NWSL managing director of operations Amanda Duffy was made available to discuss NWSL in between rounds of the 2018 college draft today. She answered questions about expansion, broadcast deals, Boston’s ownership group, timing on the release of the 2018 schedule, and more.
First and foremost, however, is that the league still has not found a new commissioner. “It’s still an active search,” said Duffy, “And we continue to work with US Soccer and our owners and board to make sure we have that role defined and how we want to have it positioned going forward.”
Duffy was circumspect about the league’s future prospects for expansion.. “I think we look at expansion, there’s a couple aspects to it,” she said, reiterating the familiar position that expansion needs to happen at the right pace with the right ownership groups. “We’re excited about the markets and groups that we’ve been in conversations with. We do think it’s an important piece. We don’t want to do it too quickly, that’s going to dilute the talent that truly is the most competitive league in the world. But we are going to continue. We are continuing to have really positive conversations with several prospects.”
One familiar location that came up was Los Angeles. “Right now LA is a market of several that we’ve expressed and talked about interest in the past,” said Duffy. “It continues to be a market, it’s a major market in the United States that we’ve seen success there with a previous team and have it as a market of interest that we will explore conversations with.”
Duffy did point out that “it’s been several years since we had a true expansion team” as opposed to teams being sold to different owners. “So we want to position us to be in the right place that does have that long-term stability,” Duffy said of expansion.
One proposed route of expansion has come from USSF presidential candidate Kyle Martino - although he certainly hasn’t been the first, his proposal that all MLS expansion candidates must also back an NWSL side or have a profit-sharing plan is the most recent call to further intertwine the two leagues.
“In our current structure where we do have teams that have shared ownership with, whether it’s MLS or in the case of North Carolina Courage, a shared ownership with USL, it’s a model that’s proven to be successful,” said Duffy. “So I see the value in that thought process, but we’re not restricting this league to solely ownerships that already have an existing MLS or USL team in place.”
One of those ownership groups may be in trouble, though, as the Boston Breakers are reported to be seeking new owners. “We’re currently actively working with the existing ownership in a business-as-usual capacity with the Breakers,” said Duffy. “That is, with the Boston Elite Soccer, LLC as owners of the Boston Breakers.” Duffy said that NWSL wants to ensure that they continue to be a 10-team league, which means keeping the Breakers viable as a team.
Duffy also answered several questions about what performance metrics she wants the league to reach, particularly with regards to broadcast issues and NWSL’s ongoing partnership with Lifetime.
“From the ratings, that’s always going to be #1 in our partnership with A&E and Lifetime,” said Duffy. “We need to really push our television ratings to show growth in that area. Not just to show the strength of the league, but also to strengthen the partnership that we have with A&E and their continued investment in relationship with NWSL and our joint venture work with NWSL Media.”
What does that mean for NWSL venues that aren’t as broadcast-friendly as big MLS stadiums? “We certainly from a venue perspective understand the need and importance of having TV ready viable broadcast venues that our teams are playing in that we approach week in and week out promoting those games in the best way possible,” said Duffy. “That’s going to come through the form of how we schedule our games this year and being able to promote upcoming games through each of the games in a weekend. And then also with the time and other areas that we think are going to give the broadcast the best opportunity to attract the most viewers.”
There’s no timeline on a schedule yet, though. “We’re already actively working on it with a couple changes that we have to incorporate in,” said Duffy. “As soon as possible is certainly what we’re hoping for as much as you are.”
She also addressed the recent criticism from the NWSL Players Association that the PA was not informed of the league’s recent opening weekend starting preseason date announcement, leading to the PA learning about it from the league’s press release. “We look forward to working with the Players Association,” Duffy said. “We have already discussed with them and spoken to them about a time next week that we’re going to talk to them and look forward to having that conversation to lay out how we make sure we have a great working relationship going forward.”
What really came through in Duffy’s remarks to the gathered media was her emphasis on “long term.” She made sure to mention several times that it was important for the league to have and make long-term commitments and seemed to treat as a matter of fact the notion of NWSL operating five years in the future. Hopefully after another successful college draft, the scope of which continues to demonstrate that the league has the potential for growth with the right investment in resources and production value, NWSL five years in the future will shrug at contemplating another five, ten, or even 20 years.