CARY, N.C. — On the eve of the Women’s College Cup final between the University of North Carolina and Florida State, UNC coach Anson Dorrance held court.
The coach, now in his 40th season at the helm of UNC’s women’s soccer program, is anxiously awaiting the completion of a soccer/lacrosse stadium on UNC’s campus. When the work is complete, the university’s soccer and lacrosse teams will have an improved place to call home.
Dorrance knows exactly what he wants to do with the improved site.
“I want to prove to my athletic director and my chancellor that we can be a revenue-neutral sport at North Carolina,” Dorrance told reporters at WakeMed Soccer Park.
“In other words, you give me a nice stadium, you give me a marketing budget… because right now, the way the athletic departments work is they’ve got their football team, they’ve got their men’s basketball team, then they dump a fortune into women’s basketball to try to revive that dead horse to make it a revenue producer and it’s failed.”
UNC’s women’s basketball program averaged 2,625 fans during 19 home games last season, good for 49th in the nation. The women’s soccer team averaged 1,006 fans per home game last season while displaced from Fetzer Field — the new soccer/lacrosse stadium will go on that site.
Dorrance issued a challenge to athletic directors looking to give more marketing money to women’s basketball programs.
“1999 World Cup final, 90,000 people paid top dollar to watch the Women’s World Cup final in the Rose Bowl,” Dorrance said. “I would love for an enlightened athletic director to look at their soccer teams and think, ‘You know what, we have the potential for large stadiums. Look at the crowds happening in MLS. Look at the crowds that are following the women’s game. Maybe we invest a marketing dollar in soccer and see what the return is.’
“I challenge all the athletic directors across the country to put the same marketing dollar into their men’s and women’s soccer programs [that] they put into their women’s basketball programs and see the return. Here’s what I will stand by: I will stand by that your men and women’s soccer programs, for the same marketing investment will make more money than your women’s basketball programs.”
Dorrance pointed to the success of MLS side Atlanta United has had in drawing fans to Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Atlanta United broke MLS home attendance records – again – this season with 901,033 fans at 17 home games.
The Five Stripes host the MLS Cup Final on Dec. 8.
Dorrance also pointed to the success of the Portland Thorns in the NWSL. The Thorns draw an average of more than 16,000 fans per home game. He said he connects with people involved in NWSL and MLS on a regular basis.
Both of Friday’s NCAA semifinal games at WakeMed drew announced crowds of more than 10,000. Florida State and UNC play each other in the final at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
“There’s a sport here, and the populations are changing, despite ‘Trumpian Policy,’ the policies are changing, and the demographics are changing so I think the sport of the future is soccer,” Dorrance said. “I think an enlightened athletic director should look at this and just experiment. Just one year, say, “All right, the marketing budget we’re giving to women’s basketball, I’ve decided to dump it into women’s soccer.’ Or men’s soccer. Or both. I think they’ll see a return, especially if they continue it.”
Dorrance said he doesn’t think there would be a conflict with football – the dominant fall sport in the United States. Most college football games are played on Saturday, while women’s soccer games are usually Thursdays and Sundays.
He added of course he’s going to advocate for the sport he coaches.
“Look at what’s happened in the MLS,” he said. “Look at the value of those franchises right now. Look at their crowds. Look at what’s happening in Atlanta. Have you gone down to the Atlanta stadium? Just check it out. What this is is a demographic that loves this game, they all played it as kids, and they’re paying top-dollar to see this Atlanta team play.”