Expect year three of the National Women’s Soccer League to feature a lot of barometer watching. The past two professional leagues — WUSA (2001-03) and WPS (2009-11) — each failed after the third season, so there is a natural wonder if the NWSL can make it to year four and, ultimately, beyond.
Talk of expansion is good and there are a couple of new national sponsors on the horizon, but the first bit of concerning news dropped on Sunday: The Houston Dash are struggling to sell tickets for Friday’s league-opener against the Washington Spirit.
Per the Houston Chronicle, the Dash want 10,000 fans at the opening match. As of March 27, only 2,500 tickets had been sold.
“It might be time now to really just lay the cards on the table with things that the public should hear that maybe is not being portrayed out there,” Dash coach Randy Waldrum told the Chronicle. “But we’re way behind in our ticket sales.”
Players are trying to help push tickets along with the front office. Ella Masar reportedly helped sell nearly $2,500 worth of tickets in two hours.
On the heels of NWSL receiving interest from six purportedly serious expansion city candidates, the news out of Houston is concerning for the NWSL. The Dash are the model that other would-be MLS teams would look to replicate. Portland Thorns FC and the club’s 13,000-plus fans per game are an anomaly. No team — independent or connected to MLS — should be trying to replicate that scenario.
But Houston, which finished a distant second behind Portland Thorns FC with an average of about 4,500 fans per game, is considered the model for moving the NWSL forward. It’s the most promising business model yet. If that begins to struggle, it will be ominous.
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