relegated, would all its players stay there or in the NWSL? Would the national federations stand for their allocated players getting sent to the second division, or insist on their staying in the league? At that point, would a relegated team that lost those players be viable at all? If the Houston Dash finish last and the Houston Aces finish first, would anyone in the NWSL actually think it’s a sane idea to replace the Dash with the Aces? If Seattle had finished last last year, as it came close to doing, would it have been good for the league to relegate them? If you could take an arbitrary amateur team and turn it into a decent NWSL team by throwing money and international players at it, why couldn’t you do that to the team you just relegated?

        This works in Europe, more or less, because the bottom of the table of European women’s leagues are absolutely hopeless amateur sides that finish with a goal difference of -100 or worse, and nobody cares who the sacrificial lambs are this year.

        • jasperjenkins

          Absolutely. It also helps significantly that most (all?) European leagues are set up over a much smaller geographical area. It’s far less disruptive to relegate a team in London and promote one in Manchester than it is to relegate a team in Seattle and promote a replacement in Orlando.

          • Steglitz49

            It depends on the size of the country. In countries with big distances like Sweden, France, Spain and even Germany, the girls travel long distances by coach.

            Often the coach driver is included in the team photo!

            It helps in the case Wolfsburg that VW provides the coach through their subsidiary MAN. The girls wanted the slogan “The shewolves ride man” on the side; the approved slogan was “Shewolves are driven by man”.

            The French ladies league awards 2 point for a played loss, 3 for a draw and 4 for a win. The reason for this is that poor teams would save money by not traveling and instead conceding an away loss. To encourage teams to travel and play, you got one extra point for playing. They seem still to need that system.

  • VW

    The Bundesliga, both men’s and women’s, have major sponsors and that is the difference. The women’s league just signed a deal with Allianz, one of the largest insurance companies in the world. Plainly the NWSL needs major sponsorship. So long as the league is dependent upon the USSF as its main investor its teams will forever be beholding to the whims of the federation and the only players who would benefit from such an arrangement are those who are on the USWNT. So the question that remains is do you want to have a truly professional league where all players regardless of their status can have a viable career and earn a decent wage.

    • https://www.youtube.com/user/JigsawWill Jigsawwill

      The question is how do you get major sponsorship? How do you best sell the league to a major company?

      • Steglitz49

        Define your market. Segment it. Understand it. Grow it step by step.

        The US is not short of major corporations and women’s soccer is dirt cheap to run. Why are the companies not falling over themselves to be in on the act? Microsoft and Starbucks are in Seattle. I forget where Victorias Secret is located. There are Talbots, Liz Claiborne, Vera Wang and Donna Karan. Doubtless there are others. Sad to type, they all have in common a lack of interest.

        • Hugo22

          oh dear steg… VS, VERA WANG, starbucks?! jesus christ you want srfc to potentially have a STARBUCKS logo on their jerseys oh god what have you been taking, i want some! companies should be like the spirits pro chain and other sport related companies who know the ropes and are willing to sacrifice a tiny amt.

          • Steglitz49

            FIFA allows two club teams to have company names in their club names. They are Bayer Leverkusen and PSV Eindhoven because the clubs were started by the firms for the benefit of their employees. (Within a country, the national federations may allow company names but they cannot be used across borders.)

            Thus, the big VW logo on Wolfsburg’s shirts (which I doubt stands for Vera Wang) is an advertising logo, although VW owns the club and the CEO of VW is the club chairman.

            It depends on what you include but a US women’s soccer club-team could run on $3m a year, and possibly as little as $2m. For Starbucks or Microsoft to sponsor a ladies soccer club would be chicken feed. Indeed, were they to start a women’s club for the benefit of their employees, they could apply to FIFA for their names to be allowed! World news indeed and marketing magic.

  • jasperjenkins

    Another interesting question is whether any other federations will want to step in with support for some of their national team players in the league. There’s already a significant number of Australian and Spanish internationals here, and I could see a scenario where several Caribbean federations band together to support a pool of their players. Good players from teams that miss out on the World Cup and Olympics will be highly valuable to teams over the next two years.

    • Anonymous

      Why would Australia or Spain support the NWSL over their own Womens Football leagues?

