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Follow the money Team USA

Tue, 07/09/2019 - 3:04pm
Cliff Pfenning
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As America celebrates its heroes from the Women’s World Cup, the real key to the month of success on the soccer pitch will be on the fields of the U.S., in such towns as Kansas City and Atlanta.

Now that Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Tobin Heath and company have dominated the world on behalf of the nation, it’s time to see if anyone will show up to see them when they’re not repping for the Stars and Stripes.

This is the challenge that’s truly bigger than the world, too, because it’s the future, in the attendance figures of the National Women’s Soccer League.

The nation fell in love with Team USA’s players as a unit, but will that translate into more paid ticket sales and sponsors for the league the players star in?

Getting better or even equal pay from the U.S. Soccer Federation seems very logical for the top players, but getting better pay for the breadth of the NWSL’s players will be the greater success of the World Cup win.

One of those keys to success has actually happened, too - the NWSL has a beer sponsor.

As the U.S. was beating The Netherlands in France on Sunday, the league announced Budweiser had become its first beer sponsor and will attach its name to a host of elements such as the championship game.

A check of the league website shows Budweiser adds a significant sense of legitimacy to the league along with Nike. The three other NWSL sponsors are Cutter, which is an insect repellent, Thorne, which produces supplements, and Lifetime Network, although it doesn’t seem to have much if any involvement in airing league matches. ESPN will air matches on ESPN2 and ESPN News for the remainder of the season.

Budweiser is a step the NWSL has needed, and the Team USA players should address directly because that’s where the future of the professional games lies. And, women need to recognize that because equal pay requires equal results within capitalism. Kansas City can be a valuable asset in this arena. Atlanta, too.

During the World Cup final the FOX broadcast switched to a party being held in a public section of Kansas City that attracted a reported 10,000 fans. It was a wild atmosphere worthy of such an event. Kansas City officials used the party to promote the city as a host site for men’s World Cup headed for North American in 2026.

Kansas City is a great soccer town, evident by 10,000 fans showing up to watch Team USA win the World Cup. But, where is the town on women’s soccer? It had one, but it folded and its players moved to Salt Lake City, Utah to form the Utah Royals FC.

Atlanta joined the MLS in 2017 and immediately set the soccer world on fire with its raucous crowds at Mercedes Benz Stadium. The team led the league in attendance its opening year and set a record of 53,000 fans per game in 2018 on the way to winning the league title. Atlanta does not have a team in the NWSL.

And, moving across sport lines, Portland has some women’s equality issues to deal with, too - in basketball. For all his wealth, the late Paul Allen didn’t have much passion for the Rose City in terms of women’s sports. Allen owned the Portland Fire in the early years of the WNBA, but folded the team after only three seasons (2000-02) because of economics. It was an era when the Blazers were losing a tremendous amount of money due to luxury tax issues, and Allen’s company was on the way to filing for bankruptcy from just running the Rose Garden.

A women’s team in the WNBA would seem like a solid economic gamble these days considering the University of Oregon and Oregon State have some of the best attended games in women’s basketball these days, and win on the court regularly. Would Portland’s basketball fans support the Portland Fire the way its soccer fans support the Thorns? Portland would be a great market for the WNBA, and in the process serve as a step forward for women’s pro sports if it works economically.

Team USA can beat the world in the World Cup and in the Olympic Games, but can its players survive as professionals within their own league? It requires fans in seats.

Of the NWSL’s nine teams, only Portland and Utah, which features Team USA players such as Becky Sauerbrunn, Kelley O’Hara and Christen Press, average more than 10,000 fans per game. The other seven teams aren’t past 5,000 fans per game even though they also have Team USA players on their rosters.

Fans in seats, eyes on screens, sponsors on jerseys and beyond.

Team USA’s stars have earned some celebration time in the very near future, but they need to capitalize on this momentum to make the NWSL a stronger league, which is how women’s soccer, and women’s pro sports, will truly win going into the future.

Thorns have everything to gain against Seattle

Portland got help from the rest of the league in its playoff quest
Aug. 12, 2014 / By Cliff Pfenning, Oregonsports Journal

The Portland Thorns could use another monster crowd, Sunday, especially if it inspires another victory.

