portland thorns

CBS is ready to be a women's sports hero

Coverage of the NWSL Challenge Cup is a key
COMMENTARY By Cliff Pfenning, oregonsports.com

The only thing keeping CBS from being a huge winner in the current socially/culturally challenging times is CBS and its coverage of the National Women's Soccer League.

And, it's possibly a huge deal in that it's the right thing to do - cover live women's sports when there's nothing but taped coverage of men's sports to cover.

Imagine the story that would be created if CBS announced it was upgrading its coverage of the NWSL Challenge Cup to include two extra live matches on its network, not its streaming service CBS All-Access.

CBS made a huge step forward for the league in March, agreeing to become the NWSL's media partner and carry two matches on its broadcast channel (free TV), something that hadn't happened for women's pro soccer - the two previous leagues and seven years of the NWSL. CBS announced it would carry the league's opening match and its final on the broadcast channel. A bundle of other matches would be carried by CBS All-Access, a streaming channel. That announcement happened March 11. Rudy Gobert happened later that day.

When the NWSL set up its Challenge Cup for June 27-July 26, CBS was right there with the same basic idea - cover the opening match and final on the broadcast newtork. The opening match, drew a pro women's soccer record audience of nearly 600,000 viewers. CBSSports.com has been doing its share for coverage of the tourney.

But, the network is poised to make a huge impact on women's sports, women's sports media coverage, if it wants to by upgrading its commitment to the league and broadcast a couple more matches.

Imagine if CBS announced to the world that it was going to cover one or two more matches on its network, taking advantage of the fact there's basically no other live events to cover. How much free advertising would just such an announcement get for CBS? And the NWSL.

 

 

 

Women's sports are on the verge of something big

Thu, 07/02/2020 - 6:45am
Cliff Pfenning
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I've been a fan of women's sports for a long time. Of women's college sports and girls high school competition.

My interest probably goes back to following the UO women's basketball team in the mid-80s, and when I really think about it is somewhat attached to McArthur Court - just going there was such a pleasure and all I needed was a reason to go. The school had a men's and women's team, and my voice had a little more impact in those games with fewer fans, so ... heck, it was a team to follow.

High school sports comes from covering Mt. Hood Conference volleyball matches for The Oregonian in the late '90s when Gresham, Barlow and Central Catholic could attract crowds of 800 fans at least for their rivalry matches, and maket a gym come alive. Covering the University of Portland women's soccer team in 2001 and onward was crowds of 3,000 and more for most matches, especially during the Pilots first title season, 2002.

I've covered the high school cheerleading finals at Memorial Coliseum for most of the last decade. Want to see some energy at an event - that's it.

So, it's good to see women's pro soccer get something of momentum going this season after the U.S. National team's win in the World Cup last summer. Portland sports fans have done more than their part in getting the National Women's Soccer League onto the map by averaging more than 20,000 fans per game last year - more than 15 of the 24 Major League Soccer teams in 2019.

The first match in the NWSL Challenge Cup Saturday attracted the largest audience for a women's pro soccer in television history due to it being televised by CBS and not a cable network. HAving the league's two most successful teams - the Thorns and North Carolina Courage might of had something to do with that.

And yet, the NWSL, and women's sports with it, is still being treated as a second or even third-class option for sports coverage, and CBS is doing its part to show that off. The network has done a great job of bumping up the level of respect for the NWSL, but if it really wanted to get some more results out of its investment in the league, it could easily do more. Just put more matches on its main channel and pay more attention on its online site. 

And, the NWSL would do well to make this happen as well as respond to what it's actually doing for the future. The league got a significant bump in exposure when Kansas City moved to Salt Lake City last year, and that team finished second in attendance at more than 10,000 fans per match. And it has an expansion team set for Louisville next year. It's got a bunch of new marketing partners and a bunch of players who've almost defied public scrutiny by playing in the current tournament, even after one of the nine teams bailed in the week of the first match.

The nation is looking at the MLS and NBA, which are set to restart this month, and wondering if the men's teams have the strength to start, and yet the women's league is going full steam ahead.

The NWSL and CBS should be just thrashing the public sports community with these stories, and yet it doesn't - almost like it's playing into the role it has established as being lucky to still be around after eight years.

