A league of their own

What is the right path forward?

Before I begin, some admin: On SoccerToday, Tuesdays are for Europe — although we are a North American focused podcast, we dedicate each Tuesday to discussing the news of Europe, while the rest of the week is dedicated to North American issues. That 80% - 20% content breakdown in favour of the local is in contrast to most of our competition. In fact, the only other daily, independent soccer podcast in North America that we are aware of breaks its content down nearly the opposite — they are a European show that dabbles in North America. We are a North American show that dabbles in Europe.

This isn’t a criticism of those shows. It’s a big world and there is room for many types of podcasts. But, what works for us is to mostly keep the focus at home – the World of football from a soccer perspective isn’t just a tag line to us. It’s a mission statement.

The plan for this space is to keep the same format. So, normally on Tuesdays I will turn my attention to Europe (and occasionally other parts of the world too). I say normally because there will be exceptions.

If Messi transfers to City on a Thursday, I will be writing about it (and SoccerToday will be talking about it). Similarly, if MLS comes to a CBA agreement on a Tuesday, we won’t be waiting to break it down.

All that admin out of the way, it’s time to break my Tuesdays Our For Europe schedule before it even starts! Not for a major news story, but rather to continue a good conversation that started with my article yesterday.

In case you missed it, I wrote about how it was shameful that Canada does not have a single, fully professional women’s sports team. I went on to argue that efforts should begin to bring one or more NWSL teams to Canada.

Although nearly everyone agrees that we need professional women’s teams in Canada, there is a difference in opinion on how to best accomplish that.

On one hand are those who, like me, feel that the best way forward to get the NWSL here. It’s among the best leagues in the world and Canada already has a presence in the league.

Opposing that view are those that feel that attaching ourselves to the American system is to give up on ever having a Canadian league of our own. That, to them, is a disaster and they point to the lack of Canadian players in MLS as proof that it is the wrong approach.

Here’s the thing: There is no absolute here. There is truth to both arguments, and risk with both as well.

I lean towards the NWSL route for primarily one main reason – in my mind, it’s the fastest route to getting a pro team here.

Yes, it would absolutely be ideal to wake up tomorrow and have a coast-to-coast women’s league, with teams in every major city in this country. As one Canadian soccer insider who supports holding out for a domestic league told me, such a scenario would result in 120 jobs for Canadian players rather than the 20 that a Canadian NWSL team would.

I can’t argue with the math, except to say that 20 is a bigger number than 0 and, right now, the chances of waking up to such a league is about that.

And, without either the amount of roster sports gained is also 0.

I wish it wasn’t the case, but Canadians historically do not gravitate to watch Canadian leagues. Maybe that will change with the CanPL in time, but it is hard to imagine that league launching without the existence of MLS first.

At the risk of playing the “you kids today just don’t understand” card, I’m going to have to play the “you kids today just don’t understand” card now. If you think that we would have a professional men’s league today without the successful launch of Toronto FC 14 years ago, you probably weren’t paying attention to the sport back then. That’s ok, not many people were, which is why it was so shocking when 20,000+ insane people showed up to BMO Field in full voice and ready to party on that rainy day in April 2007 when MLS came to Canada.

That success led to Vancouver and then Montreal joining the league and eventually to investors being willing to take the risk on starting the men’s league in 2019.

Literally no one was willing to invest in soccer when MLSE did in 2007 and they mostly did just to get the stadium built. Flash-forward to when CanPL was about to start and a great deal of Canadians were still more than happy to tell anyone that would listen how it was going to fail. People still are yelling about that.

This is the environment that any potential women’s league would be launched in. Canadian investors are risk adverse at the best of times. The idea there are people lining up around the block to invest in a women’s league is, frankly, absurd.

So, why would interest in investing in a NWSL team be different? Well, on one hand it wouldn’t be – that’s why people like me are chastising the CSA and Canadian sports business leaders into doing something.

But, there is a primary difference that does matter. The NWSL is undoubtedly world class. A Canadian team in that league would be among the best women’s teams in the world. In markets like Montreal, Vancouver and, especially, Toronto that matters. And, it will make the prospect of investing in the NWSL more palatable to investors.

I wish it was different. But, it isn’t.

However, that said, there is also an argument that, like with MLS and CanPL on the men’s side, the women’s side would benefit from having both a higher level team(s) and a development, domestic option as well. Arguably, it might even work out better on the women’s side because the high level team would be world class rather than, you know, MLS class.

As I wrote above, there are risks to both approaches, but there is nothing gained by doing nothing.

So, it’s time to do something.

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