Quick History of the National Women’s Soccer League
For those of you not familiar, NWSL stands for “National Women’s Soccer League.” It’s the third attempt at a professional women’s soccer league in the United States; and it’s by far the most successful. Entering its sixth season, the league boasts nine franchises, many of which are partnered with current top American soccer brands.
Five members of the inaugural season are still with the league: Chicago Red Stars, Portland Thorns FC, Seattle Reign FC, Sky Blue FC, and Washington Spirit. While two teams have unfortunately folded recently, the league as a whole has expanded to nine teams overall; the most recent expansion coming to Salt Lake City, Utah. The newly formed Utah Royals FC are owned by MLS’ Real Salt Lake, a team entering a renaissance led by investing in all local soccer brands across the board. A quick peak at their website will give you an idea of the equal attention they give their men and women.
While all of the league’s success has come in the past decade, the seeds for women’s professional soccer triumph were planted long ago. Perhaps spawned partly because of the incredible efforts by the U.S. Women’s National Team on the world stage, the league’s continued perseverance has resulted in the creation of a training sanctuary for many on the national roster – a necessary step to insure continued success in the highly coveted (and profitable) Women’s World Cup. Top stars like Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, and Carli Lloyd are consistently in the spotlight for one of women’s sports most popular leagues.
The National Team’s popularity is very much worth considering, as the most recent World Cup final featuring the United States drew more than 25 million American eyes to the television. That is, in fact, the highest rated soccer match in the United States, period. This should be a major green flag for owners. The support is there and the success expands beyond the television.
The NWSL also boasts high attendance marks that consistently edge out other competition. Division 2 American soccer league, the United Soccer League (USL), has quietly become one of the fastest growing league’s in the world, averaging more than 4,000 people per game in 2017 (largely due to numerous Cincinnati-led records). However, the NWSL has an even higher average attendance, eclipsing 5,000 per game. With investment growing every year, expect that number to increase.
Much of this success is driven by NWSL’s most popular team: Portland Thorns FC. Averaging 17,653 fans per game in 2017 (yes, you heard that right), they were the 18th most attended soccer team in the United States last season. That would put them at 17th in the MLS and 2nd overall (just behind FC Cincinnati) in the USL.
Portland’s MLS team is known to have some of the most dedicated supporters. Their love for the game no matter who is on the pitch surges statistics beyond expectations for a city of their population. Their willingness to invest just as much time and effort into their women’s franchise as their men’s is paying off. Other teams, and supporters, have already taken notice.
The Blossoming Women’s Soccer Culture in the Queen City
There are so many reasons women’s soccer flourishes here. The first one is the most obvious: beyond the people taking the field, the game of soccer itself is beloved by many Cincinnatians. The explosion of support in recent years has dramatically lifted the veil on the newest soccer powerhouse in the States. Reaching its paramount during the 2017 U.S. Open Cup run by FC Cincinnati, 30,000 + fans flooded into Nippert for multiple games of a tournament most of us hadn’t even known existed until that point.
I find it quite interesting, and even more so exciting that the exact same type of crowd descended upon the University of Cincinnati on a muggy Wednesday night, after entertaining miles of traffic, wielding eye brow-raising expensive tickets, to watch the Women’s National Team play an international friendly. The support already exists. It has for years.
When I was in attendance for the friendly against New Zealand, I couldn’t help but notice that in my efforts to sit as close to the field as I prefer, I wound up surrounded by a sea of young girls. Each of them, an inspired gleam in their eye, believing in the deepest hollow of their hearts that one day they too would be out on the pitch representing the red, white, and blue.
This is by no means the first encounter I, or many others, have stood witness to regarding women’s soccer power in Cincy. Former Women’s National Team member Heather Mitts is a well-known historical sports figure in Cincinnati. Her retirement after the 2011 World Cup capped off a wonderful career for the Cincinnati native, but it also built the frame work for the next local superstar.
Just 23 years old, Rose Lavelle has risen to become the next face of women’s soccer all around the globe. Her dominance while attending Cincinnati’s local Mount Notre Dame High School earned her a reputation of excellence throughout the city. Soon thereafter, Rose was getting called up to the National team. Her return to Cincinnati just last year was breathtaking; thousands of little girls were staring at not just another great player, but their hero.
Rose’s rise to stardom is a reflection of the beast that currently lies dormant in the youth soccer scene of Cincinnati. She could very well be our number one trade target should Cincinnati finally unleash a local NWSL team. But to reiterate, it shouldn’t be surprising that many women soccer stars are being nurtured in the locale. Cincinnati is a soccer city, no matter who you are talking about here. The only thing that is left to work on is finding the right investor. I’m guessing you probably already know who the answer to that question is.
Why FC Cincinnati should purchase a NWSL Expansion Franchise
I’ve talked about the growth and support of a fully invested NWSL. I’ve mentioned the youth women’s soccer culture flourishing right in front of us. And I do not need to talk about the love this city has for soccer any more.
FC Cincinnati will be a Major League Soccer team that likely averages 25,000 + a game. They will call a state of the art, downtown stadium home. They will be a top representative for all outside eyes looking in to see the state of the sport and its growth in the United States. Therefore, FC Cincinnati must capitalize on the moment and fund a sister club to play alongside of the men’s team. All the pieces are in place; the reigns are being handed to us, it is now on us whether or not we take them and lead the next generation of women’s soccer as we were destined to.
While operations will be universally more detailed, the two teams can play opposite weekends and easily draw thousands of diverse Queen City supporters. Being owned by a single entity will allow for double headers to seamlessly occur, additional benefits for season ticket holders, promotions spanning both franchises, and youth programs that equally feature all young children. While different in identity, the teams will both pay homage to their home and unite the city under one familial soccer banner.
No matter what colors they dawn, no matter the name bestowed upon them, no matter which women line up to represent the City of Cincinnati on game day, we will unconditionally support them, and they will be unbelievably successful, because that’s the standard the next generation of Cincinnati is going to set.
Header Image: USWNT 2017 Friendly at Nippert Stadium | Photo Credit: Ryan Meyer