Nike Bets on NWSL

FC Kansas City, NWSL 2015 champs

The history of women’s professional soccer in the United States is filled with disappointment.  Several failed leagues, stumbling at the finish line for the USWNT on multiple occasions, and no major brand support plagued a product that just couldn’t find footing in the United States.

Then came Hope Solo and the ESPN “The Body” issue.

Now, it might seem all petty and sexist to point to naked photos of Hope Solo as the main reason for growth in women’s soccer, but that isn’t what we are doing.  This moment was merely the first step towards what has finally grown into a viable market and promising league in the United States.

The world fell in love with Hope Solo.  This was before any of her legal issues, and all the world saw was a woman that they wanted to meet making heroic saves and anchoring the USWNT to the World Cup Final.  (Did we mention that the United States was at a moment in its history where it wanted as much soccer as it could get?  The EPL was becoming increasingly accessible to the country, the USMNT was experiencing unprecedented success, and the USWNT was poised for a deep WWC run).  A last second goal from Abby Wambach endeared the veteran striker to a market hungry for more soccer, and a player making late substitutions in that WWC run became the future and face of women’s soccer: Alex Morgan.

Alex Morgan and her USWNT teammates faltered at the last hurdle.  And, the cynical side of the soccer world suspected that women’s soccer was dying.  The death of the women’s professional league (WPSL) in the U.S. merely confirmed what so many of us thought…the United States wasn’t addicted to the world’s game to the point where it could support a women’s league.

Then, the USWNT absolutely rocked their way to a gold medal in 2012 at the summer olympics.  A host of new faces were part of the run, and Alex Morgan continued her move to being the face of women’s soccer while we also fell in love with the old guard of the USWNT.  The perfect foundation was set.

The NWSL burst onto the scene with great ideas for success and players that the world was beginning to follow.  Success for teams with big fan-bases helped propel interest as the USWNT started to build towards their ultimate goal in the 2015 WWC.

Carli Lloyd wins 2015 World Cup

We all know how that story went, and how the U.S. extracted every ounce of revenge for the loss in 2011.  The future of women’s soccer truly FELT like it was headed in the right direction…but, until the big companies start seeing the potential for money, no league or sport is on great footing.

THIS IS WHY NIKE’S RECENT ANNOUNCEMENT IS SO IMPORTANT!

Nike recently announced a long-term partnership with the NWSL.  A relationship with an exclusive match ball, kit designs, and (with how most of these deals go) probably most of the players using Nike gear.  Nike is the biggest and baddest company out there, and the Swoosh seeing potential in the women’s game and the NWSL means more than any writer proclaiming any type of victory.  This is a massive win.  For the sport, the future, and any lover of soccer: the women’s game is finally on secure footing.  

We celebrated the WWC victory, but the biggest win might have just occurred in a Nike office.  The old guard of the women’s game is beloved, the up and coming players are known throughout the soccer landscape, and there are three or four players that can easily carry on as the face of the game for the next decade.  #win

 

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