      • jasperjenkins

        The Australian season runs opposite to NWSL and plenty of players do double-duty to get more games and income, so it would be easy to formalize the arrangement. Spain was more just an observation that there are a lot of Spanish internationals in the league (and several big names, at that)… why are they here instead of in their own league?

      • GT

        Australia’s season is the opposite of ours, so they dovetail nicely.

  • https://www.youtube.com/user/JigsawWill Jigsawwill

    Some of these question aren’t complicated to me.

    Of course there should be a break in the season next year for the World Cup and the league should use the WC to their advantage. They should be thrilled a
    World Cup year is coming up. I am worried about FOX’s coverage though.
    They only do well with the NFL in my opinion. ESPN would have been great.

    If Seattle Sounders FC were to some how merge in the Seattle Reign than attendance numbers would triple for the Reign at CenturyLink Field.
    No doubt in my mind. Reign vs Thorns games would become the BIG match
    every year and the better internationals would want to come play for
    those two teams in particular. Overall it would be great for the league.

    I think getting other federations to help with the league could be interesting but US Soccer has to be the main contributor.

    • Lindsay

      I agree about the Fox Soccer. I am happy its televised but I do wish it was with ESPN because they did a great job with the men’s WC

      • Guest

        x3 about not being pleased with Fox Soccer coverage. ESPN did great with WC2011 and fantastic with WC2014. Ian Darke could call my life anytime. Would a merger with Seattle Sounders mean a name change for the Reign? It doesn’t seem like a step backwards to reduce the number of teams for 2015. There are better soccer markets than New Jersey and Boston. A potential expansion to LA in 2016 would be fantasic

        • JL

          If the Reign were to join with the Sounders, they wouldn’t have to change their name. They couldn’t even become the Sounders Women due to MLS being an Adidas league and the NWSL being a Nike league. It’s why the Thorns couldn’t use the Timbers name, and why DC United Women had to change their name to the Spirit.

          • Observer

            And who would want the Thorns to use the Timbers name anyway? At least in retrospect. Same with the Dash.

          • Steglitz49

            Anyone for Woodpeckers Wanderers?

          • TsovLoj

            I still think Houston Dash sounds like a level in a Sonic game.

          • Steglitz49

            The name of the combined team is self-evident: Seattle United Ladies FC.

            Adidas dress the Nadeshiko and Adidas made out like bandits in the WC just finished. Adidas dressed both the champions and runners up in WC-14. Nike dressed the losing semi-finalists.

          • Observer

            Steg, give up on “ladies”. It’s never going to fly in the US. Historically, an American lady is thought of as dainty, submissive, and willingly subordinate to her (or any) man; not the qualities of a footballer. If we must have a gender label for teams, it will be “women”, but why must we? Would you really prefer “Lady Timbers” to “Thorns” or “Dynamo Ladies” to “Dash”? The Timbers name connects with the local history of logging; “Thorns” plays on Portland’s nickname of “the Rose City”. Surely there are clever people in every franchise who can come up with similarly apt names for any team that feels the need for a new moniker. (Also, in fairness, if we have the Timbers Women, we should also have the Timbers Men – I don’t think that’s going to happen.)

          • Silver Frost

            We don’t have gentlemen’s soccer, so why would we have ladies soccer? You’re right about the quaint 19th century feel of using the more formal “ladies”.

          • Steglitz49

            It is the LPGA not WPGA.

          • Observer

            Yes, exactly – that’s golf, which, even in the Tiger era, clings to its aura of elitism and gentility. It’s the exception that proves the rule.

          • TsovLoj

            Agreed, Observer. “Lady” has connotations in American English that just don’t make sense for this. I also agree with that last aside.

          • Steglitz49

            Americans use gender when they mean sex.

          • Steglitz49

            I am a bear of little brain and only sought a unifying name. Seattle United seemed reasonable while using an L rather than a W felt better on the tongue. If they played in bright yellow, they could be the Sulfurs or, if you prefer (though I doubt it) the Sulfurettes.

            Now seeing as the NWSL play quite a few matches midweek, they could the the Seattle Wednesdays but I would steer clear of the Seattle Monday Club.

          • Lorehead

            No, they’d buy back the name Seattle Sounders Women, a team that’s been successful since 2001. Failing that, they’d just buy the Reign and keep the name. Why would they rename the most popular men’s soccer team in the U.S.?

