The IX: Soccer Monday with Annie M. Peterson for March 2, 2020

The NWSL has a commissioner! The NWSL has a commissioner! Plus links galore and read Lisa Baird's first comments as commissioner

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FINALLY! Our long national nightmare is over! (I’m only half-kidding).

The National Women’s Soccer League has both a new commissioner and a schedule.

These are positive steps as we head into the league’s eighth season.

Lisa Baird is an excellent choice. She spent nine years in charge of marketing for U.S. Olympic Committee. “Team USA” was her creation. (Full disclosure: I have a Team USA frisbee.) Before that, she was senior vice president of marketing and licensing for the NFL

Her main long-term goal is to forge commercial partnerships. She cut some $1 billion in deals with the USOC. The NWSL took a big step last year when Budweiser became a sponsor, but there’s been really nothing since then.

A more immediate concern is a TV deal. The Equalizer first reported an agreement in the works with CBS Sports, but the details are incomplete. Baird would not address it in a conference call with reporters (see below).

Other issues: There’s still no expansion beyond Louisville, but there are plenty of possibilities out there, in Sacramento and Atlanta. Los Angeles has a wonderful group of supporters rallying for a much-needed team there, you can follow them on @NWSL_LA. They’ve started a petition you can sign here.

They’re only hoping for 500 signatures. I’m thinking they could get many more. Granted, the petition might not have much impact. Mia Hamm, part of the ownership group for LAFC, said last year the plan is to get several years of MLS experience before committing to a women’s side.

I asked a prominent MLS executive recently about possible NWSL expansion tied to that league, and they said “You probably know more than I do.” Here’s a reminder that Jeff Plush once suggested the aim was to have 14 teams by 2020.

There’s also no official word on the Becky Sauerbrunn trade to Portland.

The overall lesson here is that things move very slowly in the NWSL.

One last note: Baird was poised and prepared on the conference call with reporters. This was unsurprising to those of us who knew of her. My initial take is that this is overwhelmingly positive step for the league.

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LINKS!

Reminder: First, the underlined words are the links. Second. CLICK these, even if you’ve already read them. Clicks = Attention from editors, producers and webmasters. Third, if you want to push out stuff you’ve written or read, email me! apeterson@ap.org.

Our USOC expert, Eddie Pells, broke the commissioner story, based on his history with Baird. Just FYI, AP doesn’t break stories on Twitter because we have to serve the folks who pay for our service.

Caitlin Murray out with a good story today on the new commissioner for Yahoo Sports.

Hey, on a personal note here, and straying a bit into men’s soccer (although Thorns coverage is at stake), Caitlin is covering MLS games for the Oregonian now that Jamie Goldberg has moved on to the Trail Blazers. The Oregonian has decided not to have a full-time beat writer on soccer, and Caitlin is basically working as a freelancer. Please, please, please click and promote her work for the Oregonian. The only way to show editors that soccer coverage is important is to drive traffic. That said, please also click and promote my stuff for apnews.com, as well as the other outlets I include here.

That said, a group of Portland folks have launched Rose City Review. It is only $2 a month, and supports the great work of writers like Tyler Nguyen.

Pugh and Davidson back in the USWNT fold, from Graham Hays at ESPN.

Abby Dahlkemper says the USWNT backups would be the second-best team in the world.

Im not sure who writes for FIFA.com about women’s soccer, but they should get credit! Here’s a nice piece on Jess McDonald.

A local Orlando station is reporting that Andonovski is concerned about the coronavirus.

Nice story in The Guardian about Rose Lavelle.

The Salt Lake Tribune on the as-yet unofficial Becky Sauerbrunn trade.

Forbes on what the NWSL can take from the new WNBA collective bargaining agreement.

Sydney Leroux paid more in childcare than her NWSL salary. Hey folks, I don’t need to tell you moms out there that this is an issue for so many of us in a multitude of professions. The cost of childcare per year can sometimes be the same amount as a salary, forcing folks into hard choices about their careers. It shouldn’t be this way.

Lindsey Horan was profiled by PopSugar.

Meg Linehan on the Sauerbrunn trade for The Athletic.

Finland dropping the “women” in league name. The Guardian tackled it here.

Forbes has a nice look at bringing equity to the sport.

The BBC reports that Saudi Arabia is starting a women’s league.

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Tweet of the Week


Five at The IX: Lisa Baird, Arnim Whisler

The NWSL put a bunch of reporters on a conference call with Baird on Friday. Joining her on the call was Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler.

Baird: (Opening statement) "It's been a thrilling couple of days so far, and I just couldn't be more excited to be joining the league at this time. The league is in great, great position and I'm really excited to be joining just a few weeks away from the beginning of this historic eighth season of the National Women's Soccer League. And I'm delighted to get to know many of you as I get out on the road and attend games in each market and start, my job on March 9. [00:01:53][42.5]

Whisler: On behalf of the board. I just want to welcome Lisa. I think it's wonderful that she's willing to take the call before she's fully in the seat because there's a lot of pent-up demand to hear about the league and about Lisa's thoughts. I want to take a second also to thank Amanda Duffy, who's sliding to a different chair around the table, (and) will continue to be an important part of the NWSL and has given plenty of time to make sure she's available to Lisa with any questions that Lisa has. [00:02:42][43.1]

Question about rumored partnership with Twitch to broadcast games.