 

 

 

 

Thorns fall in Challenge Cup opener

North Carolina's late goal turns into 2-1 victory
Staff Report

A stoppage-time goal by North Carolina boosted the two-time defending league champions to a 2-1 win over the Portland Thorns in the opening match of the NWSL Challenge Cup being played in suburban Salt Lake City, Utah.

Lucy Williams headed home a cross from Samantha Mewis in the fourth minute of stoppage time to break a 1-a tie.

Portland scored in the 80th minute when Simone Charley put home short volley after a wild scramble in front of the North Carolina goal moved to ball to her just one foot from the goal.

North Carolina scored the tournament opener in the 75th minute when Debinha headed home a cross by Hallie Mace, taking advantage of a defensive lapse by the Thorns.

The match was the first by a pro league in the U.S. since all pro leagues stopped regular play March 12. The match was also the first to be broadcast on a major network in the eight years of matches.

The tournament continues to July 26, with the final being broadcast on CBS.

Portland's second match is Wednesday against the Chicago Red Stars, at 9:30 a.m. The match will be streamed by CBS All-Access. 

 

ANTICIPATION BUILDS FOR OPENER - ON CBS

June 26, 2020

The National Women's Soccer League is headed for uncharted waters Saturday with the opening match of the Challenge Cup - namely its media partnership with CBS.

The opening match pitting Portland Thorns FC and the North Carolina Courage is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. on CBS, the first time a women's professional soccer match will be broadcast on one of the four major networks.

CBS signed onto a three-year exclusive partnership with the NWSL on March 11, when the league was set to open play on April 11. Later that day, Rudy Gobert of the NBA's Utah Jazz tested positive for COVID-19 and all major sports leagues as well as NCAA sports began cancelling events. The NWSL is the first league to begin play.

Twitch, the media app owned by Amazon, also agreed to a partnership to be the exclusive international media partner - on March 11. 

CBS will also cover the Challenge Cup final, July 26. All other matches will be streamed on CBS All-Access, a service available for $5.99 monthly. Twitch will provide streaming service for free to fans outside of the U.S. and Canada.

All Cup matches will be played at Zions Bank Stadium in suburban Salt Lake City, with the semifinals and final being played at Rio Tinto Stadium - the home field of the NWSL's Utah Royals FC and MLS side Real Salt Lake - in Sandy, Utah. Since the league began in 2013, it has had media partnerships with Fox Sports, ESPN and Lifetime, but none of those resulted in a regular broadcast match.

CBS is one of a number of partnerships the NWSL signed in the months following the U.S. win in the World Cup beginning with Budweiser in July.

COVID-19 has not diminished partnership interest in the league, which announced Google as one today. Google plans to use its app Google Meet to provide virtual cheering sections for Challenge Cup matches. Verizon signed on in late May, and Procter and Gamble agreed to a partnership for its Secret brand in winter as well.

Nutritional supplement company Thorne continues to be a partner as does Nike.

Nike extended its partnership through 2022. 

 

THORNS ANNOUNCE TEAM ROSTER

May 24

The Portland Thorns FC announced their 26-player roster Tuesday in advance of the NWSL Challenge Cup that begins Saturday, and most of the regular names were on the list.

Christine Sinclair, Lindsey Horan, Adrianna Franch, Becky Sauerbrunn - all members of the US National Team - are set to play, as is international star Rocky Rodriguez of Costa Ria.

One name not on the list is US National Team star Tobin Heath, who decided not to play.

The team's top two draft picks: forwards Sophia Smith and Morgan Weaver, will play their first matches when the Thorns take on North Carolina at 9:30 a.m. Saturday in the opening match of the month-long tournament.

Saturday's match is set to be televised by CBS, one of two matches the network is scheduled to broadcast. The other is the final, July 26.

All matches will be played at Zions Bank Stadium in suburban Salt Lake City, Utah, or Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. The semifinals and final are the matches set for Rio Tinto, the home of both NWSL side Utah Royals and Major League Soccer side Real Salt Lake.

Eight of the nine NWSL teams have entered into the tournament. Orlando withdrew Monday citing at least 10 players or staffers who've tested positive for COVID-19. The NWSL announced one player or staff member had tested positive for the virus last week at the practice facility where teams were practicing next to Zions Bank Stadium, but no more information was available from the league, and preparations were not affected.

