USL announces women’s pro league to rival NWSL; Tim Tebow among planned team owners

The USL Super League intends to ask US Soccer to sanction Division I by September 1, 2023, it announced on Tuesday.

This is a change from the league’s previous announcement in 2021 that the Super League would seek Division II sanction with the intention of kicking off in 2023 – which has now been pushed back to 2024. Super League hopes to launch as a 10-12-team league next year, although it has eight initial markets at press release time, with more to be announced in the coming months.

First markets for the 2024 season

City The owners) Stadium

Charlotte, North Carolina

Jim McPhilliamy

American Legion Memorial Stadium

Dallas/Forth Worth, TX

The Neils family

To be determined

Lexington, Ky.

Bill Shively, Donna Shively, Stephen Dawahare

W League team currently at Toyota Stadium, plans for future stadium underway

Phoenix, Arizona.

Phoenix Rising FC Ownership Group

Phoenix Rising FC Stadium

Spokane, Wash.

Equal Sports, LLC (Katie Harnetiaux, Ryan Harnetiaux)

Stadium currently under construction, opening fall 2023

Tampa Bay, Florida.

Darryl Shaw, David Laxer, Jeff Fox

Exploration of temporary stadium sites, future stadium planned

Tucson, Arizona.

Jon Pearlman, Jeff Arnold

To be determined

washington d.c.

Attain Sports and Entertainment (Greg Baroni), in partnership with DC United

To be determined

Four other cities are also expected to join in the following seasons (listed with the property):

  • Chattanooga, Tenn. —Bob Martino
  • Indianapolis — Ersal Ozdemir, Founder and Chairman of Indy Eleven, and Greg Stremlaw, CEO
  • Jacksonville, Florida—Tim Tebow, Ricky Caplin, Tony Allegretti, Steve Livingstone
  • Madison, Wisconsin – Forward Madison Ownership Group
  • Oakland, CA – Oakland Roots and Oakland Soul ownership group

“The USL Super League will sit at the top of our women’s pyramid with strong ownership groups, modern stadiums and passionate fans that will provide immediate viability and long-term sustainability,” said USL CEO Alec. Papadakis, in a league statement.

Existing USL men’s clubs that will have a women’s Super League team include Lexington SC, Phoenix Rising FC, FC Tucson, Chattanooga Red Wolves SC, Oakland Roots and Forward Madison.

Super League chairman Amanda Vandervort said Athleticism that the decision to go for the DI sanction instead of the originally planned DII has been “in conversation for quite a while,” though she declined to say whether the delay from 2023 to 2024 was related to that conversation.

Vandervort said that in pushing the initial league announcement they had time to build more infrastructure within the Super League framework in terms of establishing the “pre-professional” W League, which has launched in 2022 with 44 clubs and will grow to 65 in 2023, as well as their youth to professional pipeline and the launch of their Girls’ Academy in the summer of 2023.

Asked if the Super League were confident they would have 10-12 teams ready for 2024, Vandervort replied: “Absolutely.”

“Standards at Division I level, we are confident that as a league we will meet those standards,” she added. “And so the decision to go to Division I was something we made in conjunction with our ownership groups, but we feel very strongly that providing the highest standards of American football for the women who play in our league is not just our opportunity, but our responsibility, and we’re so excited about it.

According to US Soccer, a Division I women’s outdoor league includes the following standards:

  • A minimum of eight teams to request a sanction.
  • Teams must be in at least two time zones in year one, expanding to cover three time zones by year six (Easter, Central, and Pacific).
  • At least 75% of clubs in the league must play in metropolitan markets with a population of at least 750,000.
  • Minimum capacity of 5,000 seats in the stadium.
  • Team ownership groups must demonstrate the financial ability to operate for three years.
  • A primary team owner with at least 35% ownership of the team and an individual net worth of at least $15 million.
  • The ownership group must have a combined net worth of at least $25 million.
  • The league must have its own full-time, year-round staff, including a chief operating officer, chief financial officer and director of marketing/public relations.

What about the NWSL?

There’s also the reality that any DI women’s professional league in the United States will draw inevitable comparisons to the NWSL, and perhaps even concerns that the market cannot currently keep up with a sudden influx of a dozen new professional teams. . Vandervort encouraged a more optimistic lens through which to view the current landscape of professional women’s football in this country and said the market is currently robust enough to make a DI Super League viable.

