By: Kaitlyn Kacusta, Ruling Sports Intern (Twitter: @KRKacsuta)
The new women’s league as a whole, if it follows the MLS model, can hopefully contract a national television rights deal that makes sense and generates revenue. Though this may be a lofty goal, it is not out of the question given the recent viewer ratings of the Women’s National Team and the visibility of its players through vehicles like social media. Also, a recent poll conducted by ESPN reported that professional soccer was the second-most popular sport among the 12-24 year old demographic.
The two most important women’s soccer matches in the last two years, the 2011 World Cup Final on ESPN, and 2012 Gold Medal match on NBC Sports, both played between the U.S. and Japan, drew 13.5 million and 4.35 million viewers, respectively. NBC Sports Network may, in fact, owe it to the U.S. Women’s National Team to give the women’s soccer league a home at its network. Thanks to the Olympics, the network increased its overall viewership by six times during the London Games.
Those 4.35 million viewers who tuned in to see the U.S. women take home the gold at Old Trafford was the highest-ever event rating for the network, which regularly broadcasts popular events like the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The November 3, triple overtime football game between Notre Dame and Pitt was the highest-ever rated Notre Dame game for NBC, with 4.3 million viewers – which is less than the U.S. women’s team Gold Medal match. The third-highest rating for NBC Sports network was a 2012 match between the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders of the MLS – in MLS’ first year broadcasting on NBC Sports. NBC also committed $250 million to its soccer viewing options in October when it purchased the rights to broadcast English Premier League matches beginning in 2013. This network appears poised to provide numerous soccer options for American viewers and offering women’s professional soccer only seems to make sense.
Despite the popularity of the Women’s National Team, the facts still remain that it will take years before this reincarnation of the women’s league sees profit. The ownership groups have to be patient, willing to take the losses, committed to the cause, and invested in long-term success. That is why the MLS model makes so much sense for this new women’s league. It forces out investors and groups that are not truly committed to long-term growth of women’s soccer and are not active participants in league success. On too many occasions, lack of quality ownership and management has been the downfall of women’s professional soccer Stateside.
The WNBA is close to finally breaking even for the first time since play began in 1997. When the WNBA was first established, NBA Commissioner, David Stern, stressed time and patience for the league to evolve. Not unlike the WNBA or MLS for that matter, all this women’s soccer league needs is time – and three years is not enough time.