Portland has not announced any positive tests among its players or staff.

2020 Thorns FC NWSL Challenge Cup roster
Goalkeepers (3): Bella Bixby, Britt Eckerstrom, Adrianna Franch (FED-USA)

Defenders (9): Kelli Hubly, Meghan Klingenberg, Emily Menges, Meaghan Nally (CDP), Madison Pogarch, Katherine Reynolds, Becky Sauerbrunn (FED-USA), Autumn Smithers, Christen Westphal

Midfielders (6): Celeste Boureille, Lindsey Horan (FED-USA), Emily OgleRocky Rodríguez (INTL), Angela Salem, Gabby Seiler

Forwards (7): Simone Charley, Marissa Everett, Tyler Lussi, Anika Rodriguez, Christine Sinclair (FED-CAN), Sophia Smith (CDP), Morgan Weaver (CDP)

Key:
CDP – 2020 NWSL College Draft pick
FED – Federation Player
INTL – International Player

 

Thorns, NWSL set to boldly go where no league has gone before - this summer ... sort of

Mon, 06/22/2020 - 1:02pm
Cliff Pfenning
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It’s almost “go” time for the return of pro team sports in America with the National Women’s Soccer League set to kick off Saturday in Salt Lake City.

Fittingly, the Portland Thorns will be involved in the opening match, putting the league’s most successful franchise up against the North Carolina Courage - the league’s second-most successful franchise. And, it will be televised on CBS - the actual network and not a streaming service. It’s the only match of the month-long tournament scheduled for CBS until the final, July 26. All other matches will be streamed on CBS All-Access ($5.99/month) as well as Twitch - for fans outside the U.S. and Canada.

The NWSL is the first league to begin play, albeit in a tournament form, since all leagues stopped the evening of March 11 due to fears from the COVID-19 outbreak.

The NBA and MLS are scheduled to return to some form of play in July, but the NWSL is the first to return to actual physical contact just as European soccer leagues have done in the past month. 

The return comes at a unique time as the number of COVID-19 cases are increasing in many states, including Utah. All the matches will be played at the 5,000-seat Zions Bank Stadium, located in suburban Salt Lake City, with the semifinals and final at Rio Tinto Stadium.

The tournament hit an unexpected snag when Orlando removed itself after more than a dozen players and staff members tested positive. The league, released a modified schedule for the remaining eight teams Tuesday.

The tournament has a number of unique elements such as there’s no extra time in any match and no draws. Each match will have a winner, decided on penalty kicks if it ends in a tie after 90 minutes

Significant testing, social distancing and no on-site fans are part of the plan for the tournament. I guess.

What’s puzzling about the upcoming tournament is the information available about it from the NWSL - there basically isn’t any other than what’s been published three weeks ago about it happening and the schedule and a tiny bit on social media. There’s more information available on regular media and social media about Major League Baseball not playing because they’re fighting about money than there is about the NWSL kicking off in five days.

There’s a lot of stress from other leagues - MLS and NBA - about what the reality of actual games is going to be with all the testing involved. And, with positive tests being reported regularly, the thought that the leagues might not actually get into gear is still out there. But not with the NWSL.

Women’s soccer is on the rise following the U.S. World Cup win last summer. The NWSL has a number of new sponsors, including Budweiser and CBS. There’s a new owner in Seattle (French club Olympique took on that role and renamed the team OL Reign), and a new club in Louisville, Ky., is set to join the league next year.

You have to dig across the Internet to get this info, though. For something of a trending league, this should be front and center to sports fans. 

Even the Thorns, the league’s standout franchise, have not presented any information about the team’s preparation for Saturday’s opener on its own website. How are the players preparing, as well as their thoughts on the dangers that might be involved? One player on one of the nine teams tested positive last week, but the league released no information other than that - no name or team, just that it happened. Did that change any thoughts among the other players on playing? These stories just aren’t anywhere to be read.

It’s almost as if the league were hedging its commitment to the tournament being played, especially with the coronavirus making a surge in the last two weeks.

