Six reasons why the NWSL will make it

[PREVIEW] What's to believe that the National Women's Soccer League, American soccer's third attempt at a women's pro league, will be any different than the first two? WUSA and WPS, were launched with great fanfare in 2001 and 2009, but were spectacular failures. Here are six reasons why we believe the NWSL will make it ...

1. ALEX MORGAN. WUSA had Mia Hamm and the women's stars of 1999 and WPS had Brazilian Marta. The NWSL has a host of young American stars, but none like Morgan, who has 42 goals for the USA in her first 65 games. Morgan, who will play for the Portland Thorns, is still only 23, so fans across the NWSL will be able to watch as she surely becomes the greatest women's player in the world, greater than Hamm ever was and as good as Marta was at her peak.

2. MERRITT PAULSON. WUSA had John Hendricks, founder and chairman of Discovery Communications, WPS had, well, the infamous Dan Borislow, and the NWSL has Merritt Paulson, the most colorful of the new breed of MLS owner, who has thrown his wildly successful Portland Timbers organization behind the Portland Thorns FC, whose season-ticket total was approaching 7,000 as the season was about to start. Paulson is an optimistic guy, but even those ticket figures were not what he expected when he threw his hat in the ring.

3. NO ONE-HIT WONDER. By the time WUSA launched in 2001, some of the allure of women's soccer had already worn off from the widely successful 1999 Women's World Cup. Crowds for women's international matches began to dip in 2000. Interest in the women's national team has remained strong since the latest uptick, beginning with the excitement generated by the 2011 Women's World Cup.

4. U.S. SOCCER. WUSA had the backing of cable operators, but the league quickly burned through its seed money. WPS's name investor, AEG, bailed after one season, and other owners quickly followed. U.S. Soccer launched this latest venture. Its financial support -- underwriting the salaries of national team players -- means that teams can operate with minimal salary budgets -- about $200,000 a year. And U.S. Soccer isn't likely to give up easily. It has too much at stake to allow its reputation to be tarnished by another failure. It also brings a lot to the table -- beginning with the pool of national team stars.

5. EUROPEAN COMPETITION. Neither WUSA nor WPS perceived European leagues as much competition. Indeed, teams in WUSA and WPS raided big European clubs of many of the best players. European leagues are now stronger and the NWSL doesn't offer the money clubs in its predecessors did to attract foreign players, so there's a bit of a role reversal. Some of the USA's best players -- notably Christen Press in Sweden -- haven't joined the NWSL, and others like -- Megan Rapinoe and Tobin Heath -- are playing in France until the summer. European competition will mean NWSL clubs will need to work hard in terms of offering playing and training opportunities if it wants to be competitive and keep the best American players.
6. LOWERED EXPECTATIONS. Perhaps the best thing the NWSL has going for it is lowered expectations. There's no national television contract, so there's no chance the league will be slammed when the ratings are minuscule. All the teams -- with the possible exception of Thorns FC -- are starting small. Salaries paid by the clubs themselves for the five-month league will range from $6,000 to $30,000. Budgets are about a third of those in WPS. "Sustainability" for Washington is 3,000 paying fans a game, according to its owner, Bill Lynch. Everything WUSA and WPS -- especially WUSA -- did was immediately compared to MLS. That's not going to be a problem with the NWSL.

14 comments about "Six reasons why the NWSL will make it".
  1. John Munnell, April 12, 2013 at 8:57 a.m.

    Hey, I love Alex Morgan for so many things, some for which I should probably be ashamed of at my age. ;-) But I also love Megan Rapinoe, Christen Press, and the new right back coming up through the ranks whose name I can't remember just now. And while Mia is a reasonable compare for Alex, given style and position, that's still a high bar yet to be reached. But Marta? Alex simply can't and won't ever do what Marta can do. And with all this "greatest player in the world" hyperbole, you didn't see fit to even mentioned the irresistible force that is Abby? Alex is certainly one of the great reasons to support and hope for the NWSL...but silly declarations don't do her or the league any service.

  2. F. Kirk Malloy, April 12, 2013 at 10:07 a.m.

    Well Mr. Kennedy, you certainly didn't raise the bar too high with that assessment. The reality is, when you're competing with sports fans' attention (and dollars) in the US market you better produce an engaging, entertaining product. For too long US soccer (men's and women's) have empahsized individual "athleticism" over technique and speed of play. With US soccer fans now exposed to world class soccer via the EPL and Champion's League matches, the soccer bar has been raised. NWSL needs to focus on sophisticated, technical play to capture and retain US soccer viewers. The Spanish national team and Barcellona have definitively demonstrated the competitive advantage of true team play, and neither team focuses on individual size and athleticism. To the contrary, their focus is on speed of play and teamwork, qualities that well trained women can master just as well as men. Once they do, and produce a much more entertaining brand of soccer, viewers (and dollars) will follow. In the meanwhile, I wish the new league the best of luck and I'll be watching. I hope many join me.

