With the first weekend of the new National Women’s Soccer League in the books, ProSoccerTalk took some time to catch up with league director Cheryl Bailey. Having just returned to Chicago from matches in Kansas City and Boston, Bailey discussed her takeaways from the league’s debut, hiccups like the difficulty viewing matches, and how to balance the need for stability with the ambitions of a new league.
Here are PST’s three good questions for Cheryl Bailey:
1.) You were in Kansas City and Boston this weekend: one very new club, and one well-established club. Can you share with us what you saw at each venue? What conclusions you could draw about the new league’s first weekend?
I couldn’t have picked two better (locations). Obviously, four games going on were great for this weekend, and the two that I happened to go to both had great atmospheres. Each one had sold out their stadium. Each one had great competition ending up in ties, one a very dramatic tie. The enthusiasm of the crowds and the environment was all that we had hoped for.
(On the Kansas City crowd for the club’s first ever match …)
It really was amazing. They had sold all of their seating capacity, and they saw the enthusiasm and actually sold standing room seats. They had (people in) the corners. They had people sitting on the grass. It was a great environment.
2.) For somebody who hasn’t been through the WUSA or WPS days, they may have tuned in this weekend and saw the troubles streaming games, the lines on the fields, the turf surfaces and drew some conclusions. How do you provide those people, some with very high expectations, with some perspective? How do you convert them and keep them coming back to the product?
That’s a fair question. Bottom line is all four matches that we played, if you were at those matches, no doubt (you) are coming back. (The games) were well-contested. They were great environments. The two venues that I didn’t go to, we had somebody from the league there, and they all came back with very positive experiences from the fans, those that were watching the game.
In terms of a few of the technical difficulties, I’m surprised given that we had four-and-a-half months to pull this off that we were able to even attempt some of those opportunities, and it will take a little bit (of time). But like anything, anybody who started anything, who’s been involved with anything from the ground knows, it’s putting in that hard work. Working through, trouble-shooting the (problems) that you get. When you come through that, you bear the fruits of your labor.
People want this league to succeed. They really appreciate the talents that are out on the field, and I think they’re going to come with us down this road that we’re going to take. This not going to be without a few bumps, but it’s certainly going to be with good soccer and just great enthusiasm at the stadium.
(On dealing with frustrations born from devoted women’s soccer fans’ high expectations …)
For me, it’s the journey, not just the individual things you’re going to get along the way. With women’s sports, whenever you are going to start something new, while there were two leagues before us, those that want to be part of this journey are going to have to take a little bit of step back, just like we have as a the league.
We’re not at the biggest stadiums. We (don’t have) expectations that we’re going to achieve our final goals today. We’re building (toward) those goals.
People have to appreciate the fact that we sold out two stadiums this weekend. We had good attendance at the other two, and we had four great games. If you look at the scores of those games to look at the talent level, every week-in and week-out they’re going to play great soccer.
You just have to go with an ability to see beyond a technical difficulty or startup things that might set you back a little bit. Nobody gets anywhere without a lot of hard work, and you really reap the rewards because of that hard work – sticking with something.
It’s not going to deter me at all. It just means, alright, let’s figure out what the issues were. Let’s work on them and make them better so the next time we don’t have those same issues.
(On the quality of play ..)
The talent was unbelievable: the speed of play; the technical (ability). And we’re not just talking about national (team) allocated players. We’re talking top-to-bottom. In the two games I was at, those four teams, I was equally impressed with the great job all those players on the field did.
3.) U.S. Soccer has stepped up and is running this league, leaving some with questions about juggling sustainability, as league stewards, versus ambition – growing the league. Can you talk about the league’s philosophy on these issues, how that affects priorities, and your view on what’s the right balance?
The first thing is, you have to create a base. You have to be sure that the eight teams that you have, the places you have, what you have, you get good root. Because without that balance, you can’t grow. It’s constantly coming and going, coming and going.
I feel very much that we understand the balance here, that the eight teams we have and all the players playing on those teams, they are the core. They are the roots of what we’re really putting into the National Women’s Soccer League.
At the same time, we have to have vision. We have to have the ability to see there are other people out there that want to be a part of this league, whether we’re adding teams or (growing) these teams. We have to balance that, no doubt.
Our first obvious objective, we needed to launch the league. And that created more time spent on just getting everything in place. Getting to where we were this past weekend, to have the teams that were on the field, great games that were played.
Now we need to continue to balance that. There are some things to work through, as you indicated earlier, but also look to the future. We’re going to get this launched and we’re going to get a little bit under our belts. But we will, in fact in the next couple of months, take a look at where opportunities may lie as well.