The IX: Soccer Monday with Annie M. Peterson for March 15, 2021
Hey everyone! The We Have the Spirit forum is coming up on Friday — Lindsay Barenz talks NWSL — Must-click women's soccer links
Hi! Howard Megdal here. The IX helps build the necessary infrastructure for women’s sports media. By connecting these worlds, it gives women’s sports the networking boost men’s sports can take for granted.
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I write this edition of The IX with a heavy heart. My friend Jason Tom, an immensely talented chef who has worked at such restaurants as Portofino and A Cena here in Portland, has left this realm today. Jason’s health began failing last year and his earthly body simply couldn’t fight anymore. Jason was Native American, and I honestly believe his death is not an end, but a transition. Still, I am just so sad.
For that reason, I’m not going to go into too much length for this week’s Soccer Monday. Apologies.
First off, this from our founder at The IX, Howard Megdal:
This is important, and we’d love hearing from you about it. Feel free to DM me on Twitter, or my email is firstname.lastname@example.org. (Editor’s note: same to me, email@example.com.)
But I did want to briefly tout a project that I’m involved with and very excited about. I mentioned it last week, but I think it’s worth writing about again.
This Friday, I’m participating in an hour-long web conference called We Are The Spirit. It’s a collaboration between the Japanese Embassy and the Washington Spirit, meant to lift up the women’s soccer ties between the two countries, and promote the Japan’s new WE League.
I’ll be on a panel with Kikuko Okajima, chair of the We League, and Lindsay Barenz, the Spirit’s new president of business operations. I spoke to Barenz recently and you can see what she said below! Both of them have some amazing ideas about the promotion of women’s soccer, here and in Japan.
As you know, the WE League, which stands for Women’s Empowerment League, is scheduled to start play this fall. Yes, challenging during a global pandemic, but hopefully by then the worst will be behind us.
Japan faces different challenges in setting up a professional league. As Okajima explained to me, the Nadeshiko League, currently the top tier of women’s soccer in Japan, has a more male fan base. Games are often played when children are in school, and many are at work.
Okajima aims to create a more family-friendly atmosphere, to show girls that a career in sport is possible.
The good news is that the WE League received greater interest than was anticipated. Okajima was expecting about eight teams to join the league at the start — 17 applied and 11 were accepted. Eight of the 11 are linked to the men’s J-League, meaning they’ll have access to things like practice facilities. Much like the NWSL.
Each team must have five players on fully professional contracts, paid a living wage. Additionally, the teams must include women in their front offices.
Okajima would like to attract some American and European players, much like the NWSL and the WSL.
This emphasis on the “global game” is key for the rise of women’s soccer everywhere. We’ve seen evidence of it in recent years, with American fans following WSL teams as U.S. stars, like Christen Press, Tobin Heath, Sam Mewis and Rose Lavelle join teams abroad and take fans with them.
As this happens, sponsors will likely follow. And moreover, the professionalization of women’s soccer will help ensure more competitive salaries.
That’s why I’m so excited about this panel, and promoting the WE League in general.
There’s still space to register at the event website, We Have The Spirit. Please do so quickly, because there’s only limited space available.
And with that, I’ll move on to the links.
(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! firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Spanish government seeks to rectify an “injustice” and make its top women’s soccer league professional.
We’re down to the final eight in the Women’s Champions League.
Hege Riise will lead Team GB at the Olympics this summer.
The Athletic looks at concussions in women’s soccer.
The FA says it will help players pursue higher education, an effort to keep kids from heading to the U.S. for college degrees.
Miu Miu faces criticism for its cleats with heels. As is should be.
Claire Rafferty talks about the FA’s decision to ban women’s football 100 years ago, and its lasting impact.
Alicia Rodriguez with Indomitable Soccer asks what is going on with the NWSL Sacramento franchise.
Stephanie Yang at All For XI continues her season preview package with a profile of Simone Charley. And Yang also spoke to Tori Huster.
Also Yang wrote about the USWNT’s away match against Sweden next month.
Dan Bernstein with Goal.com takes a look at Trinity Rodman.
Jacob Cristobal with Ride of the Valkyries spoke to the Reign’s Jasmyne Spencer.
Katie Whyatt of The Athletic spoke to Jill Scott’s mom in a delightful story.
Meg Linehan with The Athletic breaks down The Challenge Cup.
Julia Poe with her story on Ashlyn Harris embracing motherhood.
John Halloran with an excellent story on Whitney Engen for The Equalizer.
Also for The Equalizer, Dan Lauletta spoke to Lisa Baird after Year 1 as NWSL commish.
Just Women’s Sports presents the case for Bri Scurry, from Yara El-Shaboury.
