Follow the money Team USA

As America celebrates its heroes from the Women’s World Cup, the real key to the month of success on the soccer pitch will be on the fields of the U.S., in such towns as Kansas City and Atlanta.

Now that Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Tobin Heath and company have dominated the world on behalf of the nation, it’s time to see if anyone will show up to see them when they’re not repping for the Stars and Stripes.

This is the challenge that’s truly bigger than the world, too, because it’s the future, in the attendance figures of the National Women’s Soccer League.

The nation fell in love with Team USA’s players as a unit, but will that translate into more paid ticket sales and sponsors for the league the players star in?

Getting better or even equal pay from the U.S. Soccer Federation seems very logical for the top players, but getting better pay for the breadth of the NWSL’s players will be the greater success of the World Cup win.

One of those keys to success has actually happened, too - the NWSL has a beer sponsor.

As the U.S. was beating The Netherlands in France on Sunday, the league announced Budweiser had become its first beer sponsor and will attach its name to a host of elements such as the championship game.

A check of the league website shows Budweiser adds a significant sense of legitimacy to the league along with Nike. The three other NWSL sponsors are Cutter, which is an insect repellent, Thorne, which produces supplements, and Lifetime Network, although it doesn’t seem to have much if any involvement in airing league matches. ESPN will air matches on ESPN2 and ESPN News for the remainder of the season.

Budweiser is a step the NWSL has needed, and the Team USA players should address directly because that’s where the future of the professional games lies. And, women need to recognize that because equal pay requires equal results within capitalism. Kansas City can be a valuable asset in this arena. Atlanta, too.

During the World Cup final the FOX broadcast switched to a party being held in a public section of Kansas City that attracted a reported 10,000 fans. It was a wild atmosphere worthy of such an event. Kansas City officials used the party to promote the city as a host site for men’s World Cup headed for North American in 2026.

Kansas City is a great soccer town, evident by 10,000 fans showing up to watch Team USA win the World Cup. But, where is the town on women’s soccer? It had one, but it folded and its players moved to Salt Lake City, Utah to form the Utah Royals FC.

Atlanta joined the MLS in 2017 and immediately set the soccer world on fire with its raucous crowds at Mercedes Benz Stadium. The team led the league in attendance its opening year and set a record of 53,000 fans per game in 2018 on the way to winning the league title. Atlanta does not have a team in the NWSL.

And, moving across sport lines, Portland has some women’s equality issues to deal with, too - in basketball. For all his wealth, the late Paul Allen didn’t have much passion for the Rose City in terms of women’s sports. Allen owned the Portland Fire in the early years of the WNBA, but folded the team after only three seasons (2000-02) because of economics. It was an era when the Blazers were losing a tremendous amount of money due to luxury tax issues, and Allen’s company was on the way to filing for bankruptcy from just running the Rose Garden.

A women’s team in the WNBA would seem like a solid economic gamble these days considering the University of Oregon and Oregon State have some of the best attended games in women’s basketball these days, and win on the court regularly. Would Portland’s basketball fans support the Portland Fire the way its soccer fans support the Thorns? Portland would be a great market for the WNBA, and in the process serve as a step forward for women’s pro sports if it works economically.

Team USA can beat the world in the World Cup and in the Olympic Games, but can its players survive as professionals within their own league? It requires fans in seats.

Of the NWSL’s nine teams, only Portland and Utah, which features Team USA players such as Becky Sauerbrunn, Kelley O’Hara and Christen Press, average more than 10,000 fans per game. The other seven teams aren’t past 5,000 fans per game even though they also have Team USA players on their rosters.

Fans in seats, eyes on screens, sponsors on jerseys and beyond.

Team USA’s stars have earned some celebration time in the very near future, but they need to capitalize on this momentum to make the NWSL a stronger league, which is how women’s soccer, and women’s pro sports, will truly win going into the future.

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