Baird: I can't comment on any of the future media agreements yet. I've not even started. But I will tell you, having really begun my career at the NFL side, being the leader of Madden, which is still one of the things successful vidoe games of all time, I've had a long-term relationship with videogaming. And I'm very interested in e-sports and the NWSL, not only as a community of engaged fans for women's soccer, but also because of its growing reach as a streaming entity and of itself. So I'm excited to really work with the players and the league owners to see what we can do to engage this passionate community.

Question for Whisler: The commissioner says she can't talk about media deals, can you?

Whisler: This is not the call for the broadcast and distribution deals. There will be one in the near future. We're very excited, but we're not going to comment further on rumors that are out there.

Question for Baird: Given your experience in the corporate sponsorship world, and knowing what you know about women's soccer, and you've seen the passion of the fan base and the economic force of the fan base, how do you take that out into the corporate world and in their language prove to them what the economic power of this fan base is so that they can be convinced to put their money in it.

Baird: It's a great question, and I'll keep my remarks on it fairly short. It's something that I'm very passionate about. And I think my previous Olympic experience will be very helpful as we talk to prospective partners and sponsors about the women's league. I'm a big believer, having been a CMO at companies that engaged with the sea level in sports, that not only do we have an incredibly great league with talented players that can be incredible spokespeople for their products and services, but we're at a time in the momentum of this league where not only the passion of the fans, but the purpose of women's sports and women's soccer, is ripe for being a platform for companies, company's communication and their purpose within the landscape. I actually don't think I'm going to have to do a lot of persuading of sponsors that creating a partnership with the league is the right one for what they want to do. And I'm pleased to say that even in the few hours that it's been announced, I've already received great congratulations from some of the, not only in the United States but global sponsors out there. But I think they see what the owners and the players have done here. And I can't wait to make this the focus in my early days.

Question: In the spirit of an election year, do you have something like a first 100-days plan?

Baird: And I certainly don't have a formal 100-day plan in place yet. But I will. And the plan will be informed by, knowing my own point of view but (also) owners, counsel, I'll certainly be talking to the key stakeholders, U.S. Soccer. But also I want to talk to incredibly talented league staff, because I'm going to rely on them heavily to point me in the right direction. But I think there are three things that will characterize my learning and my 100-day plan.

The first thing I intend to do is, I want to get out to all the markets, not only to meet the team owners one-on-one in their markets, but also get a sense of their staff. Obviously, I'm really lucky that I will hopefully be combining it with the game because, it's always a privilege and kind of an exciting thing for me personally, to connect with the fans. So that's going to be No. 1, to go out into the market and be at games and with the owners there. The second thing is I think I'll be engaging in meetings, phone calls, with all of the stakeholders around women's soccer. And that's going to be a learning process for me. I was pretty overwhelmed by how many people, not only that I knew, but that are anxious to see the league succeed, have reached out to me over the last literally a few hours to offer their counsel and help in any way. So I think sorting through who I can talk to immediately will be really important and, for me personally, I've already talked to the leaders of the P.A. and getting meetings with them early is very important to me. And then thirdly, as you know, I think there are exciting announcements to come and I'm working with everybody I need to, to make sure that the eighth season starts smoothly and well, from an operations perspective. I also think that talking to who I think on the prospective sponsor list for us to talk to, will be really important early on because that will be something that the owners and I will want to make a real priority going into this season.

Whisler: I just want to add something about process. So, I think it's obvious from what you've all read about Lisa that she's a great brand builder, superb marketer, et cetera. I think one of the things that really stood out to the board in the interview process was, you know, just the level of organization and pre-thought. And she's being a little modest. She had certainly broken down a set of ideas about how the next 100 days would would unfold. But I know there's a lot of research and things that she wants to do before that's firmed up. But it was great to see the level of investment that she had made in thinking about us, and how things need to unfold. Just really the way that she handled a very complex boardroom as well, and gave us confidence.

Question: Obviously, NWSL headquarters is in Chicago, you're currently based in New York City. Is there a potential for you to move to Chicago? Did you see a potential for NWSL to continue a presence in New York City?

Baird: I haven't formed any opinions other than you could be certain that I'll be spending a lot of time in Chicago with the lead staff there. Right now, my my focus, as I said, is make sure that I'm engaging in the market as much as I can early on. I suspect that airlines and hotels will be in my future. You know, I think New York is a very important market. It's a media market. And not only is there easy access to a lot of sponsors here because they travel here, it's one where it's just easy to meet with a lot of people. And I think we'll just have to wait and see in terms of announcement, long term announcements about headquarters.

Question: I'm curious, from a macro planning perspective, about the relationship with U.S. Soccer. There's obviously been a move from NWSL to assert its independence and to move to an independent model. Do you see any sort of change in that trajectory over the long term as you think about the relationship between the two?

Baird: From what I've been engaged in and spoken to with various owners as well as, my own impression, the relationship with U.S. Soccer has been a very important relationship for the league. Not only the financial but the other support that they've provided over the early years of the league has been very important. And I'm personally glad that the management agreement has been extended through our current year so that provides some stability and it gives me a chance to work with the owners on the growth trajectory financially for the league.

I'm not coming in with any preconceived notions. I have worked with U.S. Soccer and their leadership for a decade when I was with the (inaudible). But I also know that the owners and I are going to have and develop our own independent vision for where we need to go as a league. And no matter what specific contractual support there is, I suspect there will always be a very close, collaborative relationship with the federation.

Question: Does the current litigation that's going on complicates things in your mind?

Baird: I'm not going to comment on that. I don't have the background, so I'll just leave it at I'm not going to comment yet, but certainly I want to get to know the players, listen to them. Starting with a good open communication line with the P.A. will be very important.

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By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson AP Women's Soccer
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