Rise and fall – the fate of women’s soccer leagues to date. Abby Wambach is well aware.
So what is different this time, with the National Women’s Soccer League set to begin in the spring of 2013?
“I don’t know that answer, I guess we’ll have to wait and find out,” said the 32-year-old forward, who is six goals away from tying Mia Hamm’s all-time goal scoring record. This attitude was consistent throughout postgame player interviews on Saturday night, following the U.S. women’s national team’s 4-1 victory over China.
The harsh reality of women’s soccer leagues in the United States. This time around is a little different. U.S. Soccer Federation, along with the Mexican and Canadian federations funding and supporting their national team players, too, will run the NWSL.
But the story seems all too familiar, causing the optimism expressed by U.S. women’s national team players to be expressed very cautiously.
Following the 1999 Women’s World Cup and 2000 Olympic Gold Medal victories, the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA) was born. The birth of the league sparked from an increasing fan base and an near-obsession with players like Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, and Julie Foudy. Investors poured money into the league but interest quickly died down.
After just three seasons, the WUSA shut down and reported losses in the range of $100 million. With players beginning to retire from those 1999 and 2000 tournament victories, the reality of a new league started to fade.
Six years later in 2009, the Women’s Professional Soccer league opened its doors with a business model and plan in place that many thought would fix the problems of the WUSA. Only a handful of the players from the WUSA still playing, a new generation excited fans.
U.S. players started to become household names again with the likes of Hope Solo, Abby Wambach and Tasha Kai. However, popularity died down once again and game attendance was a major factor in the lack of sponsorship. Puma pulled the plug on their sponsorship after just three seasons. WPS officially terminated in May of 2012 with attendance and internal conflict believed to be the cause.
Captain Christie Rampone, a founding player for the WUSA, expressed some excitement, also saying “we need a league to grow women’s soccer here.” With the U.S. being such a hard team to crack, building the future players is a one reason for Rampone’s excitement towards the league. “We need the next 50 to 100 girls to be able to come out of college and have a place to play” she continued, “we have a great base in college soccer but we need something more.”
Both midfielder Megan Rapinoe and forward Alex Morgan voiced high expectations but also shared they are still waiting for some answers. “We of course expect a lot, there’s a lot we don’t know so far,” said Rapinoe.
Rapinoe also went a step further giving her opinion on what she feels would help make the league successful.
“I think it needs to be on a smaller scale,” Rapinoe said. “They have tried to make it fully professional, you know trying to pay everyone big salaries. Let people play in the cities they live, let people work, let people train at night or in the morning. Kind of allow sort of the bottom tier of players not have to make a living off the team.”
Professional sports have not always come with high salaries. Even major leagues like the NFL, where today players are paid upwards of $2 million per season, started out on a smaller scale. Until around the 1980’s players often worked secondary jobs, getting into shape during training camp, and worked throughout the offseason.
While many details have yet to be released, USSF is taking a step in a direction, which has worked for leagues overseas, such as the Frauen-Bundesliga in Germany.
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