This is a key moment for the league, its players and women’s soccer. The NWSL is a league of entertainers, as sports is entertainment. And, if it isn’t playing, it’s not entertaining, so the players aren’t working.  And with women’s soccer already starting in the hole of people just not caring other than hardcore soccer fans (it’s barely recogmnized by ESPN), the players are pretty much tied into making the league tournament happen regardless of whatever fear they might have from participating. 

The NWSL has to play this tournament sort of like folks working at Fred Meyer have to stock shelves - frontline workers for sports entertainment.

So. 9:30 a.m. Saturday. Hopefully, the league will make a big deal about it in the next few days, because it really is a big deal for team sports in America.

 

 

 

 

NWSL, Thorns ready for action

Women's soccer returns Saturday, and on CBS, too
By Cliff Pfenning, oregonsports.com

It’s almost “go” time for the return of pro team sports in America with the National Women’s Soccer League set to kick off Saturday in Salt Lake City.

Fittingly, the Portland Thorns will be involved in the opening match, putting the league’s most successful franchise up against the North Carolina Courage - the league’s second-most successful franchise. And, it will be televised on CBS - the actual network and not a streaming service. It’s the only match of the month-long tournament scheduled for CBS until the final, July 26. All other matches will be streamed on CBS All-Access ($5.99/month) as well as Twitch - for fans outside the U.S. and Canada.

The NWSL is the first league to begin play, albeit in a tournament form, since all leagues stopped the evening of March 11 due to fears from the COVID-19 outbreak.

The NBA and MLS are scheduled to return to some form of play in July, but the NWSL is the first to return to actual physical contact just as European soccer leagues have done in the past month. 

The return comes at a unique time as the number of COVID-19 cases are increasing in many states, including Utah. All the matches will be played at the 5,000-seat Zions Bank Stadium, located in suburban Salt Lake City, with the semifinals and final at Rio Tinto Stadium.

The tournament hit an unexpected snag when Orlando removed itself after more than a dozen players and staff members tested positive. The league, released a modified schedule for the remaining eight teams Tuesday.

The tournament has a number of unique elements such as there’s no extra time in any match and no draws. Each match will have a winner, decided on penalty kicks if it ends in a tie after 90 minutes

Significant testing, social distancing and no on-site fans are part of the plan for the tournament.

 

Thorns fans should get CBS action first

NWSL announces landmark media coverage deal
By Cliff Pfenning, oregonsports.com

The progress the U.S. Women's National Soccer team made last year in terms of gaining public attention and interest, turned into another source of legitimacy for any professional sports league - negotiated media coverage.

The NWSL announced a partnership with CBS and accompanying services to cover all of its games this season, beginning April 18 with the Washington Mystics playing host to the newly-renamed OL Reign of Seattle.

Washington finished third in the league in attendance last season at 6,105 fans per game. Portland led the league at 20,098 with Utah in second at 10,774.

Terms for the media deal were not announced other than it is for three years. CBS will broadcast the opener and then the championship game. CBS All-Access, CBS Sports and Twitch will televise or stream the remainder of the games.

The league secured a deal with Budweiser shortly after the US Women won the World Cup in summer for its other big deal prior to this season.

 

THORNS WORKING THEIR WAY BACK TO TOWN

The Portland Thorns are certain to be fully game ready when the league schedule opens.

That's even though their preseason workouts began only this week at Providence Park.

Half or the team regulars are on national team duty, or returning from overseas franchises as preparations for the season opener, April 18, are underway.

Among the players with the national team are forward Tobin Heath, midfielder Lindsey Horan, goalkeeper Adrianna Franch and the team's biggest off-season acquisition defender Becky Sauerbrunn. They'll all be headed to Portland following today's final match of the SheBelieves Cup, set for Frisco, Texas against Japan.

Miodfielder Christine Sinclair is away with the Canadian national team, and defender Ellie Carpenter is with the Australian national team.

That leaves Meghan Klingenberg and Katherine Reynolds as the top veterans in camp - both returning for their fifth season with the franchise, which is headed for its eighth season in the eight-year-old league.

Portland will be seeking its third league title in the nine-team league.

