More thoughts on how to keep the NWSL sustainable

This article expands on a lot of topics already covered in this blog. What can the NWSL do to save women’s soccer in the United States.

The author, Caitlin Deruiter, makes 5 points that she thinks will keep the league running.

  • Establish a loyal fan base
  • Don’t move too fast
  • Find an inexpensive way to market the league
  • Consider partnerships with MLS teams
  • Seek alternative sources of revenue (other than tickets)

Other posts in this blog have discussed who could potentially be in the loyal fan base – young (mostly female) athletes that look up to these players and eventually bring their children to games. Starting at a young age, the parents will have to bring their children to the game, meaning more tickets. Then once those young athletes get older, they will hopefully do the same.

In terms of not moving too fast, the league has done a good job at keeping their expenses smaller scale, especially with the money they spend on stadiums, mentioned in the previous posts.

This blog has also touched on partnering with MLS teams. After the huge swell that the Houston team saw after support from their mens team – the Houston Dynamo – all teams should consider teaming up with their respective MLS teams and creating deals, promotions, any advertising ploy to get more people interested in women’s professional soccer.

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How the NWSL can attract their audiences

This article asks, how sustainable is the league really?

Even in its second season, a good amount of teams are uncertain in terms of long-term viability. Women’s sports just have not caught on in America.

The NWSL teams hold events such as soccer clinics to raise an interest for fan bases, something that you would never see a men’s team doing. Maybe they haven’t capitalized on what the CAN do for their fans. Explained here:

For the league to survive, it needs potential fans to understand that the game can offer so much that the men’s game doesn’t. Games are held at stadiums like the Spirit’s Maryland SoccerPlex, where the worst seat is eight rows above the field.

Women can appeal to young women athletes in ways that men could never do. You cant see a male athlete telling the youth athletes “Don’t ever change your heart!” which can mean a lot to a young athlete.

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NWSL’s promise to stay smaller with stadiums

One of the goals of the NWSL was not to go so big on the stadiums – bigger stadiums meant more expensive upkeep and payments to host soccer games. As of this year, their stadiums are soccer specific (for the most part) and a decent size.

Boston Breakers play on Harvard’s Stadium, a turf field with a capacity of 30,323 people, the highest in the league.

Chicago Red Stars play at the Sports Complex at Benedictine University which holds 3,600 people on the multi-purpose field.

The two already mentioned are the only multi-purpose fields, as they are aligned with universities in the area. The rest of the stadiums listed are soccer specific.

BVAA Compass Stadium which hosts Houston Dash's home games.

BVAA Compass Stadium which hosts Houston Dash’s home games.

FC Kansas City plays on the Verizon Wireless Field at Durwood Stadium, a Mondoturf field with a limit of 3,200 audience members.

Houston Dash plays on bermuda grass at the BBVA Compass Stadium with a capacity of 7,000.

Portland Thorns FC hosts their games at Providence Park with a higher capacity of 20,438.

Memorial Stadium is home to the Seattle Reign FC which can hold 6,000 people.

Sky Blue FC plays on Yurcak Field with a maximum audience of 5,000.

Washington Spirit play at the Maryland SoccerPlex which can hold 5,200 patrons.

Lastly, Western New York Flash play at Sahlen’s Stadium which holds almost 14,000

people on their soccer-specific field.

The MLS has stated that soccer specific stadiums will increase fan bases for clubs in the league, hopefully transferring that same fan base for women’s soccer.

This study by Adam Love that investigated the relationship between attendance and new soccer-specific stadiums. It concluded that building soccer-specific stadiums in the MLS has seen increased attendance for multiple teams. However, the costs associated with construction is something to be wary of.

 

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NWSL’s YouTube wrap up of the weekend

Screen shot 2014-04-22 at 7.42.17 PMThe weekend games saw decent YouTube views for all of the Saturday games.

 

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Sky Blue FC vs. Portland Thorns FC on YouTube

Sky Blue FC vs. Portland Thorns FC on YouTube

This game is being played currently, Saturday, April 19. The YouTube channel also features a sidebar where viewers can communicate with each other. In the last fourth of the game, almost 3,000 people were watching. Considering the length of soccer games, that is a good number for the last time frame of a game.

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Will a supportive MLS mean a sustainable NWSL

Houston Dash saw a crowd of 8,000 on their opening night because of their backing from the MLS team also housed in Houston, the Dynamo. A women’s team first came into the spotlight because of a tweet from Dynamo president Chris Canetti saying, “Tweet me back if u would support women’s pro soccer w/ season tix. Doing all I can to get a pulse on this from Houston. Research phase on.”

With that tweet came a large response, according to this article from Houston Business Journal. This begs the question, if all MLS teams got behind their “sister” teams in the NWSL, will attendance be higher? High enough to sustain the league?

Here is a rundown of the men’s and women’s teams in relative areas to each other:

  • Seattle Sounders (Men) and Seattle Reign (Women)
  • Portland Timbers (Men) and Portland Thorns FC (Women)

  • Houston Dynamo (Men) and Houston Dash (Women)

  • Sporting Kansas City (Men) and FC Kansas City (Women)

  • D.C. United (Men) and Washington Spirit (Women)
  • Chicago Fire (Men) and Chicago Red Stars (Women)

  • New England Revolution (Men) and Boston Breakers (Women)
  • New York Red Bulls (Men) and Sky Blue FC (Women) both in New Jersey

The only women’s team without a men’s team remarkably close to them is Western New York Flash (the closest men’s team is Toronto FC, almost two hours away).

Attendance in 2013 went down in the MLS, according to this article from SB Nation, but still very high in terms of an audience at soccer games. Here are the numbers from 2013:

  • Seattle Sounders: 44,038 average
  • Portland Timbers: 20,674 average

  • Houston Dynamo: 19,923 average

  • Sporting Kansas City: 19,709 average

  • D.C. United: 13,646 average
  • Chicago Fire: 15,228 average

  • New England Revolution: 14,844 average
  • New York Red Bulls: 19,461 average

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Teams are expanding, will the audience?

The NWSL seems to be expanding into more markets, as the Houston Dash have been added to the lineup of professional teams in the league. Gaining another team could mean that women’s professional soccer is holding on.

However, even if the league expands to 14 more teams, it wouldn’t matter unless the audience responds just as enthusiastically. They are, in part, what brings in a lot of the money. 

Thanks to social media, according to this site, players are able to connect more with their fans and create more of a following. A good amount of the league’s target market is going towards youth soccer players who can look up to the players as role models and then grow up and bring their eventual kids to games.

Attendance at Houston Dash’s first game as a member of the league at their home field reached 8,097 people on a Saturday night. They played 

The other game from that day, FC Kansas City vs. Sky Blue FC, seated 3,107 people at the Verizon Wireless Field at Durwood Stadium in Kansas. 

These numbers, added to the amount of YouTube hits that the games received, may be an indicator that the league will be sustained for at least another season.

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