          • Kevin Bensel

            They can’t use the name “Sounders,” as adidas (MLS sponsor) wouldn’t allow it. It’s a non-starter.

            Also, the ownership of the Seattle Sounders had no interest in the NWSL. The bid for the Seattle team was between Predmore (who won) and the owner of the Sounders Women / Sounders U-23s, who have no connection to the Sounders owners other than licensing the name.

          • Lorehead

            That can’t be true, since the Sounders Women are active in the W-league. I believe that what they could not do is use the same kit in a Nike league.

          • romel dias

            no…the fact was that the two Sounders teams are independent organisations…the Sounders organisation wasn’t interested and the Women’s team was the competing pitch alongside Predmore’s and hence even though he reached out to check on a possible partnership after he got the go ahead…the Sounders Women’s team wasn’t interested. Hence no Sounders branding!

            Not saying either of them were wrong or right…its just how it happened

          • Lorehead

            To restate my point, the fact that the Seattle Sounders Women exist in a different league proves that it is possible for a team called the Seattle Sounders Women to exist in another league.

            I might actually have been the source of this misunderstanding; I posted a while back that a likely reason the Thorns are the Thorns was that they could not have used the Timbers’ kits in a Nike league. I’m sure the Timbers and Sounders did not sign over their names and logos.

          • romel dias

            ah! okay :)

        • Sam Clarkson

          Why kick Boston to the curb? Until this season it’s had outstanding attendance almost always selling out Dilboy, the less than stellar field they had last year. Harvard turned out to be too big, Breakers schedule is stupid with a 6 week break of no home games, certainly worst in NWSL and management has been inept. The GM says a rebuild is in the planning stage which given that he’s the one who took the team where it is now leaves me wondering what he’s planning to do. The only good thing is it can’t get much worse.

          • Paul Revere

            Maybe he’ll get Fenway. LOL.

          • Sam Clarkson

            Why wouldn’t that surprise me…

          • romel dias

            Apparently the 6 weeks break was due to the unavailability of Harvad stadium!

          • Sam Clarkson

            I was a little shocked to find out you are 100% correct. Another moronic decision by the Breakers management.

          • Steglitz49

            S/he usually is.

  • JD

    The World Cup will be a good thing. Take a break, and come back and get the WC boost. Go into September, maybe start a bit earlier also, though the cold might hurt that. IF there is an expansion, Canada would be great, especially with the WC in Canada.

    • Paulson

      Portland is such a soccer city. Fans will turn out no mater what.
      I think we can give Alex Morgan to Houston next year to develop the league.

      • My2cents

        Problem is getting her to go there and play. The climate and the crowds are too enticing, especially when the last regular season game will be a sell-out, 20,000 plus fans.

      • mockmook

        Houston doesn’t need Morgan — of course, like any team, they would want her — but, Ohai can be Houston’s Morgan.

        Plus, they have many other quality players (many who never even played because of injuries).

        They already play some of the most compelling soccer in the NWSL.

    • jasperjenkins

      It’ll be very difficult to expand the season much beyond the current bounds with the low salary cap, because numerous players go to other leagues or coach during the NWSL off-season to supplement their meager incomes. I’d prefer to see a slightly shorter season than to stretch it and lose more players who can’t afford to miss out on off-season job/playing opportunities. Attendance also takes a big hit in the early season (as it does for MLS), so starting earlier could have a worse effect on team revenues than a slightly shorter season once gameday expenses are factored in.

      • My2cents

        What they could do to generate more money for salaries, is to set-up games between a couple of NWSL teams a couple of weeks before the season starts. Since Portland and Houston have their own stadiums, they could be played there(only selected them to keep the costs down) All the profits earned from the two games goes into the salary pool. And if they can get the games broadcasted on ESPN, then it will give the league good exposure before the season begins. Of course, the teams that are playing would have to do it without their allocated National team players.

        • Steglitz49

          Who wants to watch practice games? Granted, Real Madrid vs Inter Milan or Barcelona vs Man Utd exhibitions would draw crowds but NWSL training matches?

  • Elaine

    The thing that I’m questioning regarding other women’s league around the world is how do they survive financially. Yes the German league has Allianz as a major sponsor, but do we know if they are making any profit out of the league. I don’t believe their attendance numbers across the league or even merchandise sales exceed what the NWSL has done so far. Same with the French and Swedish leagues. The only difference I see is the support by the oh so profitable success of their men’s clubs, and maybe rich owners/sponsors who don’t mind taking losses. Both are lacking here in the US.