 

Timbers, Thorns made some memories in 2019

Portland got an entertainment overload even without a title
By Cliff Pfenning

In early May, Brian Fernandez arrived at Portland International Airport and was greeted by an anonymous person, who stood next to him, lit up with a big smile and had someone take a photo of them together. 

Fernandez, a 24-year-old Argentinian, had just been signed by the Portland Timbers from his team in Mexico’s Liga MX, wore a long-sleeve shirt, faded jeans, and hat and had a guarded look on his face as if to say, “who are you? And are with the team?” 

Then more people showed up for photos, and then more. As the photos progressed, Fernandez seemed to figure out these were fans and he just landed in a hotspot of soccer fandom - and his face lit up, too. Soon, Fernandez started showing up on social media with a beaming smile when anyone noticed him and asked for a selfie. And, why not? Portland loved him and he performed.

Fernandez had one of the all-time great introductions to a new team starting slightly more than a week later. Having arrived on May 6 after the team paid an estimated $10 million for his rights, he scored his first goal May 15 after being inserted late in the match at Houston. Then, he scored again - twice - in the next match, and again in the next match. Fernandez scored in this first five Major League Soccer matches, something that had not been done since the league began in 1996, and added scores in two US Open Cup matches giving him nine goals in his first seven appearances in a Timbers kit.

Portland vaulted from being just a team to a contender for another trip to a league final, something it did just last year. But, then all the optimism came crashing down. Fernandez stopped scoring in every game and ended the season in substance-abuse rehab. Emotional sideline outbursts lit up social media, as did rumors of contract negotiations. And, of course, there was the Iron Front, which led the Timbers Army into a national discussion of civil liberties. That was the Timbers.

The Thorns, the women’s side of the franchise, were equally dramatic starting with the Women’s World Cup. The team had four players on the winning US side, which vaulted into nation attention for its success and dispute with USA Soccer over equal pay with the much-less successful men’s team. 

Portland led the National Women’s Soccer League for much of the season and seemed headed for another trip to a final and third league title when suddenly it stopped scoring, and closed out its season with a half-hearted loss in the first round of the playoffs.

Both the Timbers and Thorns lost their first playoff match and had their seasons close out this past weekend. As the playoffs head toward crowning league champions, Portland fans will only be able to follow from afar. And yet, it was not a boring year. 

The 2019 season might have been the most memorable, at least in terms of story-telling, since the franchise initially arrived in 1975 and led fans to claim the monicker of “Soccer City, USA.” In fact, that 1975 team was inducted into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame in September.

If the goal of a sports team is entertainment, the 2019 season for the Timbers and Thorns might be the most entertaining for any team that’s not going to win a league title. Fernandez arrived, Diego Chara finally played in a league All-Star Game, Diego Valeri reached the 70-70 mark and Steve Clark played stellar in goal in a season that started with 12-straight road matches. And the Thorns had the thrill of the World Cup and an early-season rise to the top of the league in spite of all those road matches only to slide in a historic level.

And, there was the Iron Front.

It all started March 2 in Denver, where so much snow landed on the field the second half had to be stopped to dig out the lines so everyone could see where the field ended. The match started at 18 degrees - the coldest in league history. Portland led 3-2 and had a man advantage in extra time, but the Rapids scored to force a 3-3 draw leading Timbers fans to snap their fingers and think what could have been with just a little more defense. 

The Denver result was a huge missed opportunity because the team lost its next five matches and was at the bottom of the league with just one point after six weeks.

The switch to Clark in goal seemed to start a turnaround. Portland won its next three matches as rumors of the Fernandez deal swirled across the land. Then he landed and the franchise really took off and the team rose to as high as No. 5 in some weekly power rankings. And then they started playing at home after the $85 million expansion of Providence Park finally finished up. Fans in the Timbers Army began arriving at the stadium half a day ahead of matches to be allowed in an extra 30 minutes early, continuing the city’s love affair with the franchise. All those home matches, though - 17 of the remaining 22, led to a thought of the players becoming complacent. The Army wasn’t complacent.

With politics sweeping the nation ahead of the 2020 Election, the league’s ban on political signage hit the Army due to its support of a symbol from 1930s Germany. The Iron Front, three arrows pointing downward diagonally, represented a group that opposed facist Nazis until 1933. The symbol, being waved on flags across the North end of the stadium, drew the league’s ire, especially after politicians in Washington starting deeming anti-facists as terrorists because of the violence that often erupted when they showed up to events organized by White Nationalists.  

