CARY, N.C. — The beginning of Saturday night’s game between the North Carolina Courage and the Chicago Red Stars was a celebration of sorts, not just for the Courage, but for the National Women’s Soccer League.
Championship rings were presented to the players and staff of the Courage, who won the treble of women’s pro soccer last season, capturing the league’s shield, championship and the International Champions Cup. And NWSL President Amanda Duffy was on hand to present Courage head coach Paul Riley with his 2018 Coach of the Year award.
There is plenty for the league to be proud of as it begins its seventh season, but it also carries with it circumstances that have caused concern.
While the NWSL currently has a deal with Yahoo Sports to stream all games online, it doesn’t have a home on linear television. The stellar play of Sam Kerr, Crystal Dunn and Adrianna Franch cannot be found by scrolling through cable channels. A flick of the remote from a comfy couch won’t land a viewer on an NWSL game.
In addition to the NWSL’s broadcast woes, it also has several vacant jobs in the league office. The position of communications director has been open for more than three months, making it difficult at times for media outlets to put a spotlight on the league.
During halftime of the Courage vs. Red Stars game, Duffy granted an interview to a handful of reporters for about nine minutes in a suite at WakeMed Soccer Park. She addressed a flurry of topics, including future television deals and staffing concerns at the league office.
“We’re in some latter stage conversations with some broadcast opportunities for the second half of the season,” Duffy said. “Then separately, we’ll engage on our future broadcast arrangement shortly after we have everything for 2019 in place.”
Prior to this season, the NWSL had a deal with A&E Networks to broadcast several matches, including the championship, on Lifetime. Some matches last season also aired on ESPNews.
While the severance may have been mutual, it still came as a surprise to Duffy, who on Saturday called the NWSL’s breakup with A&E “an unexpected situation.”
What was also unprecedented to Duffy was the exodus of many employees from the league office, but she hinted those vacancies might have resulted from the league no longer working with A&E.
“None of the departures were expected,” Duffy said. “But when you go through a transition that we’re going through right now – particularly on the partnership with A&E Network and discontinuing that partnership – there was a lot of support that was provided by A&E Network, and NWSL Media is obviously based in New York and the league is based in Chicago. A lot of factors go into the decisions that are being made right now.
“Again, none of the departures were necessarily anticipated immediately, but we feel good about where we’re at in the hiring process of other positions. Right now, we’re very much focused on the quality of the hires we’re making and that any hires that do come in are strong, have a high-level of experience and are going to be in a position to really make a long-term commitment to charting the course of NWSL as it goes forward.”
While Duffy has a long list of things to do as the league begins its seventh season – which includes finding a TV partner, setting a location for the championship game and coming up with a plan to capture momentum from the World Cup – hiring the right people for the league seems to be at the top.
“We’re now more in control of the outlook and what the future looks like on our commercial areas,” Duffy said. “We feel very good about where we’re at and the back-end work that’s going into things right now.”