With the shuttering of the Boston Breakers, the attention of fans now turns from the what to the how and the why. How did Boston reach the point where not only was it no longer financially viable to run the team, but no buyer could be found who was willing to take on their reported debts? Why were they allowed to continue in this vein long enough to reach the brink of folding when it was reported the league and the other owners were well aware that they were having trouble making payments? Why were they allowed to go through with the college draft when negotiations for a new owner in 2018 had already fallen through?
NWSL managing director Amanda Duffy had answers for some but not all of these questions; she declined to comment on how long the Breakers had been coming up late on payments, any reasons the previous owners might have given for declining to operate the team in 2018, or whether there was any period at all where Boston looked like it might improve its finances to explain why the team was allowed to continue operations despite warning signs as early as 2014 that they were struggling. One senses it will take many more months, if not years, of asking and digging to pry out more, if any, of the details. For now, here is what Duffy was willing to reveal. Some of her answers have been edited for clarity and length and questions by TBM have been condensed for clarity and length.
The Bent Musket: When did you know the ownership deal had fallen through for Boston?
Amanda Duffy: Following the 2017 season, the Boston Breakers ownership informed the league that they would not be operating a team going forward, including for the 2018 season, at which time the league began exploring opportunities, potential solutions, and engaged in discussions with several big brand potential ownership groups. We did, prior to the holidays, enter into an exclusive negotiating period and advance discussion with one group in particular. That brought us up until the days prior to the college draft. That group informed the league it would not move forward and at that time, just prior to the draft, the league did decide to proceed through the draft and opened and explored other potential solutions, other potential investor groups that would have the capability of operating the team for the 2018 season and keep the league at 10 teams this year. The conversations continued and were entered into through and including the last 48 hours. But under the reduced timeline, condensed timeline, there was no group able to move forward under that timeline.
TBM: Were any MLS teams interested?
AD: We can’t speak to specific groups. We can say with some groups, there is potential, and we do anticipate discussions about potential opportunities for expansion into NWSL and will continue beyond what we’ve had already.
TBM: Why allow Boston to go through with the draft? Did you ask Boston to proceed in hopes that you could make a deal in time to preserve their season?
AD: We did. We believed we had real, viable solutions we were pursuing and entering a discussion with a potential investor. That was the thought process as we allowed Boston to continue with the college draft.
TBM: Did US Soccer or the league ever seriously entertain floating the team for a year?
AD: We did explore that as one of our options. Given the situation in Boston beyond just a financial solution, financial funding of a team, ultimately we did not believe that was the best solution that positioned the league for long-term success and stability.... The challenges are beyond financial. Setting aside cost-benefit analysis, it’s a market we believe in, and we believe to give us the best opportunity to have the right ownership with the right resources in the future, we needed to make this decision now.
TBM: Given that Boston’s debts may have made potential ownership groups reluctant, is the league looking into ways to safeguard against this in the future? Or is Boston a unique situation?
AD: The league is evaluating our governance structure. And we’ll be taking steps to ensure we’re not in any position again that could potentially put the league in a worse position.
TBM: After the Western New York Flash, FCKC, and now Boston, this is a bit of a pattern of small, independent owners who don’t seem to be able to keep up with the league. Will you be changing the vetting standards for ownership now?
AD: I think we’re excited about our expansion prospects. We’ve been in several expansion discussions, several different groups for more than a year. And we’re looking at 2019 as the year that we could bring new ownership groups into NWSL that will continue to raise the profile, raise the standard of the league across all aspects. We’re happy with Dell Loy Hansen and the Utah Royals coming in this offseason. We think they’re a step in the right direction. Just as the North Carolina were as well.
TBM: How much faith do you have in the strength of the west coast market?
AD: I think we’ve taken a step this offseason in adding an ownership group that does raise the standard and profile with the group that are western-oriented in our league. And there is interest in markets on the west coast that we are excited and continuing to explore expansion conversations in.
TBM: It seems like in the future NWSL will have to align more with MLS. Does this raise concerns about becoming too closely entwined as opposed to NWSL being perceived as its own entity?
AD: We feel with the last couple of ownerships, with all of the ownerships that have come into the league after the league’s inception, have raised the profile and standard of the ownership qualifications. And we will continue to have discussions that do have the right support financially, human and otherwise, to raise that profile of the league, strengthen quality of the ownership of the league, regardless of whether they’re affiliated with an MLS team or otherwise.
TBM: Can you comment on NWSL procedure for how the players were notified?
AD: We held a conference call last week with the players to inform them of the status of the situation and several options we were pursuing that we passed forward and what decisions the league would be making in the coming days. From the point of that conference call through today, there was communication through the Players Association to inform them of continued status updates and today, the league, we were on the phone with the players - another conference call to confirm the decision and next steps that would happen.
TBM: How much is the Breakers folding a comment on the health of the league?
AD: We feel very good about the ownership and the status of the league as a whole right now. Our owners, our partners, potential expansion groups, understand decisions like this have to be made in a league that is young and in its formative years.... Everything is very positive. We’re excited about the 2018 season. We’re excited about our continued games of the week on Lifetime. I think the league is positioned right now to achieve that long-term success it’s working towards.
TBM: Do you think there’s room in the future for Boston to return to NWSL?
AD: Absolutely. It’s a market we believe in and has successfully and long-supported the Breakers over multiple women’s professional leagues.