Eight teams founded the National Women’s Soccer League in November 2012, and the all planned to continue on as eight into the 2014 season. It was a calmer offseason than Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS), the NWSL’s predecessor which began in 2009 and folded in early 2012, ever experienced.
Ensuring that all eight franchises were healthy and ready for 2014 were priorities No. 1, 2 and 3, Chicago Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler emphasized. All of that was in place with the offseason in full swing.
But then along came Houston.
To be clear, Major League Soccer’s Houston Dynamo first made contact with the NWSL about a potential NWSL franchise in June. But the Dynamo’s intent didn’t go public until mid-November, and on Dec. 12 the Houston Dash, the NWSL’s ninth team, was born.
Despite Houston’s push for a team sooner rather than later — a currently player-less Dash will be on the field in four months — the addition of a ninth team still came as somewhat of a surprise for most NWSL owners. But it was a welcomed surprise, and one that could foreshadow further MLS involvement.
“Overall, we’re thrilled that another MLS team is coming in,” Boston Breakers managing partner Michael Stoller said. “There are multiple MLS teams looking at coming in next year.”
Which MLS teams remains unclear, but the current conversations surround new teams in new cities — not partnerships with existing ones, like the discussed Sky Blue-Red Bulls deal that fell through — that would expand the NWSL’s geographic footprint.
National footprint. Those are the words Whisler craves. A national footprint increases the value of sponsorships and potential TV deals, he says, which are critical components to a successful league.
“The sooner we have a truly national footprint for sponsors, the better the league is going to be,” Whisler said when reached following Houston’s announcement.
Sponsorship in the NWSL remains somewhat mysterious, highlighted by a Nike tie-in through U.S. Soccer that a year later is yet to officially be announced. Another TV deal is also said to be in place, and while it’s unclear with which network it will be, history and logic lies with Fox Sports, which aired all three years of WPS and the first season of NWSL, and has the rights to the 2015 Women’s World Cup.
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