Teetering on the verge of missing the NWSL Playoffs Saturday, a pair of upsets gave the Thorns hope of not only reaching the playoffs, but avoiding the league's top team in the playoff semifinals, although they'll have to beat that team - Seattle - just to reach the playoffs.

Portland, the defending league champion, enters Sunday's regular-season finale in need of a victory over the Seattle Reign in order to qualify for the playoffs.

Two weeks ago, a National Women's Soccer League record crowd of 19,123 fans jammed into Providence Park to see the Thorns beat Houston 1-0. The thrill of that victory, though, didn't carry over to the following week when Portland needed only to beat the bottom team in the league to basically secure a playoff spot.

Didn't happen.

Instead, the Thorns lost 2-0 to the Boston Breakers in a road game.

After conceding two early goals, Portland peppered Boston goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher with 13 shots, including 10 on goal, in the second half and finished with a 20-8 advantage overall in the match. Christing Sinclair set a Thorns FC single-game record for shots (11), becoming just the third player in NWSL history to tally 10 or more shots in a match. Sinclair’s seven shots on goal set both a single-game record for the club and a NWSL record, breaking the previous record set by Portland forward Alex Morgan and FC Kansas City midfielder Lauren Holiday (6).

Naeher kept Portland off the board with 10 saves in the match, while Morgan, who finished the match with five shots (5 on goal), and midfielder Amber Brooks each saw efforts cleared off the goal line in the second half.

Portland dropped from fourth to fifth during the week with Chicago winning on Wednesday to move a point ahead of the Thorns, but the Red Stars got only a point from their draw with Western New York Saturday. Washington, which was two points ahead of Portland entering the week, lost to Sky Blue FC, and is tied for third with Chicago.

Portland will leap over both teams with a victory over a team that's lost just once.

Seattle (16-1-6, 54 points) has dominated the league in both offense and defense. The Reign have 50 goals and given up just 19, both league bests. Portland (9-8-6, 33 points) has 38 goals, although 13 of those goals were in a pair of routs. The Thorns have allowed 35 goals.

In their previous meetings this season, Seattle beat Portland 5-0 in Seattle, and 1-0 at Providence Park, May 10.

 

 

 

 

 

Portland shows off its Thorns

A record crowd cheers on a 1-0 victory over Houston
August 3, 2014

Midfielder Verónica Boquete tallied the game-winning goal, while goalkeeper Nadine Angerer recorded a clean sheet as Portland Thorns FC earned a 1-0 victory against the Houston Dash in front of a National Women’s Soccer League record crowd of 19,123 fans at Providence Park on Sunday night.

Thorns FC (9-7-6, 33 pts) broke the previous NWSL attendance record of 17,619 set at the team’s 2013 regular-season home finale against FC Kansas City on Aug. 4, 2013.

After limited chances in the first half, Portland broke the deadlock in the 54th minute of the match. Defender Steph Catley played a cross from the left flank as Boquete made a run into the box. The Spanish international finished with a shot in stride at the back post, tallying her fourth goal of the season. The assist was Catley’s fifth in the last six games.

Portland tallied its third consecutive clean sheet against Houston, winning all three meetings by a score of 1-0 this season. Thorns FC earned a pair of shutout victories on the road against the Dash on April 12 and May 14. Goalkeeper Nadine Angerer tallied a clean sheet in all three wins.

The shutout was the second for Portland at home this season and the first since the team’s 2-0 victory against Washington on June 15. Thorns FC allowed just five total shots in the match, the fewest by an opponent this season.

Portland and Houston combined for six shots in the first half and just one shot on goal. In the second half, Thorns FC were on the front foot with a 12-2 advantage in shots, finishing the match with a 15-5 edge. Portland tallied eight shots on goal in the match, including seven in the second half.

Thorns FC remain in the hunt for one of two remaining NWSL playoff berths. Seattle Reign FC has clinched the top seed, while FC Kansas City secured a playoff spot as well. Portland is currently in fourth place with 33 points, while the Washington Spirit sit in third place at 34 points and the Chicago Red Stars are fifth with 28 points.

Portland plays at Boston, Aug. 10, then closes out the regular season at home against Seattle, Aug. 17.

 

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