There was a whole lot of chatter going into the Olympics about the possibility of a new professional women’s soccer league starting up in the US. The US women’s national soccer team (USWNT) was a two-time defending (now a three-time defending) gold medal team. Last year’s World Cup final match between Japan and the USWNT set record ratings for ESPN.
Women’s amateur, semi-pro, and professional teams exist currently in the US, despite the failure of two different professional leagues (the WUSA, which existed from 2000 to 2003, and then the WPS, which folded in May). The Women’s Premier Soccer League fields a large number of teams, including the Boston Breakers, and, according to Amalie Benjamin, is “a place where paychecks are not enough to live on (or don’t exist), where busing is the preferred method of transportation, and where a 2,100-person sellout is celebrated.” The W-League is slightly smaller but has teams like the Seattle Sounders, where Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, and Hope Solo play.
On the same day that the USWNT played Japan for the gold medal in the Olympics (which set record ratings for NBC’s new NBC Sports Network and set the Olympic and European record attendance numbers for a women’s match), press releases went out saying that a new women’s professional league may be on its way back to the US in 2013:
The new, yet to be named league will feature at least eight teams, including three former Women’s Professional Soccer teams: the [Boston] Breakers, Chicago Red Stars, Sky Blue FC.
They will be joined by a to-be-formed Seattle-based team, one of at least two entrants who will play on the West Coast.
In addition to those four commitments, the new league claims “four other teams are finalizing their participation in the league,” with the league’s organizers “working with United Soccer Leagues (USL) and Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL).
Already people are weary of the endeavor (and anyone who spends two minutes researching the failure of the first two leagues will see why). Part of the problem is that the US, unlike European countries, does not have an entrenched soccer infrastructure. So, whereas, “the soccer federations in Germany, England, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden provide women’s teams (most of which are affiliated with men’s clubs) with financial support,” that cannot happen here since Major League Soccer is not in a financial position to help a women’s league.
The goal of the new league, of course, is to continue to develop some of the best female soccer players in the world. Many people, including the players themselves, don’t want to see our soccer superstars cross the pond in order to hone their skills.
While I admit skepticism at the ability of a women’s professional sports league to remain solvent in the US if it is not tied to and backed by a more lucrative men’s professional league, maybe we are slowly getting there. Every small effort helps and more people are starting to recognize this. For example, in 2010, Veronica Arreola started the “I Pledge to Attend One Women’s Sporting Event This Year” campaign to spur attendance. Women’s games are often cheaper to attend and good seats easier to get.
And, as the 2012 London Olympics showed, US women are among the best athletes in the entire world, especially on the soccer pitch.