Carli Lloyd retires while the NWSL faces controversy
An eventful week in women's soccer
A bit of breaking but unsurprising news from this morning: Carli Lloyd has officially announced her retirement. It won’t happen just yet, the U.S. team is playing four games this fall, and she’ll finish out the season with Gotham.
On a personal note, I’ve always liked working with Lloyd. She’s a straight forward, no-BS interview. I appreciate that. And I wish, wish, wish I had even half of her determination and drive. She’s a rarity: Someone who is so singularly focused on her goals. That’s admirable.
And I’m so happy she found her way back to her family.
Here’s my story about her retirement for The AP.
No that Lloyd’s retirement is — finally — in the books, I’m the first edition of The IX that is moving over to our new platform on WordPress! I’m kinda the guinea pig as the first, and apologies, I can’t figure out links to save my life. Thanks to our fearless leader Howard Megdal for putting up with me. (Editor’s note: it is a JOY to work with Annie. I’ll keep telling her.)
For this edition, I just wanted to look at the NWSL, since I’ve been in Olympicland, as well as on vacation for a week to decompress, and haven’t been paying close attention. It’s weird to randomly fall asleep in the middle of the afternoon, but it’s getting better.
Turns out, I missed a lot.
Alyse LaHue was dismissed from Gotham FC because of a “violation of league policy.” Meg Linehan at The Athletic wrote about it here, citing a source that said it was the NWSL’s anti-harassment policy. I really liked Alyse, as many of you did, and I thought she did a good job guiding Sky Blue into the Gotham era. So I’m conflicted a bit on this, especially since I don’t know the details.
Then last week Spirit coach Richie Burke abruptly resigned and was moved to the front office role (citing health concerns), but 24 hours later he was suspended following a Washington Post report from the super-talented Molly Hensley-Clancy.
It is alleged that Burke was verbally abusing his players. This is not a new allegation. It was an issue when Burke was hired. Read the Post’s report, because it is bad.
One of those who came forward was Kaiya McCullough, the former UCLA star who walked away from the Spirit. Kudos to Kaiya for coming forward.
Then Megan Klingenberg shared her story about an owner of a team in a previous league. Hmmmm, I wonder who that could be?
But let’s look back a bit: Last November, the now-defunct Utah Royals fired coach Craig Harrington after allegations of abuse. Here’s Alex Vejar’s account in the Salt Lake Tribune.
Also last year, allegations of verbal abuse surfaced about Cal’s coaching staff:
OK, so why do these things keep happening?
Yes, often times there’s toxic masculinity associated with coaching. There’s also the feeling that “tough” coaches are somehow more effective. And that players who can’t take it are simply soft.
It’s time to move past that and understand that verbal abuse is REAL ABUSE. And psychological abuse is REAL ABUSE. I think that there’s a widely held misconception that abuse must leave a mark.
I also believe that the NWSL must hold itself to a higher standard. This isn’t the NFL, nor should it be. The league has a responsibility to be a leader when it comes to equality, social consciousness and justice. The game’s fans demand it.
NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird spoke about the Burke situation (and a whole lot more, see below).
“I can’t comment on (Burke’s) history. As you well know, I started this in March. What I can speak to is an enormous amount of work that the league has done with ownership, with the full cooperation of ownership, to really put into place vetting processes not only for coaches, but for staff and for owners, that we want to have at the highest standard. As you know, we put into place an anti- harassment policy. We have a very thorough vetting and investigation capability that we use.”
Look, strides are being made. Sky Blue’s issues were taken seriously, so were the Royals. The NWSLPA is working to hold teams accountable and make the league better for everyone.
And, also, this happened! Which is a good thing.
With that, I’ll move on to the links. Pumped to see the WICC this week. Lyon! Here in Portland! I’m in heaven.
With that, I’ll move on to the links. Pumped to see the WICC this week. Lyon! Here in Portland! I’m in heaven.
Reminder: First, the underlined words are the links. Second. CLICK these, even if you’ve already read them. ESPECIALLY NOW, as newsrooms are forced to make difficult choices. Clicks = Attention from editors, producers and webmasters. Third, if you want to push out stuff you’ve written or read, email me! email@example.com
Annie Costabile with the Chicago Sun-Times addresses the league’s refereeing issues.
Sandra Herrera for CBS Sports looks at Lisa Baird’s state of the league address.
TSN report on the possibility of a Canadian pro league or NWSL expansion.
The Seattle Times on Laura Harvey’s takeover of the Reign.
Julia Poe for the Orlando Sentinel reports that Alex Morgan’s return to the Pride will be delayed.
My colleague Rob Harris on the concerns about the Afghan women’s team and the takeover by the Taliban.
Megan Rapinoe launches a book club.
Meg Linehan and Chantel Jennings team up to look that the future of the USWNT and Team USA.
The Washington Post looks at the No More Side Hussles campaign.
Caitlin Murray looked at what is next for the USWNT for ESPN.
The Equalizer’s Jeff Kassouf with a great Carli Lloyd story.
The Equalizer’s Blair Newman had a nice story on Sofia Huerta.
Seth Vertelney from Goal.com spoke to Hope Solo. As usual it was interesting.
Emma Hruby of Just Women’s Sports with a piece on Nadia Nadim’s heartbreak over Afghanistan.
