Why The NWSL Commissioner Appointment Cannot Come Quickly Enough
Updated: Jun 1, 2020
The National Women's Soccer League is finally getting a new league commissioner! This is not a drill guys, it's actually happening! The NWSL recently announced that a new commissioner would soon be appointed in the wake of former managing director Amanda Duffy's appointment to executive vice president with the Pride. The role of commissioner has been vacant seen Jeff Plush resigned in 2017. That's three whole seasons sans commissioner. That is just mind boggling to me, and serves to further highlight the inadequacies of the league. Whilst the NWSL is rightfully at the very forefront of the conversation in the women's game, it continues to be neglected by the USSF (United States Soccer Federation). And at a time when the US Women's National Team is currently locked in legal battle with the federation over gender equality the spotlight on one of the federation's flagship leagues has never been more intense. For too long the federation, and indeed the league, has chosen to bury it's head in the sand. In a year dominated by the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup, where women's soccer seemed to be at the very front of the football communities' consciousness Sky Blue FC were still left to flounder whilst they seemingly didn't have two pennies to rub together. The federation and the league needed to do more. And they didn't. Could have. But didn't. It's time for that to change.
Now, I'm not about to point the finger at Amanda Duffy. She was hired by Plush to oversee the operational side of the league. She was essentially forced to do at least 2 jobs for the last 2 years. She oversaw big money deals being struck with Budweiser and ESPN, as well as doing a great job of promoting the women's game. She will do great things in Orlando, and in my opinion is just the sort of person the Pride need to be hiring. However, the fact that US Soccer and the NWSL have allowed us to get to this point is nothing short of an embarrassment. The best league in the world, is 6 weeks from its start date and we still have no schedule and no broadcast announcement. There is no other league in the world, in the men's or women's game, that is run like this.
The league referred to the new commissioner being female, whilst also stating that no further comment would be made until after the announcement due to confidentiality matters. Which seems to imply they have all but chosen their preferred candidate. Meg Linehan wrote that the NWSL had been on the search for a new commissioner since October, and that they had retained the services of the Nolan Partners agency (which has offices in London and New York amongst other places) to find the right candidate. Could this represent a swing in US Soccer's attitude towards the league? Are they finally about to make it a priority? Of course they aren't. But who knows, maybe time will tell us otherwise.
Amanda Duffy left them in the lurch by taking the job in Orlando. They relied on her to plug the hole for three years, but now Duffy has gone there is no one left to keep that hole. It will be interesting to see if the new commissioner moves to appoint someone in the role of managing director.. The league needs to make some big changes, and has a huge couple of years ahead with the possibility of NWSL expansion on the horizon. Strong leadership is going to be needed, from someone with the business acumen to capitalise on the growth of women's soccer in the United States. The NWSL is on the precipice of something great. The league has a lot of unrealised potential, and has a great opportunity to further establish itself as the leading professional women's soccer league.
The sexism row has been an on-going narrative that seems to follow US Soccer around like a bad smell. Whilst the NWSL has essentially been handed the reins to its own sleigh, the federation still has a very large input in terms of the running of the league. This was something board member and Chicago Red Stars owner Arnim Whisker spoke to in a recent interview with the Inquirer. Could the appointment of a new commissioner represent a swing in US Soccer's attitude towards the league? Are they finally about to make it a priority? Of course they aren't. Amanda Duffy left them in the lurch by taking the job in Orlando. They relied on her to plug the hole for three years, but now Duffy has gone there is no one left to keep that hole well and truly plugged.
It will be interesting to see if the new commissioner moves (or is able) to appoint someone in the role of managing director as Plush did. The league needs to make some big changes, and has a huge couple of years ahead with the possibility of NWSL expansion on the horizon. Strong leadership is going to be needed, from someone with the business acumen to capitalise on the growth of women's soccer in the United States. The NWSL is on the precipice of something great. The league has a lot of potential unrealised potential, and has a great opportunity to further establish itself as the leading professional women's league.
That being said the new commissioner will do well to remember the potential pitfalls. The collapse of the Boston Breakers is still very fresh, and other leagues are strengthening. You only need to look at what's happening, my side of the pond. The FAWSL is growing in popularity, and is cashing in on that. The league recently signed a huge sponsorship deal with Barclays, and has seen continued investment from English football's biggest clubs with the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City heavily investing in their women's sides. The NWSL cannot be allowed to become complacent. We have already seen with Sam Kerr's recent transfer to Chelsea that big name stars can be tempted away from the bright lights of the NWSL. Moves like this whilst great for the players, are damaging to the league.
The league has previously spoken of its desire to expand to 14 teams by 2022. Now a very simple understanding of mathematics equation tells me, that the league wants to add 5 more teams in 2 full seasons. And yes, before you ask my understanding of mathematics is very simple. There have been murmurings about expansion teams in Los Angeles, Sacramento and Atlanta. Louisville has been announced as the next official expansion with the Kentucky side set to join in 2021. The most likely expansion seem to be coming from 2018 MLS Cup Champions Atlanta United. MLS bound (2022) Sacramento Republic have also been heavily linked with an NWSL expansion team. Whilst Duffy has undoubtedly set in to motion ambitious plans for expansion, the new commissioner should be keen to avoid just expanding for expansions sake. There is a real risk that the quality of the league could be diluted by adding too much too quickly. Whilst the sport will undoubtedly continue to ride the crest of a wave in popularity terms as we head towards the summer Olympics in Tokyo, the last thing we want to do is get fans excited about seeing top quality sport and then serve them up something that is sub par. Whilst the league is undoubtedly on the cusp of something great, the last thing we need is another Boston Breakers that could, pardon the pun, but the breaks on everything. The appointment of a strong and knowledgeable league commissioner is vital in ensuring what happened in Boston doesn't happen again.