Five at The IX: Lindsay Barenz
Lindsay Barenz is the Washington Spirit’s new president of Business Operations, but this is by no means her first job in women’s soccer. She served as vice president of business development for the NWSL, and before that worked with the Utah Royals and Real Salt Lake. She’s got great perspective on the future of the league.
Annie: What have been the lessons you’ve learned about what works in terms of the business side of the NWSL, and creating a link with fans and bringing in sponsors?
Lindsay: The reason I work in sports is because it’s the conjunction of my skill set with deal-making, and my passion for social justice. That is also exactly what works on the business side of the league: You have to marry the potential financial rewards with the potential social impact, and you really can’t have one without the other. It is the financial success that enables the survival of the league and the compensation of the players and increasing the compensation of the players. And it’s the social impact that makes it so special.
We have all these brands out there who are very values driven. In 2021, every organization wants to be known as a brand that supports women and believes in equal opportunity. And it’s very hard to communicate that message organically: You can say ‘We support women’, but what are you doing to support women? Well, one thing you can do to support women is to be a sponsor of women’s sports, the NWSL, the WNBA, the Washington spirit or another team. I always say, sponsorship of a women’s sports league or team comes with a metaphorical billboard that says, ‘We support women.’ And if you’re an organization that does a lot of sports marketing, and a lot of sponsorship partnership, and all of your partnerships are with men’s teams or men’s leagues, then you also get a metaphorical billboard that says ‘We don’t support women.’ There are two sides to this: One, you want to be known as a values-driven organization, then you need to spend your marketing dollars in a way that is consistent with the values you say you have. And then on top of that, you also want to attract sponsors that share the same values of the players on the floor or the field.
Annie: Obviously you feel like it’s a growth proposition. But what can this league become?
Lindsay: I think that the NWSL is currently the most competitive Women’s professional soccer league in the world. I think that it can maintain that position. I also think it can become the most successful women’s sports property in the world. I think it has that potential. And I think that we are just beginning to scratch the surface of both the financial potential and the social impact potential of this league. I think that there’s a lot of evidence to support that, starting with the influx of new investors, who believe that the earnings potential, the asset growth of this as an investment is quite high. So I think there’s a lot of people jumping in right now because they see that long term potential.
Annie: I was gonna ask you about that, there’s just like a substantial influx of investment, which kind of surprising to me because we’re still technically in a pandemic. Is it just the promise, or why do you think there’s been this influx in investment lately?
Lindsay: I think that the 2019 Women’s World Cup was a turning point for professional women’s soccer. I think that it showed the potential audience for this sport. And we still value property, principally, on the basis of eyeballs. And when you see how many multiple millions of people in the United States, and globally, were watching that event, a lot of people who are looking for growth investments realized that this is one of those. I also think that on the tail of the World Cup, we at the NWSL were able to sign some groundbreaking broadcast deals with CBS and Twitch. And those were the proverbial game changers. We saw with putting our games on CBS, the largest broadcast network in the country, our ratings just jumped by several 100,000 over the highest rated games we’d ever had previously. And being on Twitch, a very innovative global streaming service, and seeing the kind of engagement that that service creates.
Seeing NWSL games on Twitch, it’s just so interesting because the way it attracts an audience and then maintains the audience during the course of the game. Look at the broadcast ratings for virtually any event, you’ll see a very spiky up and down type of ratings. That’s not what ratings look like on on Twitch, they grow over time the audience just gets larger and larger and larger the longer the event goes, because of the engagement, the way people can chat on the sidebar. It’s just really fascinating. So I think those two deals really cemented the investment potential of the league on the heels of the 2019 World Cup.
Annie: Do you see that there’s going to be ongoing momentum because of the Olympics or do you think the upward trend is not reliant on these big events, especially in light of the pandemic?
Lindsay: It definitely matters. When you look at historical in person attendance numbers or our growth on social media, it’s a constant upward trajectory since the beginning of the league. It grows year over year, every year. But what happens in World Cup and Olympic years is there are these giant leaps in fandom. But once we attract those fans we don’t lose them. The growth curve may be a little more shallow in non-Olympic and World Cup years, but it doesn’t dip.
I do expect this year to be a massive year in terms of retention and growth. And the great thing is, if you look out over an eight year period, it’s just, non-stop global events that are going to be great for this league. So we have the Olympics this year, the Women’s World Cup in 2023 in Australia, and the Paris Olympics. Then we have the men’s World Cup in the United States which is going to be great for us, even though it’s not a women’s soccer event, it’s just going to bring soccer to the fore. Then we’ll have another Women’s World Cup, location TBD, but possibly in the United States. And then the LA Olympics. So look at that horizon, and we see so many global events are just going to leap the fandom and attention for this league over the next eight years. The investors see that. They’re making very educated decisions. They look at that eight-year outlook and the success of the league so far, and those broadcast deals.