CONCACAF publishes first Case Study on NWSL

Action from the inaugural NWSL championship between the Western New York Flash (red) and Portland Thorns FC on August 31, 2013, at Sahlen's Stadium in Rochester, New York. (Photo courtesy of the National Women's Soccer League)

CONCACAF’s club licensing department was created in 2013 by President Jeffrey Webb and General Secretary Enrique Sanz with the main purpose of establishing club licensing in the region as a development tool for all 41 Member Associations.

While CONCACAF and its Member Associations create club licensing regulations for approval by the CONCACAF Congress in 2015, the club licensing department is working on additional tools to assist all of the region’s leagues and clubs in professionalizing their day-to-day operations.

The aim of the licensing department is to understand and safeguard club football, beach soccer and futsal, while raising the level of club management.

Under a new initiative by CONCACAF, a series of case studies is being produced to promote best practices from North America, Central America and the Caribbean. presents the first case study on the USA’s National Women’s Soccer League, which kicks-off a new season this weekend.  Later in the year, reports will focus on two specific clubs, one from Mexico and one from Central America, as well as another focusing on the Red Stripe Premier League in Jamaica.

CASE STUDY: National Women’s Soccer League (USA)

The Club Licensing Department’s first case study focuses on the creation and first season of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), which is the top women’s professional soccer league in the United States.  The NWSL has prepared for the long-term by creating an innovative structure capable of providing support that will be critical to success.

Building on the experience of the two previous women’s professional leagues (WUSA and WPS) and after initial discussions in the summer of 2012, it was decided that the NWSL would become a single-entity business model, which would be supported by three CONCACAF-affiliated member associations: the Canadian Soccer Association, the Mexican Football Federation (Federación Mexicana de Fútbol Asociación) and the United States Soccer Federation.

While U.S. Soccer is principal to the successful operations of the new league, the three federations are responsible for subsidizing the salaries of a pre-determined number of national team players.  This significantly decreases the investment required of NWSL clubs and ensures that the league retains the top talent in the CONCACAF region.

Under the direction of NWSL Executive Director Cheryl Bailey, the U.S. Soccer provides administrative support to the league in a variety of areas in order to elevate the professionalism of the league’s operations.

The NWSL opened its first season in April 2013 with 8 clubs from across the U.S.: Boston Breakers FC, Chicago Red Stars, FC Kansas City, Portland Thorns FC, Seattle Reign FC, Sky Blue FC, Washington Spirit and Western New York Flash. 

Each club played 22 matches (11 home, 11 away) over a 19-week span.  The top four teams qualified for the playoffs, with the Western New York Flash defeating Sky Blue FC and Portland Thorns FC overcoming FC Kansas City in the semifinals.  Portland ultimately defeated the Flash, 2-0, to win the inaugural final on August 31, before 9,129 fans at Sahlen's Stadium in Rochester, New York.

Throughout the first season, the NWSL worked diligently to establish a presence in the U.S. professional sports market.  The league and clubs were active on social media and their respective websites, plus a partnership with YouTube was developed that enabled the NWSL to stream all matches live to viewers around the world.  Free access for fans was crucial in order to increase awareness and the NWSL was pleased with viewership numbers.  In addition, FOX Soccer televised nine NWSL matches live, including all three playoff matches.

Successes from the NWSL’s inaugural season included tremendous passion and dedication of fans, high match quality and competitive parity between the clubs, professionalism of players on and off the pitch, and various social media and online streaming accomplishments.

The NWSL will begin its second campaign on April 12.  The addition of the Houston Dash (a subsidiary of the MLS’s Houston Dynamo) increases the number of league clubs to nine, meaning that each club will play 24 matches during the season. 

By developing a solid foundation from which to grow, constantly improving league operations, and capitalizing on community and fan support, the NWSL is poised to achieve increased success in 2014 and for many years to come.