Kansas City Deal Strengthens MLS-NWSL Connection

NWSL champs FC Kansas City join Portland, Houston with MLS affiliation
by Ray Marcham   |   Friday, January 16, 2015

Major League Soccer (MLS) 2012 Season Preview

The growing connection between Major League Soccer and the National Women’s Soccer League got another boost this week.

Tuesday’s announcement that FC Kansas City, the defending NWSL champions, had reached a partnership deal with Sporting Kansas City was another positive step in cooperation between the two leagues. FC Kansas City will play their 2015 home games at SKC’s Swope Soccer Village, with a few matches likely to be played at Sporting Park. FC Kansas City will also use Swope as their training and administrative base, with their own locker rooms and access to SKC’s facilities.

For the NWSL, clubs developing ties to local MLS organizations can be beneficial on many levels. Beyond shared facilities, there’s the sharing of various departments, the use of MLS promotional knowledge to help put the word out about the NWSL and the chance to grow the fan base of the respective clubs.

What’s different about the Kansas City deal from other MLS-NWSL connections is that FC Kansas City is still its own club, separate from SKC. So while the partnership with Sporting on the business side will be a massive boost, FC Kansas City will continue to operate independently.

That MLS clubs would have a role in the NWSL was a given from the beginning. Portland was the starting point, of course, with the Timbers giving the Thorns a massive boost as the league began. But while the Thorns are a major part of the Timbers’ organization, with some working for both teams (Gavin Wilkinson is general manager of the Timbers and Thorns), the Thorns are very much their own club. Even the crowds at Providence Park for the Thorns have a different vibe than a Timbers crowd.

It was the success of the Timbers/Thorns setup that prompted the Houston Dynamo to apply for, and get, their own NWSL team. The Houston Dash started in 2014 and, just like the Thorns, they are a big piece of the Dynamo’s operations. The major difference with Houston is that the Dash has their own front office staff, overseen by Brian Ching, instead of sharing a general manager (Matt Jordan) with the Dynamo.

The two MLS-affiliated NWSL clubs also had the two highest average attendances in the league. Portland is, well, in a league of their own, averaging 13,362 per match, a number a woman’s soccer fan couldn’t even dream of two years ago. Houston averaged a respectable 4,650 per game at BBVA Compass Stadium, which also looked good in respect of the Dash finishing at the bottom of the regular season table.

Among the other cities with both MLS and NWSL teams, there has been limited, if any, joint ventures. The Chicago Red Stars opened the 2014 season at Toyota Park as part of a doubleheader with the Chicago Fire, but that was their only appearance at the stadium for the season (and their first since 2010, when the Red Stars were still in WPS).

At one point, New Jersey-based Sky Blue FC was in talks about a possible partnership with the New York Red Bulls. Those ended last spring, and Sky Blue is now in talks with New York City FC about a similar alignment.

The one NWSL club that actually has an MLS-affiliated past is the Washington Spirit. They were DC United Women for their first two seasons, when they were in the USL W-League. While affiliated with DC United, they were independently operated. When they were chosen to join the NWSL, the owners of the club decided to break away from DCU and rebranded the team as the Spirit.

The W-League has a few past MLS connections. The Vancouver Whitecaps Women were W-League champions in 2004 and 2006, but were disbanded after the 2012 season. Colorado Rapids Women played for two seasons before they were closed before the 2014 season.

One team in the W-League that has an MLS name, but isn’t affiliated with the men’s club, is Seattle Sounders Women. At one time they were affiliated with the MLS Sounders, back when the men’s side played in the USL First Division. But they are a separate organization, allowed to use the name, badge and colors of the men’s side. They also have no connection with the NWSL’s Seattle Reign, who have steadily become a powerhouse after a horrid start in 2013.

There have been rumors of MLS clubs possibly being interested in forming their own NWSL teams, hoping to replicate the success Portland has had (and that Houston is developing). But the league will not grow until at least 2016, waiting until after this year’s Women’s World Cup in Canada before developing any expansion plans.

If the FC Kansas City-Sporting Kansas City affiliation works, it will be another positive step in growing the game on numerous levels. It will also help the NWSL expand its options for growth, with possible new markets ready for quick starts if a local MLS side is involved.

For a league that’s still trying to find its financial footing, that could be crucial for survival. 

Ray MARCHAM

Nationality:
USA
College:
Washington State
Club Domestic:
Portland Timbers
Club Foreign:
Arsenal
Cascadia native and a fan for as long as he can remember, Ray was brought up on the old NASL. Learned to love MLS. Wanted to play like Clive Charles. Then like Tony Adams. Only dreams, of course.
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