The third iteration of top-level professional women's soccer in the United States since 2000 now officially has a name and logo. Unveiled at halftime of Saturday's friendly between the U.S. Women's National Team and China, the new league will be called the National Women's Soccer League. The NWSL's inaugural season kicks off mid-April 2013, eight teams will play 22 game schedules with the season wrapping up in October. With no major domestic league after the collapse of Women's Professional Soccer (WPS) in early 2012, the league is hoping to keep the focus on women's soccer in North America after this past summer's Olympic tourney, with a look forward to the next major international event, the FIFA Women's World Cup, which will take place in 2015 in six venues across Canada.
The names and stadiums for the inaugural eight teams (four of whom were in WPS) are:
Boston Breakers: Dilboy Stadium (capacity: 2,500)
Chicago Red Stars: Benedictine University Sports Complex (3,000)
FC Kansas City "The Blues": venue TBA, LIVESTRONG Sporting Park (18,467) is being considered
Portland Thorns FC: JELD-WEN Field (20,438)/University of Portland's Merlo Field (4,892)
Seattle (rumored that 'Sirens FC', 'Reign FC', or just 'Seattle FC' are contenders): venue TBA
Sky Blue FC (NYC-area): Rutgers University's Yurcak Field (5,000)
Washington Spirit: Maryland Soccerplex Championship Stadium (5,100)
Western New York Flash: Sahlen's Stadium (13,768)
With many of the venues with capacities over 6,000 so far, the smaller capacities should assist in keeping fans closer together, aiding in creating a better fan atmosphere and will hopefully help drive up demand. Fan retention was a major issue for WUSA and WPS, the strategy of marketing to families never panned out though both league's runs were so short there wasn't really enough time to see if that strategy could provide long-term success. However, one can look at the struggles of Major League Soccer, the top domestic men's league started its run in 1996 with a similar focus, but has seen strong fan retention as it attempted to foster stronger relationships with supporters groups, loyal fan organizations who help to create that sought after soccer atmosphere and tend to spend significant amounts of money on their specific clubs. Veteran U.S. player Joanna Lohman, who will play in NWSL, wrote this article for Soccerwire.com outlining the pitfalls of the "soccer mom" strategy and her ideas to help cultivate a better fan culture for the new league.
After the failed runs of the Women's United Soccer Association (2001-2003) and Women's Professional Soccer (2009-2011), the funding structure of the new league will be significantly different. While each individual team will have an independent owner, some player costs will be subsidized by the soccer federations of the U.S., Mexico, and Canada. Mexico and Canada are expected to have 16 national team players from each nation's national team, including Canadian National Team captain Christine Sinclair.
The U.S. National Team is expected to provide up to 24 players for the league, though it appears that with the collapse of the last two leagues, some USWNT players are still hesitant to commit. Though some national team players, like Sydney Leroux, have committed to playing in NWSL, clearly, the U.S. Soccer Federation has some work to do to earn the trust of the American players.
There are options for these players to play and make decent money overseas, as countries like France, Germany, Sweden, and Norway all have stable pro and semi-pro leagues with decades of history behind them. England's Football Association recently began a semi-pro league that is being projected to become fully professional down the line. As part of the European leagues, there is also the opportunity for clubs to earn a chance to play in the UEFA Women's Champions League.
So it's up to the federations to not only offer competitive salaries but to ensure a high competition level and also to show them that these teams won't suddenly close up shop mid-season, a situation U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo experienced as a player for WPS' St. Louis Athletica.
With the federations covering salaries for 7 or 8 players on each roster of 18-20, it will help the teams remain financially stable as it attempts to grow and outlast the three season runs of both of its predecessors. The plan is, eventually, the federations will be able to phase out their subsidies as the league and its franchises will have created enough revenue streams to cover all their operating costs.
No word yet on tv coverage but hopefully we'll see the league take after the men's lower division leagues, the North American Soccer League & USL Pro, both of whom have made a push to have every game streamed, for free, online. The league's official site will be launched soon, but for now they're active on facebook and twitter.
Brandon Gee can be reached at his email: email@example.com or on twitter @UTPbrandon.