With the team, somewhat incredibly, banning fans from matches, all manners of protests were tossed about on social media, from just not showing up, to walking out, to not purchasing concessions. Eventually, it turned into a silent protest for the first 33 minutes of the Aug. 23 match with rival Seattle, which included Seattle fans. Being televised by FOX, the stadium had never been as quiet. 

A month later, the league relented and eased its policy on fan support to allow for the Iron Front.

The protest received national attention, but it also received on-field attention as the team lost 2-1 and social media lit up because owner Merritt Paulson apparently cussed the fans out - linking the protest to the loss. 

The Timbers were potentially headed for as high as second place in the Western Conference, but a late-season collapse halted that dream. Portland finished the season with one win and three draws in its last six matches - just six points of a possible 18, and missed second place by just seven points, falling all the way to six instead.

A 2-1 loss at Real Salt Lake ended the season, Oct. 19.

Still, Chara, perhaps the team’s most revered player, played in his first All-Star Game in his ninth season in the league.

Valeri, the league’s MVP just two seasons ago, reached the level of 70 goals and 70 assists, becoming only the ninth player in league history to accomplish that feat. 

And, Clark, who started the season as the back-up to Jeff Attinella, had two entries on the online Save of the Year ballot - the lone keeper to have two entries.

The original Timbers, the 1975 squad of 17 primarily British players that reached the NASL final in its inaugural season, received a spot in the Hall, Sept. 24. The five members on hand for the ceremony at the Multnomah Athletic Club, noted the season was highly memorable for the fan support - two playoff crowds topped 30,000 fans, and the length of the season - 10 weeks by their memories. The regular season actually lasted 14 weeks, May 2 through August 9 for a 22-match schedule. To save money, the team’s East Coast road swing lasted nine days: four matches in nine days, including matches in Hartford, Conn., and Boston on consecutive days (played before crowds of 2,582 and 1,518, respectively).

The Thorns set an attendance record for their 2019 campaign, closing with an average of 20,098 fans per game - better than more than half of MLS teams. The World Cup buzz might have had something to do with that as four of the team’s starters: Tobin Heath, Lindsey Horan, Emily Sonnet and Adrianna Franch, helping the US win the Cup, closing with a 2-0 win over The Netherlands, July 7. 

The Thorns had five other players in the tournament as well, including team captain Christine Sinclair.

Portland opened the season with its bevy of international players and scored eight goals in its first three matches before the World Cup called for talent at the start of May. The Thorns had three wins, a pair of draws and just one loss in the six road matches it played before opening at home, June 2, with a 3-0 win over Chicago. With 11 of its remaining 17 matches at home, the team was on fire.

When the US starters returned for a July 24 home match with Houston, magic erupted in a 5-0 victory before 22,329 fans. The Thorns closed out August with a 3-0 home win over Chicago and had 10 wins, six draws and only three losses for the season. Then, the goals ended. 

Over the remaining six weeks, the Thorns scored just one goal and managed to rack up only four points in the standings from a potential 15. Meanwhile, North Carolina, the defending league champion, won eight of its final nine matches, a stretch that included a 6-0 win over Portland, and finished first in the league standings for the third consecutive year.

With a 1-0 loss at Chicago, Sunday, the season came to a halt, leading into much-needed discussion of the future of the women’s game. In the NWSL, that includes league sponsors (Budweiser became the official beer sponsor), media rights and expansion franchises, one of which is due for Louisville, Ky., in 2021. And, the US women’s team salaries.

Put altogether, FC Portland had a truly memorable year, without winning a title.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Follow the money Team USA

Tue, 07/09/2019 - 4:04pm
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 show off home magic

Portland handles Chicago 3-0 before Providence Park faithful
Staff report

Portland's NWSL return to Providence Park could hardly have gone better in front of a raucous, sun-drenched crowd of 19,461 fans Sunday afternoon with the Thorns beating the Chicago Red Stars 3-0 to move into second place.