  3. feliks fuksman, April 12, 2013 at 10:11 a.m.


  4. Dan Murphy, April 12, 2013 at 10:41 a.m.

    Good point Kirk. Women's soccer was always more fundamentally sound then the men's power/speed European boom-ball styles of olde, but now those tables have turned completely. The women are more than capable, but there has to be leadership from the top, and I just don't see it. With no SE team, watching from the Atl will be next to impossible with no TV deal!
    And talk about the leadership that cannot get out of their own way... just check out Portland's secondary sponsor: a mattress company placed on the back of the jersey! Now they will forever be the Fightin' Mattress-backs. Good grief! Best of luck Alex, you'll need it. Rooting from afar

  5. Liz Shulz, April 12, 2013 at 10:55 a.m.

    Comparing Alex Morgan to Marta is a far stretch in my opinion. Alex Morgan will never be as complete a player as either Marta or Mia Hamm.

  6. John Schubert, April 12, 2013 at 11:08 a.m.

    Unfortunately, without a TV contract this means only people living in the communities where the teams play will have the opportunity to see games. I don't live in one of those communities. Hopefully, a National TV contract will occur in the future. In the meantime I will have to enjoy games by watching the National Team play on TV.

  7. Kevin Parker, April 12, 2013 at 12:17 p.m.

    I think #4 and #6 are the keys here - the US Soccer support takes a huge load off the owners, and the reduced expectations (and therefore costs) make the bottom line much more reachable.

  8. Luis P. KIFUTSAL, April 12, 2013 at 1:45 p.m.

    MLS Soccer suck big time, imagine NWSL? Despite the fact, soccer is the #1 sport among kids from 5 to 18, culturally they don't watch the game live nor through TV as much as they should have. If they don't have a women's team locally and no TV showing the national pro women's league, how can you get them hooked to the sponsors if they don't go to the stadium nor watch the game on TV? FYI - In Brazil, kids up to 12 don't pay to watch any sport event. In all sports, especially club soccer players from any age don't pay to watch live soccer anywhere in Brazil and soccer games are free daily on normal open TV from Brazilian leagues and the most important leagues in the world. If they can't get the game free, they find online free! They watch no matter what! Scoring goals for any team does not mean you are a great player overall speaking. Comparing any player from the past to the present player, a huge mistake. Mia was Mia. Marta is Marta. Alex is and will be Alex. No comparisons, please! Let the girl dream as big as she can, and let the non-player do the stats. Alex is to NWSL what Donovan is to MLS and leave like that! Stats are just stats! Numbers sometimes fool you! Where is the next 'American' Pele' Fred Adu at? He is packing his bag to experience the Brazilian soccer at EC Bahia, and if he could not survive playing the American soccer, I have my doubts he will be retiring very soon in Brazil! You compared the boy to Pele, you simply killed him all together! You start to compare Alex to Mia or even Marta, you will create expectations that in many ways are impossible to be met! Let it be...

  9. Bruce Gowan, April 12, 2013 at 1:50 p.m.

    With National team funding from US, Canada and Mexico that will help the cost factor. Also not bringing in high priced foreign players will help the cost factor. I am a US womens soccer fan and I never once watched a game to see Marta or any of the other foreign players. I wanted to see the US players from Club and College play. I am not happy that Florida (20 million pop, three media centers) does not get a team.

  10. Raveen Rama, April 12, 2013 at 3:30 p.m.

    Well said, Mr. Oliveira!
    Concerning Adu, I am happy he is going to Brazil. I am hoping perhaps he will take this opportunity and enhance his talents there and become a complete player that many of us have been waiting for all these years.

  11. nick p, April 12, 2013 at 3:36 p.m.

    I think it's odd that the league didn't pick any other ownership groups that are also MLS team owners. The synergy between the Thorns and the Timbers is a big driving factor in their predicted attendance

  12. Bill Anderson, April 12, 2013 at 7 p.m.

    It won't work. Sorry, there is just not a sports market for women's TEAM athletics. Golf, Tennis, Gymnastics are all about the individual, and they are not terribly successful either on tv or in attendance.

  13. Jen West, April 13, 2013 at 8:17 p.m.

    The is no market for professional male whining about women's team sports. The ratings and ticket sales for the national team have been solid. Stop living in the Mad Men Era the rest of us have moved in sweetie.

  14. Bill Anderson, April 14, 2013 at 10:30 a.m.

    Jen, I have attended women's games, including the Women's World Cup Final at the Rose Bowl. I am a fan of the USWNT. I love and support soccer in all forms. I am just stating an opinion, you don't have to agree, but don't try and paint me as anti-woman because my opinion differs from yours. I'll just ask you to come on to this forum next year and admit that I was correct, not because I didn't support the league, but instead because the public did not support the league.

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