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USWNT Victory Tour Is Neglecting NWSL's Needs

USSF has scheduled four of 10 games so far, and none of them look particularly useful in terms of boosting the league.

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The United States Women's National Soccer Team won the World Cup. They're getting a 10-game victory tour. That is all incredible, fantastic, great news for American women's soccer.

Sort of.

USSF has announced four of the 10 games so far. They are:

USA vs. Costa Rica, August 16, Heinz Field, Pittsburgh

USA vs. Costa Rica, August 18, Finley Stadium, Chattanooga

USA vs. Australia, September 17, Ford Field, Detroit

USA vs. Australia, September 20, Legion Field, Birmingham

More than 37,000 tickets have already been sold for Pittsburgh and Chattanooga is sold out. More great news—for the national team.

What of NWSL, USSF's oft-neglected latchkey kid? None of those venues are NWSL cities. They're not even particularly close to NWSL cities. Pittsburgh is a four-hour drive from D.C. or Rochester and even farther from Philadelphia, which you could argue is maybe a contender for expansion and just generally a good soccer market. Chattanooga and Birmingham aren't anywhere close to Kansas City. Detroit is four hours from Chicago. You're probably not going to get a lot of crossover between audiences.

You could argue that these friendlies will all be broadcast, and the broader awareness will trickle down to the clubs. So far, all games will be on either Fox Sports 1 or ESPN2. Coming on the heels of the World Cup, you can expect these games to get decent ratings. If a game pulls 500,000 viewers (twice what a good MLS game gets, not an unreasonable expectation), and just 1% of them decide to try an NWSL game, that's 5,000 extra people buying tickets. In a league where 5,000 easily doubles the max attendance of most clubs, that's not an insignificant bump for the week, even applied league-wide.

But it's not as though every NWSL team doesn't play in or near a large venue capable of hosting a soccer game. The games would still be broadcast since those big venues all have the infrastructure in place. Capturing viewers through nationally-televised games is still viable in NWSL-friendly locations. Venues would probably be:

Boston Breakers - Gillette Stadium

Chicago Red Stars - Soldier Field

FC Kansas City - Sporting Park

Houston Dash - BBVA Compass Stadium

Portland Thorns - Providence Park

Seattle Reign - CenturyLink Field

Sky Blue FC - Giants Stadium

Washington Spirit - RFK Stadium

Western NY Flash - Sahlen's Stadium

Of course, there are many factors that go into choosing venues, including how recently the team played in the region, scheduling, and the size of the venue. If USSF can expect sellouts in huge 40-60k capacity venues, why should it limit itself to soccer-specific stadiums that only hold about 20,000? Compare capacities in the theoretical NWSL-friendly venues to the chosen venues:

friendly venues comparison

So in at least some of the NWSL cities, the USWNT played there recently enough and the most probable venue is small enough that it's fair to look at other locations. Of the announced venues, the last time any of them saw a USWNT game was December 8, 2012 at Ford Field. And with the cheapest tickets going for about $29 each, the difference in revenue between a 20k- and 65k-stadium is enormous (at least $1,305,000 assuming a sellout and not factoring in the more expensive tickets). Even if the team only manages about 40k, that's still twice the revenue they would have gotten at a small soccer-specific stadium.

And that revenue can go directly back into the women's soccer program, right? It will definitely help pay the national team's World Cup bonuses, which Sunil Gulati has says entitles them to about $300,000 each for the year. But will NWSL see any of it?

USSF's financial statements show they spent $247,830 on NWSL in fiscal year 2013 and $670,678 in FY 2014They budgeted $807,032 for NWSL in FY 2015, with projected expenses of $1,007,508. So USSF has, at least financially, shown a gradually-increasing financial commitment to the league. With speculation rife about expansion in 2016, you could assume that USSF will once again increase their spending on NWSL, hopefully in an impactful way. So bigger venues, more revenue, probably more willing to spend on NWSL. So far, so good.

If these friendlies earn enough money to safely usher NWSL into another season, that's a big plus, but does it really help the league long-term? Is it better to have a huge bump in ticket sales for a few games, or a smaller bump in season ticket holder sales that carry over from year to year? Considering one season ticket is the dollar equivalent of anywhere from 7-10 individual tickets, the balancing act between the two should probably lean towards capturing those who are willing to commit to multiple games up front. That repeat customer base is the core that keeps teams going from season to season.

Assuming that playing in a region after 2013 rules out that region, then that definitely knocks out every NWSL team except Seattle and possibly Boston. But why should it? What is the benefit of a 20k-capacity stadium in Chattanooga over a 20k-capacity stadium in Kansas City or Houston? Surely not every big stadium on the NWSL list is occupied during a friendly date? Boston, Chicago, Seattle, Sky Blue, and Washington all have potential big stadiums that would not only fit USSF's revenue requirements but would arguably be of more long-term benefit by bringing publicity to their respective NWSL clubs.

Of note, US Soccer itself announced way back in 2005 that they would not schedule men's team games at Legion Field in Birmingham because of its switch to artificial turf. Birmingham itself is hoping that a successful showing will lure back the MNT.

Either USSF decided to walk back that decision, or they just aren't that concerned about the WNT playing on turf. Signs would seem to point to the latter since there will be grass laid down over the turf at the Georgia Dome for the men's Gold Cup game against Jamaica, a venue where the women played in 2014 on turf. Lest you balk at comparing a Gold Cup game to a friendly, MNT friendlies are almost always played on grass laid over turf at carpet venues, while the women play on the surface as is.

There are still six games yet to be announced, so all this fretting could be premature. That's what sports fans do: they fret, they wring their hands, they moan about how the people in charge are absolutely getting everything wrong, and then they go buy a ticket and a scarf and go to the game. The USWNT undoubtedly deserves this victory tour and it's nice that they're reaching into markets that don't always get to see the national team up close. But this is a rare, fleeting window in which to grab new viewers and solidify support from people who might just need a nudge. Random locations for friendlies can always go in the between years, when there's no hype from the World Cup or Olympics. A little coordination with the league that is supposed to be the backbone of development in American women's soccer wouldn't go amiss.