Playing without nearly half of its regular rotation due to the upcoming World Cup, Portland got a pair of goals from Midge Purse and one from Simone Charley to improve to 4-1-2, 14 points. The season began with six road games.

Thorns fans can watch for four team members on the U.S. National Team - midfielders Tobin Heath and Lindsey Horan, defender Emily Sonnet, and goalkeeper Adrianna Franch, as well as Christine Sinclair playing for the Canadian side. In addition, Ellie Carpenter is with the Australian side and Andressinha is playing for Brazil.

The World Cup begins Friday with the league taking a week off for the opening round. Portland next plays at North Carolina, June 15, and again in Portland June 21 against Utah.

 

 

 

Ducks keep Eugene buzzing

4CAST: NCAA women, Pac-12 baseball, softball, Hawks, soccer
Staff report

The Oregon women’s basketball team moved to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 for the second straight year with a 101-73 win over Minnesota Sunday at Matthew Knight Arena.

Oregon will play either Central Michigan or Ohio State, which play today, Saturday with the winner facing either Notre Dame or Texas A&M next Monday in Spokane, Wash.

“I will be shocked if they’re not playing in the Final Four,” Minnesota coach Marlene Stollings said after watching the Ducks put up 30 points in two different quarters Sunday. “They were rolling on all cylinders.”

Sunday’s second-round game matched two of the top-10 scoring offenses in the nation, and the teams combined for 52 points in the first quarter. From there, though, Oregon - leading 30-22 after the first quarter, outscored the Gophers 52-28 in the next two quarters to effectively decide the outcome.

Oregon blew the game open with a 10-0 run to close out the second quarter, capped by a fadeaway three-pointer at the buzzer by Sabrina Ionescu, while she was being fouled.

Ionescu led all scorers with 29 points, while sophomore Ruthy Hebard added 22 for the Ducks - playing in front of a vocal crowd of 7,576 fans.

Oregon made 11 of its 22 3-point attempts.

The Ducks had never been to the Sweet 16 until last season, when they reached the Elite Eight.

2. PAC-12 BASEBALL

Michael Gretler homered in the second inning to spark the top-ranked Oregon State baseball team to a sweep of California Sunday as the Beavers won the series finale, 6-4, in Berkely, Calif.
 
The win pushed Oregon State to 18-1 on the year, matching the 1951, 1962, 2013 and 2017 teams for the best record through 19 games. The victory also sends the Beavers back to Corvallis with a 3-0 conference record; OSU has won 13 consecutive Pac-12 games dating back to the 2016 season.]
 
The sweep marked the Beavers’ third in Berkeley since 2012 after getting swept at Cal in 2016. OSU starts a three-game series with Washington on Friday.
 
In other Pac-12 action, Oregon lost all three games of its series against Arizona State in Tempe, Ariz., to drop to 12-7. The Ducks return to Eugene for a three-game series with Cal starting Friday. Oregon is 8-2 at home this season.

3. PAC-12 SOFTBALL

Sixth-ranked Oregon rallied from a loss Friday to beat UCLA Saturday and Sunday and is 25-5 heading for a weekend off before a three-game series with rival Oregon State March 29-31 in Corvallis.

Oregon State recovered from a 12-0 loss Saturday to beat Cal 8-3 Sunday and earn a 2-1 series win in Corvallis. Oregon State won the first game of the series 10-5 Friday and is 19-10 heading into a three-game series at UCLA Friday.

4. WINTERHAWKS HEAD FOR PLAYOFFS

The 72-game regular season came to a close with a 5-4 loss to Spokane Sunday for the Portland Winterhawks, but the season begins anew Saturday. Portland, which finished the regular season at 44-22-1-5 for 94 points, plays the Chiefs in a seven-game series with the first two games in Portland Saturday and Sunday.

EXTENDED 4CAST

The Portland Thorns and Portland Timbers return to the pitch Saturday with league matches. The Thorns, who drew with Houston 0-0 Saturday at Merlo Field, open NWSL play at North Carolina Saturday at 12:30 p.m. Portland won its second NWSL title last season.

The Timbers, 0-2 in MLS action, play at Houston Saturday at 12:30 p.m. Portland has scored just once in its two games, and is looking for its first win under new coah Giovanni Savarese.

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