The NWSL announced in late January that the league would stop operations in Boston, folding one of the first pillar teams of the NWSL league, the Boston Breakers. Rumours spread only one week before the 2018 NWSL draft that the new buyer for the team just recently dropped out of the contract. With that, only 9 teams remain in the league, 3 short of the 12 team league expansion idea that has been circulating for years.
So, what gives?
The North American league is home to some of the most prized women’s soccer federations in the world. The United States National team is ranked #1 in the World, growing off of their 2015 World Cup victory. The Canadian National team is climbing steadily from back to back bronze medal wins in both London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympics. The United States National team manages to pull minimum 10,000 fans, and an upwards of 30,000 for their matches on home soil, some of which are played in cities that have NWSL teams(“USWNT Results”). Soccer is one of the most played sports for women in North America (Kelly and Carchia, 2013). There are 333 division one women’s soccer teams in the NCAA, which is only 19 fewer schools than the number of D1 Men’s Basketball programs in the collegiate association.
The players and fans are there- so what’s the problem?
Like any other platform fostering women’s growth, men need to be supportive of the changing tide. In workplaces where men are pushing women to equal standards of pay and job opportunity, women are thriving. So how does that work for soccer?
Ding Ding Ding. The MLS.
The MLS started as a small league, housing a mere 10 teams in 1988 (sounds familiar). As a fun aside, the league only came after the US. Soccer federations right to host the 1994 World Cup and with that a whole bunch of foreign dollars flowed into US Soccer (Pyne). In 2018, the league now has 23 teams! WOWZA.
Now, some MLS teams are doing their part to support their women’s counterparts, similar to how US Soccer and city tax dollars did for them long ago. Dell Loy Hansen owns both the men’s and women’s professional sides in Salt Lake City. He is providing the women’s side, Utah Royals FC the same facilities and extras as the men’s program, Real Salt Lake. Other MLS teams, like Toronto FC, are not interested in hosting a women’s professional team, even though they are able to offer the highest salaries of any club. Even more so, the team has ties through money and facilities to the city government (yikes). So, what gives?
Does the push need to come from FIFA, like it did years ago for the men? Or can men’s teams help our women’s programs get off the ground? If we treat our women and their teams like real professional athletes and clubs, the fans will come. We can see the rare case of flourishing women’s teams like the Portland Thorns who get more fans per game then some NBA teams (Murray, 2017). Unfortunately for other non-MLS attached teams like Washington Spirit and Sky-Blue FC, they may only be a few steps behind Boston.
Murray, Caitlin. “A Blueprint for Women’s Sports Success. But Can It Be Copied?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 13 Oct. 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/10/13/sports/soccer/portland-thorns-nwsl.html.
Kelley, Bruce, and Carl Carchia. “”Hey, data data — swing!”.” ESPN, ESPN Internet Ventures, 11 July 2013, www.espn.com/espn/story/_/id/9469252/hidden-demographics-youth-sports-espn-magazine.
Pyne. “A short history of MLS – MLSGB.” MLSGB, mlsgb.com/a-short-history-of-mls/.
“Results & Statistics.” USWNT Scores & Match Results – U.S. Soccer, www.ussoccer.com/womens-national-team/results-statistics.