Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber gave his annual State of the League address and was asked specifically if teams in his league are interested in investing in the women’s game ahead of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup. In year’s past, Garber has been coy when answering these questions but was far more talkative on Friday, perhaps due to the massive success of the host team Atlanta United FC. His answers didn’t necessarily strike at the heart of any issues but it did leave it in the hands of the clubs themselves.
“This is something we’re leaving to our individual clubs,” said Garber when asked about team investments in the women’s game. “It’s not something we’re looking at engaging at the league level through Mark at league operations on the competitive side or Gary on the commercial side. We made that decision a number of years ago to try to let the women’s league find their own way.”
Since MLS stepped away a number of years ago but several teams have still remained involved in varying levels. The Houston Dash, Portland Thorns, Seattle Reign and Utah Royals all have significant ownership stakes from MLS franchise owners. Even in the lower leagues of the men’s game, teams like North Carolina FC have worked towards bringing successful teams to the United states with the North Carolina Courage making the NWSL Championship last season. Despite the eagerness to engage in the women’s game, Don Garber and MLS seem reluctant.
Part of that may have to do with the United Soccer League. The USL which now controls the professional game below the first division with the USL Championship and USL League One, has shown an interest in potentially running the NWSL. First reported by Bob Williams of Sports Business Insider back in July, the ever-growing men’s league appeared ready to step in and take the reigns from USSF which has done a poor job by the judgement of many in running the only current women’s league in the country. Whether anything more comes of the rumors remains to be seen. However the rapid expansion of USL not just at the division 2 level but at the semi-pro level and their interest in controlling a division one league could find this a interesting proposition.
“We have been encouraging our owners to expand what they could offer to our fans,” said Garber, tactically pointing at the league’s interest without saying too much. “We have a 34 game schedule. 17 non-playoff games on a regular season. There’s no reason, if the market could support it, that we wouldn’t want our teams to have more inventory in those stadiums.
“We also believe that we need to drive the ‘Soccer Nation’ thing. While I am very proud of the fact that Major League Soccer has been a big driver of some of the successes that have gone on in the sport, whether it’s from a fan perspective and the supporter movement, growing the commercial aspect of the game or thinking about technology, social media and the like. I do think that we could use some of our collective wisdom to grow the women’s game.”