“The United States has 12 professional women’s teams, but has about the same footprint and population as all of Europe, and they have over 150 top professional women’s teams,” Vandervort pointed out.

This comparison may not be entirely individual, as these professional women’s teams in Europe operate in their own country, where budgets can be very different from the needs of a club in the much larger American continent, and have levels of different popularity. . But given the USL’s experience in developing regional football footprints for both men and women, the comparison might also prove relevant.

The Super League will also differentiate itself from the NWSL in at least two key ways: first, by conforming to the international calendar with an autumn-summer schedule, as opposed to the NWSL starting in spring and ending in late autumn , and secondly by not having a college project.

The lack of a draft is consistent with USL’s general philosophy of developing youth pathways; in previous announcements regarding its girls’ academy, the USL said it would not use age brackets in its academy teams as part of a “if you’re good enough, you are old enough”. The NWSL has also started to move more towards a similar mindset with recent signings like 15-year-old Melanie Barcenas for the San Diego Wave and 15-year-old Chloe Ricketts for the Washington Spirit, but 18-year-old phenom Alyssa Thompson was yet to go through the 2023 draft (although it was clear she would land in Los Angeles with Angel City as the No. 1 pick).

Vandervort said the Super League intends to be competitive on player salaries (the current minimum salary in the NWSL is $36,400).

“We want to be competitive in the international market, in the US market,” she said. “The details of player compensation, player standards, all that stuff, we’re excited to have those conversations with our ownership groups, with our players.”

Vandervort said another encouraging factor is that USL W League attendance at the start of 2023 has been strong, with more than 5,800 for Oakland Soul’s home debut on May 13 and double that with the Roots, and 4,743 for Detroit City’s May 13 home opener against Flint City AFC. The Marquee W League team, Minnesota Aurora, had strong attendance last year compared to a lower league; Aurora had multiple sales in 2022, including a full championship game in front of 6,200 fans and an average regular season attendance of 5,115.

Those numbers are on par with or better than several NWSL teams in 2022, such as North Carolina Courage, NJ/NY Gotham, and Orlando Pride, all of which were below a season average of 5,000. However, it’s clear the NWSL wants to aim for bigger goals, with first-year expansion teams San Diego Wave and Angel City averaging 8,792 and 19,105, respectively.

The Super League could find its own niche, aiming for a more comfortable average attendance and slightly less stellar spending than the eye-watering $50m+ expansion fee the NWSL is now asking for, and that seems to be reflected in the stadiums that have announced so far. American Legion Memorial Stadium seats 10,500, Phoenix Rising FC’s new stadium seats 10,000, and Lexington Sporting Club’s current home stadium, Toyota Stadium in Georgetown, seats 5,000.

“There are so many opportunities in this country,” Vandervort said of worries that two DI leagues could oversaturate a market that’s not quite ready to grow that far that fast, especially given the current situation. history of league collapses in the United States. “At the end of the day, I believe we are filling a gap in opportunities, and it is our responsibility to do so at the highest level.

The USL has already partnered with international consultancy Octagon to help manage its domestic media rights sales, as well as entertainment experience company Legends to support stadium partnerships and business opportunities. . The league has also partnered with sports marketing agency Sportfive for international television and digital distribution. Octagon has of course already worked with the NWSL on media rights, sponsor evaluation, branding and fan information.

Media rights and their proper valuation are a big issue right now, not just for the NWSL, but for women’s football around the world. A good broadcast deal is essential to help achieve greater financial stability, and Vandervort agreed that, based on the conversations so far, there is an appetite for more women’s sports.

“In our industry, we talk a lot about this growing movement to commercialize women’s sports and interests, but, you know, I can tell you, on the inside, having these conversations, it’s absolutely true,” a- she declared.

“I think we see it from a business perspective, from a fan perspective, fan engagement is out of this world. It’s taken decades of work to get to where we are today and incredible people have invested their lives in this journey along the way. And I’m thrilled that we now have these ownership groups that are willing to invest at the levels that they are willing to invest. Whether it’s building and upgrading amazing stadiums across the country or really investing in the player and fan experience, I think it’s an incredible time in women’s soccer.

A spokesperson for the NWSL said Athleticism, “We welcome more opportunities for women to play professional football in the United States.”

Required reading

(Photo: Erik Williams/USA Today)

Leave a Comment