Here is Lisa Baird’s State of the League Address. Baird spoke on a conference call with reporters last week.
Before I start, I would like to make a couple of remarks. I think most of you must know by now that the National Women’s Soccer League and the Washington Spirit initiated an investigation last night that was based on the NWSL’s anti-harassment policy for a safe work environment. The investigation was in response to very credible press reports about Spirit coach Richie Burke, and he has been placed on administrative leave pending the results of an adjudication process.
The league was not involved in the statement and Burke’s initial stepping down. And I am not going to comment on anyone’s medical condition. What I can say is that following that initial announcement, we were contacted by The Washington Post and we initiated an investigation promptly based on the information that was provided. As far as the video that was circulated this morning, it’s the first I’ve seen of it. Obviously, that sort of contact has no place in society or sport, or in our league, and it is completely unacceptable.
I’d like to go through some prepared remarks that are the purpose of today’s midseason conference. This has been a very exciting week for the NWSL, the news aside, because we are welcoming back the thirty-seven Olympians who’ve been competing in Tokyo from eight different national teams and have represented nine NWSL clubs. And now we’re about to begin the second half of what is again proving to be an NWSL hallmark, an incredibly competitive race to win the shield. In addition to the incredible work that has been on display on the pitch by our players, veterans and new players, I also want to spend some time highlighting the accomplishments at the league level thus far in 2021 in service of those players.
I’d like to think back: 2021 began in much the same way that 2020 ended with very challenging conditions around the country due to the ongoing pandemic. Our players and clubs have been operating under the full medical protocols and the challenges of covid-related protocols, and they’ve been doing it like the absolute professionals that they are. Not a single match has been postponed. So I want to thank the players for their discipline and their diligence to the work of the medical task force.
It seems just a short time ago when we kicked off the year with a very successful NWSL draft, it was viewed by more than 700,000 fans on Twitch and welcomed the most diverse group of draftees in league history. We committed to CBS and to Twitch that we would independently produce and distribute on their platforms 147 games this year. A significant media investment by league and ownership, and one that we think is critically important. We’ve already completed 86 individual productions every single game, and overall I’m very proud of the work that our media team has done, and I am mindful that we can do better. Our CBS games, our broadcast games this year, have each averaged more than 400,000 viewers, including the addition and the investment that we made early in the year to add two matches on broadcast TV that were not originally scheduled. It’s a significant investment from us, but as we move from digital to broadcast, I think it’s worth every single penny.
Our streaming numbers on both Paramount Plus and Twitch have been incredibly solid. In fact, recent third-party research reports have reported that the NWSL has beat all major sports properties over the last quarter in terms of audience viewing our games, both here in the US and abroad. And we have high aspirations for our digital efforts going forward.
The investments are paying off, according to some proprietary fan research that we are just in the process of completing, we’ve recently sized our national core avid fan base at over 10 million. That’s a high watermark, and that research continues to validate that we have one of the most highly sought after audiences in sport, men’s sport or women’s support sports combined. They’re highly engaged, they’re diverse and they’re young.
The momentum we’re generating in our fan base and on the field is translating to the commercial sides of the operations. This year, we signed Ally, MasterCard and Nationwide, and we’re working hard to expand our portfolio of sponsors. We have several deals that are coming close to fruition and completion, and we look forward to announcing those new partnerships in the days ahead.
Now, ticket sales, we have been operating under attendance restraints as have other people in the sports arena. And they’re getting better. Though again, the COVID pandemic has been hard to navigate because of the local restrictions. And we’ve been very, very thoughtful and measured in protecting our players. It’s made it difficult for our clubs, but we are trending in the right direction. Ticket revenue remains our single largest revenue source. And let me put it simply, we need to see more butts in seats. That is a core strategic priority for our 9-year-old league.
Despite the challenges of the last two years. I will tell you the total player compensation, which includes base salary, free health insurance, free housing and other player benefits, is trending in the right direction. In fact, player compensation has more than doubled since 2019, making the average total comp $52,520 in 2021. The average base salary for our players has increased 66 percent since 2019, and that includes continuance of full pay and benefits during the COVID-shortened 2020 season when the league and ownership made the decision to compensate players for the full season despite their decision to play or not.
All of that progress has been made while the league and the clubs continue to operate at a financial loss. This league and our owners are committed to a sustainable path forward, and that path includes a very fair bargain with our players in the collective bargaining process that began late last year. We want a sustainable package of benefits and compensation that benefits our players, our clubs and the league.
Now, market expansion remains a very important topic for our league. This year we have Louisville that entered as an expansion market as well as Kansas City, and we continue to see great interest from a very wide variety of well qualified potential investors. That includes some of the top names in sports. These investors are bringing with them proposals for simply extraordinary soccer-specific facilities with competition and training environment investments. And that will continue to elevate our league in the United States.
As proud as I am of this progress, I know there’s still much work to be done, our potential for growth is enormous, but we’re still operating in a COVID-impacted environment and we have to continue our vigilance to keep everyone healthy and well. And we need to build on the significant success of the last 18 months. We are building one of the premier soccer leagues on earth with some of the greatest athletes in the world, the most engaged fans everywhere, and we’re growing at a rate not seen in professional sports, maybe ever.
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
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