Last week, ahead of the NWSL Championship between the North Carolina Courage and the Portland Thorns, the managing director of the National Women’s Soccer League, Amanda Duffy, addressed the media and discussed a wide variety of issues.
One of the biggest pieces of news to drop from the media availability regarded the league’s streaming services for the 2019 season. While the league has not yet made a formal announcement, Duffy told reporters that next year’s non-televised games will be streamed via Yahoo! Sports. The arrangement will work similar to the last two season on go90 meaning the games will be streamed free to users in the United States who register. International viewers will continue to have access to the matches direct from the league website. Vista will continue to produce the streams.
Also looking forward to next year, Duffy said that roster sizes will increase as a “growth step” in adding more players into the league. In addition, she said the NWSL will again be looking at increasing salaries and housing allowances to continue to improve the environment for the players.
Housing conditions, in particular, became a focus for many fans this season after The Equalizer and other outlets reported about the situation at Sky Blue FC.
Duffy said the league became aware of the specifics in New Jersey through the stories in the media and through information provided by the NWSL Players’ Association.
“We’ve addressed those [issues] with the club and we continue to work with the ownership—to not just address immediate questions and issues that we’re dealing with now—but the longer term, broader picture of the growth of that club and the expectations that we have as a league with their performance and how they’re designed to operate within the market,” she said.
Duffy also re-affirmed the league’s commitment to the New York-New Jersey market in general and said the NWSL is taking steps to help Sky Blue elevate its operation and improve the team’s training facilities, game venue, and housing.
And while she didn’t directly answer questions about possible expansion or contraction, Duffy did say, “[we] feel good about the teams that we have and the work that we’re doing to elevate standards that will continue to raise the bar and raise the expectation and demand from everyone, from what we’re looking for from our team operators and what players are looking for in a professional environment.”
A day later Duffy was interviewed at halftime of the match by Dalen Cuff on Lifetime. Cuff said he was not going to ask about expansion because Duffy had indicated it was not in the offing for 2019.
Duffy also added that the league is “excited about 2019 and what’s ahead” and looking forward to increased visibility from the 2019 World Cup.
Two areas where no immediate improvements appear on the horizon are the addition of Video Assistant Referees, commonly known as VAR, or the near-term hiring of a new commissioner.
Addressing VAR, Duffy said that not every NWSL venue is equipped with the technology and, “until such time as we’re able to have that technology a part of NWSL venues across the board, it’s not going to be a resource for us.”
Duffy also dismissed the possibility of using the system in the playoffs this year in Portland—which has a stadium equipped with the technology—because the league didn’t use the system throughout the regular season.
“We don’t use it through the season, so [we] don’t feel like implementing a new element into the championship was something we wanted to introduce right now,” she explained.
Earlier this year, The Equalizer also reported the significant discrepancy in pay for NWSL officials compared to pay in other leagues, which some have argued could be a reason for so many controversial refereeing decisions this season. Duffy didn’t address the pay specifically, saying those fees are part of the collective bargaining agreement between Professional Referee Organization (PRO) and the referees union.
She did say that the NWSL is in “constant communication” with PRO, as well as U.S. Soccer, about the level, quality, and performances of officials in the league.
“Ensuring we are getting the most qualified and best referees in NWSL is important to us,” said Duffy.
On the commissioner front, Duffy continued to describe the search as “ongoing” and said, “it’s important to the members, it’s important to U.S. Soccer, that the best candidates are identified and interviewed through that process.”
However, she was also forced to admit that she is not aware of a single interview being conducted for a new commissioner since Jeff Plush left the position 19 months ago.
Duffy also addressed moving the North Carolina semifinal this year and how the league has developed new protocols through 2018 to deal with previously unseen natural disasters.
She said the NWSL tracked Hurricane Florence for more than a week, including the storm’s path, speed, and strength. Duffy said the league made the decision to move the game late because it appeared the hurricane’s path had moved a bit south and they thought there might still be an opportunity to play the game safely in North Carolina.
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“We didn’t want to take that earned opportunity away from North Carolina, but when we got to the point when we felt like we had watched and gathered information throughout the week and had the data that we had at that point, we felt very confident that the best decision for all parties involved was to move that game,” said Duffy.
She stressed that the Courage had earned the right to play the semifinal at home, but “ultimately, the priority in any decision that we make is about the safety of all parties involved, the players, the fans, the staff that operate games.”
She further stated that the league moved the game to Portland because it gave the winner of the semifinal match the opportunity to recover from the game without the added difficulty of additional travel to the final.
Duffy also mentioned that the forest fires in the Pacific Northwest forced the league to develop new standards on air quality decisions and the NWSL worked with the chief medical officer at U.S. Soccer and the federation’s medical staff, as well as Major League Soccer and other professional leagues to formulate policies used this year. For multiple matches this season, that meant additional breaks in play and making oxygen available on the benches.
“For the first time, this year we had to deal with air quality and [a situation] where we didn’t necessarily have a process on paper,” she said.
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