    As far as next season, I would like to see a 10th team in the league, play home/away games against each team (18 games per team), start early April, break for the World Cup, and resume in the middle of July.

    • Rdalford

      Agree that home/away (play each team twice) based schedule and even number of teams (as you I hope for ten teams but dropping back to 8 would also work for me) so no need for bye weeks along with break for World Cup is the best/most practical 2015 schedule option.

    • Steglitz49

      Attendance in Europe on the whole is poor. Germany probably has the best attendance but it is still below that which was seen in Sweden 10 years ago. Meanwhile attendance in Sweden collapsed and bottomed out after WC-11 (and Euro-13) but is still a fraction of them hazy lazy crazy days of glory.

      The vast majority of women who play soccer in Europe earn next to nothing. The Schelins and Necibs are the exceptions that prove the rule. Funding is getting better in the countries with big leagues and it is starting to tell.

      The last men’s semi-professional club-team to win a major European trophy was about 25-30 years ago. For the women, it probably was Umeå 10 years ago.

      In short, women’s soccer in Europe lives off hand-outs. The crusts of bread and rinds of cheese and other crumbs may come from the rich men’s clubs’ tables or the country’s FA itself or simply local government who thinks girls doing sports is “a good thing”.

      There is nothing like the NCAA and the whole college system in Europe, the more is the pity.

  • SN

    I’m legitimately concerned about restarting the league too soon following the WC. A tournament like that takes so much out of players physically and even emotionally that they will require a break. These players (NT members of Germany, Japan, US, Canada, etc.) are gonna return to their clubs and potentially see the players that knocked them out or beat them in the final. At least the men get some time to process before returning to their clubs.

  • Will Davis

    I wondered how these teams could afford their extravagant itineraries, criss-crossing the country, sometimes twice a week, and it turns, well, except for Portland, they can’t. The owners are either in it for charity or consider their franchises to be investments that will pan out in the long run. The future of the league depends on how deep the owners’ pockets are and how long it will take to get to profitability. At least Portland proves it can be done. It still amazes me though that a city in the same part of the country with a similar demographic, Seattle, gets only about a quarter of the turnout that Portland does. Also, why do the Sounders get about ten times the attendance of the Reign? Maybe it will take a few years for the public to realize that the women’s game is as much fun to watch as the men’s. If you look at the sport of tennis, for example, attendance figures for men’s and women’s events are roughly comparable, and there’s no reason to believe soccer can’t be the same. Of course, women’s tennis has been around since the 19th century, hopefully soccer won’t take that long to gain acceptance.

    • jasperjenkins

      The short answer for the Reign vs. Thorns is that Portland is affiliated with the Timbers, which provides a huge advantage in terms of marketing, name recognition, media, etc. The same thing happened back in the day with the ABA vs. the WNBA. The original Seattle Reign were owned by an independent group and drew ~3000 per game, and then a few years later the Storm came in under the Sonics ownership and drew 10,000. No change in demographics, just a ton more awareness thanks to being part of a larger group that has more resources.

      Portland also has more pent-up demand for soccer due to having a smaller stadium, and aside from the Timbers there are no other major sports teams playing in town during the summer that compete for wallets and eyes.

      • guest

        It’s really obvious how much it helps to be affiliated with an MLS team when you look at the attendance numbers the Sounders Women were averaging when they had the NT stars in 2012 and the numbers the Reign pulled last year when they were an unknown entity, using Starfire as the base for both teams. This year the Reign are still an unknown entity, mostly because of the limited amount of money they can spend on marketing, although they’ve done better with their new location and greatly improved their average attendance numbers. The Reign are literally creating a fan base from scratch and if I’m not mistaken, they have the best attendance record for a team not affiliated with an MLS team this year. If they had even half the resources the Thorns do by affiliation they’d be at least selling out Memorial at 6,000 people per game. The market is there, it’s just not being reached, yet.

        • romel dias

          The Sounders Women and the Sounders are two completely different organisations btw! Just that they share the name…so that theory doesn’t hold…

          Its just that the Sounders brand is one that is recognisable now

          • guest

            Actually, during that particular season the Sounders were pretty involved with the women’s team. Technically they aren’t affiliated, but the main Sounders website ran stories pretty frequently and had Sounders Women gear in their pro-shop. They had members of the supporter’s groups show up to games because of the promotion from the Sounders.

