NWSL league commissioner Jeff Plush, FCKC head coach Vlatko Andonovski, Becky Sauerbrunn, Orlando Pride head coach Tom Sermanni, and Becky Edwards all joined a conference call today to discuss the league's upcoming fourth season. Here are some of the main takeaways from the call.
NWSL will continue its broadcast partnership with Fox
"We're thrilled to say that we'll be extending our relationship with Fox Sports for another year and we'll have the details of that coming out in the next day, but we're excited to have them as a broadcast partner for us once again both for regular season matches as well as the semifinals and the final," said Plush.
But NWSL might not be limited to just airing games on Fox. Plush said that the deal was not exclusive, and hinted at other potential distributors, which may mean a forthcoming deal with ESPN.
"We always are in conversations, and yes, exploring other ways to get our product more broadly distributed," said Plush. "There's a handful of different conversations we're engaged in. And clearly you always want things to wrap up before the season start, but we're pleased with where these conversations are going and we'll let them run its course over the next weeks and months."
"I want to be very clear in speaking about how excited and proud we are of our Fox relationship, but there's other conversations going on certainly."
USWNT players are trying to keep NWSL and USSF separate
Becky Sauerbrunn was asked several times about the USWNT's EEOC wage discrimination case and the possibility of an Olympic boycott, but she wasn't having any of it.
"The complaint that we filed is with US Soccer, and so the NWSL is a separate thing," said Sauerbrunn. "So we're committed to playing in the league and everything else that deals with the national team and US Soccer. We're just excited for NWSL to start and we're thrilled about the investment that Fox Sports, Nike, and the federation have put into the league. So we're just going to be focusing on that."
When asked about the possibility of a WNT strike affecting the league, she was similarly reticent to make any definitive statements, instead preferring to focus on the start of the season.
"I can't speak for the entire team - it's not something that we've discussed because we've only been focused with the complaint concerning our national team status, so it's something that we haven't really talked about," she said.
"These are situations dealing with the complaint that we filed with US Soccer, and so since we're speaking about the NWSL, that's pretty much what we're just focused on right here. All the players are dedicated to our teams for right now on the pro level and everything going on with the national team is kind of separate. As far as negotiations and CBA stuff that's all national team stuff and we're trying to see progress, and if we see progress, then we'll make decisions from there. But for right now we're with our team in our cities in our markets and we're just focused on the start of the season."
Plush also emphasized that league dealings and WNT player dealings with US Soccer are separate matters, at least for him. "We're not party to everything that's going on," he said. "We have the 24 [USSF subsidized] players in our league and there's certainly very close with the federation and have all the confidence that they'll continue to manage that and come out of it with a resolution." He added, "We're not going to get caught up in the things that's outside of our control."
NWSL is aware that they need to do better for their minimum-wage players
"We know there's certainly more to be done, especially at the lower end of the pay scale," Plush said. "We are looking at a variety of different policies that we could implement, some of which would take place within the season, but also some would create incremental opportunities for our players outside the season, whether camps and academies and ways to integrate some of our clubs' business outside the season. Additionally we're looking for ways to create more opportunities and one in particular that's come up, we've worked in concert with some of our players who express interests around coaching. And around coaching courses and licenses, the league would be willing to underwrite the cost of those education classes."
The league wants to expand, but they want to do it right
"Without naming any names or breaching any confidences, we're open to expansion," said Plush. "We certainly would like to expand in pairs. I think there's lots of reasons that going from 10 to 12 makes sense for everyone, both the clubs and the league and players and travel and by weeks being limited."
"The conversations are robust. There's many of them. There's been no slowing down in those conversations at all. If anything we've tried to slow the process down just a every little bit just so that we can properly get this season launched and make sure that we're putting all our attention on the existing clubs. I would anticipate that we will have really significant conversations with our upcoming board meeting and subsequent weeks and months after that about taking further steps in expansion. We have a variety of cities who've expressed interest and that certainly includes MLS clubs, but also other entities that aren't MLS. Our parameters for expansion remain the same as they've been, it's just down to quality of the marketplace and quality of the stadium and training facilities and all those things, but then I think it's down to quality of ownership and a partner that is a credit to the league and in it for the right reasons."
Year four is just the beginning
Plenty of questions asked how Plush felt about NWSL making it to an unprecedented fourth year after WUSA and WPS both went under after their third seasons. But Plush, who has spoken about NWSL making it to year four before, was already a step beyond.
"We've talked about a 10-year plan," he said. "We've talked about where we want to be coming out of 2019, and then 2023 when we're a 10-year-old league. To get there we need to show growth in lots of areas. We need to show growth in all revenue streams. So that would mean more people in more buildings. Certainly we need to show growth in sponsorship. And while we have shown growth year over year with both Nike and National Mango Board and Coppertone have all come back and all have increased their investment, we need more sponsors. We are in very significant negotiations on a couple fronts that we hope to be able to share more information in the next handful of weeks."