How the NWSL can give Canada an entry point into women's professional soccer

How the NWSL can give Canada an entry point into women’s professional soccer

The good times continue to roll for the National Women’s Soccer League in 2022.

The NWSL kicked off its 10th season in April by welcoming a 12th team, LA-based Angel City FC, who, according to the Sports Business Journal, was worth $100 million before even a ball. cake

In July, WNBA legend Sue Bird and former New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning bought a minority stake in NJ/NY Gotham FC, joining a growing list of high-profile celebrities — already named tennis stars. Osaka, including NHLer Alex Ovechkin and the NBA’s Keon. Durant – who has invested in NWSL clubs.

Just last week, it was announced that the NWSL Championship Game will be televised in prime time on October 29th on CBS. Last year’s NWSL title game drew an impressive audience of 525,000 viewers on CBS, despite its noon ET start. The belief is that the league can attract an even bigger audience this time around

The NWSL is one of the hottest, fastest-growing sports leagues in North America, and everyone wants to get in on the action. The league is set to expand to 14 teams in 2024, with one of the two new slots likely going to Major League Soccer’s owners Real Salt Lake, who are in agreement to re-establish an NWSL team in Utah after Utah Royals FC. has the option Ceased operations in 2020. The league plans to announce its two new expansion markets before the end of 2022.

Could Toronto get another expansion franchise on offer? That’s one possibility, with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment reportedly one of several ownership groups with strong interest in acquiring a new NWSL team.

What will be interesting to see is what effect the presence of the NWSL in Canada will have on the country potentially launching its own domestic league, something Christine Sinclair and other members of the Canadian women’s team have been talking about for years. has been advocating passionately since.

“I hope we’ll see some investment in the women’s game. I think it’s about time Canada got a professional league or some professional teams, and if the gold medal doesn’t do that, nothing will. Now is the time for Canada to step up, Sinclair said shortly after her team’s gold medal win at the Tokyo Olympics last summer.

In May, Canada Soccer named former MLSE executive Brega Carr-Harris as head of women’s professional soccer. Canadian soccer’s governing body said the main goal of the new position is to “lead women’s professional soccer with a strong Canadian identity and prioritize the development of young Canadians.”

Central to this is the creation of Canada’s first, fully professional league. But such a project would take time to get off the ground, and Carr-Harris has refused to commit to a specific timeline in recent interviews.

That could leave a Canadian NWSL team to fill the void in the interim. This is not ideal for the development of women’s soccer in Canada. But until the country gets its own domestic league, it’s the best option available, according to former Canadian women’s team midfielder Amy Walsh.

Walsh, who earned 102 caps for Canada from 1997 to 2009, believes there is room for both in Canada.

“I think in the beginning it was pretty much presented as one or the other. Like, we need a tough domestic league, so something else was bad. But I think the Redback in a league like the NWSL To find success is a good thing. You’re getting your feet wet, and you’re giving some Canadian players opportunities,” Walsh told SportsNet.

“There’s no way around the fact that having an NWSL team in Canada is the easy way out. We shouldn’t be thumbing our noses at the thought of bringing the NWSL to Canada.”

At the same time, Walsh cautions that a Canadian NWSL team should not be a substitute for a country starting a domestic league.

“Compared to having our own league, the impact of a Canadian NWSL team would be smaller because it wouldn’t have the same impact on player development and deepening the Canadian player pool. But getting an NWSL team in Canada is a great first step. is because it will do a lot for the visibility of the women’s game, lift it up and continue the momentum that we got from Canada winning gold at the Olympics,” Walsh explained.

Orlando and Portland are examples of successful ownership groups that operate teams in both MLS and NWSL, so it should come as no surprise that MLSE, which owns Toronto FC, is said to be interested in an NWSL franchise.

Similar ownership situations exist in Spain, where a number of major La Liga clubs, including FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, have invested in fielding women’s teams. As a result, Spain’s Primera Division has become one of the best women’s leagues in the world.

“I think having a Canadian MLS team investing in an NWSL franchise is the best way forward. You look at the Spanish first division and how quickly it’s grown. It’s been a significant upward trajectory for the Spanish national team because Many of these players are playing at home, and the reason is that clubs like Barcelona and Real Madrid have invested in women’s football and piggybacked on the infrastructure. This is an example of how you can Build something for women’s football and the money and the market will follow,” Walsh said.

What’s more, given the NWSL’s growth, investing in an NWSL team makes good business sense, according to Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian. He and his wife, tennis icon Serena Williams, are lead investors in Angel City, whose ownership group features a litany of A-Listers, including Hollywood actress Natalie Portman. Ohanian is optimistic about the league’s future, and feels the NWSL offers more brand value than MLS teams.

“Investing in women’s sports isn’t just good for society — it’s great business. Save this tweet. Check out the receipts in a decade,” Ohanian posted on Twitter in 2020.

Katrina Galas, a women’s sports strategy consultant at Common Consulting, argues that ownership groups like Angel City are becoming common in the NWSL, and that this is leading to more celebrities being involved in the league.

“The NWSL has grown, there’s no denying it, and every indication is that it will continue to grow — not just as a league, but its teams as properties. You see teams like Angel City and their Investment groups see a lot of energy around what a sports ownership group might look like, but they’ve shown that it works,” Gallas told SportsNet.

“Angel City is not the only NWSL club following the ownership model. There are several others. And so, I think this approach has helped the teams grow, which in turn has helped the league grow.

About the author: John Molinaro is one of the leading soccer journalists in Canada, having covered the game for over 20 years for several media outlets, including Sportsnet, CBC Sports and Sun Media. He is currently the editor-in-chief of TFC Republic, a website dedicated to in-depth coverage of Toronto FC and Canadian soccer. TFC Republic can be found over here.

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