      • Steglitz49

        Your point that “there are no other major sports teams playing in town during the summer that compete for wallets and eyes” is well taken. In its glory days, Umeå was the only team in town and an 18-year old Marta went there to play.

        Those were the days. In the early days of ladies soccer in Europe, most teams were independent outfits most of which have gone to the wall by now. Since the Chairman of Lyon upped the ante and started putting serious money into the ladies side, other teams have followed suit not just the Emir.

  • Rufan

    “Furthermore, will every team be back? Multiple team owners say they are not completely convinced that every team will return – citing attendance and lack of revenue in some markets – a fear that circles back to some of the third-year burdens for women’s leagues of yesteryear.”
    I go to the SB games and wonder about the club’s economics and how it survives on attendance half of the WPS years. I suspect it reduced its player payroll for this year, its rent was cut last year by Rutgers by 60% to $4K per game, and I wonder if any team staff is covered by Tom H’s main business. I t may be that the revenue share by Portland covers the difference.

    • slc1997

      Half the revenue from WPS days, but quarter of the budget of WPS Sky Blue.

  • Rdalford

    USWNT v Switzerland game in Cary, NC is SOLD OUT (10k capacity) on first day of public ticket sells. Well done USA soccer fans.

    • Steglitz49

      Why did they not use Sir Purr’s stadium?

  • thedude1500

    So many thoughts here: First, in the early years of MLS, it was on the brink of collapse a couple of times, including two folded teams (Tampa Bay and Miami). Second, always that resistance to women’s team sports. This is something like the third women’s pro soccer league. Several leagues came and went in women’s basketball before the WNBA, and it’s not completely secure.
    Things are getting better with both those factors.
    Third: Building awareness. That’s called marketing and that takes $$$. I am sure there are a lot of people in NWSL cities that don’t even know their local teams exist, and a lot of them can be potential attendees. The WWC will help. If the casual fan finds out a WWC player is with the local team, that person might just plunk down $$$ for tickets. There still needs to be a lot of tub thumping, using both old and new media to attract fans. As MLS tickets are starting to get too expensive for most people, the NWSL is still affordable. That’s a positive selling point.
    Finally, I see a lot of people commenting about European leagues here. While it is important to see what works and what doesn’t elsewhere and apply the lessons learned, this is not European women’s football. Let the NWSL grow organically. The MLS trying to become more “European” in recent years has had its ups and downs (People knew what a Kansas City Wizards was. They are still trying to figure out what a Sporting Kansas City is. I would like to see the MLS do away with divisions and go to a balanced league schedule. Once it gets beyond about 30 teams, I’d like to see an MLS Premier and an MLS Championship with promotion and relegation).
    When things get stabilized, I’d like to see an Open Cup for women.

    • Guest

      >promotion and relegation in MLS

      Glad to know I don’t have to take your opinion seriously

  • AlexH

    I think the NWSL should focus on only 1 thing- survival through next year. Whatever it takes I will support and I am ready to accept that it will probably be something goofy and unorthodox.

    As a fan, the thing I would most like to see is players that have good club seasons get rewarded with call ups to the national team. As somebody that does not live within 1000 miles from any team, the league has to serve a purpose other than giving the incumbent players somebody to warm up against for me and people like me to maintain interest.

    • GT

      A little of that is already happening (i.e. Allie Long and Erica Timrac).

  • Justin Prazak

    Great article!

    1. I’ve been wondering for a while if it’s possible to pitch club deals with other federations. For instance couldn’t certain countries fund only one or two of their national team players to play for a particular club or clubs. This way other countries could benefit from having their players play against the USWNT players regularly without the level of financial commitment that the US is taking (or Canada or Mexico).

    2. For anyone on here who is also on facebook, please look up and join “National Women’s Soccer League Supporters” group. We are less than a month old, and growing daily with fans all over talking about NWSL and the women’s game.

  • Guest

    When it Reigns it pours. #5— DeAndre Yedlin (@yedlinny) July 28, 2014

  • GT

    Why don’t they just move the schedule next year to after the World Cup? Let’s say 7/15-11/15?