Suddenly, finally, women’s soccer is all the rage.
The US Women’s National Team, having won their fourth World Cup, is quite the popular bunch, and they game they play is earning attention too. People want to watch the USWNT stars in person, with their club teams.
Though there’s a good chance the national team will be paying a visit to Allianz Field, the NWSL is noticeably absent from Minnesota. It’s time to change that.
It’s not so easy, though, as pointing at a market and saying, “We want a team!”
There’s proving to be done. Who would back the team? Where would they play? Would there even be support?
The short answers are a rich businessperson, a stadium, and duh, but you came here for more than that. Here’s the full-blown case for why Minnesota deserves an NWSL franchise:
Who would own it?
Perhaps the most important factor in American professional sports is money.
Someone has to be willing to back a team and pay its expansion fees and other expenses. An NWSL team in Minnesota would need a strong owner — or ownership group — to be successful.
The league is clearly eager to avoid a similar situation to Sky Blue FC, where players have complained of poor working conditions and an overall lack of investment, among other things, or the Boston Breakers, which folded in 2018.
“Our owners are doing a lot of work to solidify and stabilize the league and each of the teams in individual markets,” league President Amanda Duffy told ProSoccerUSA earlier this month. “It’s important that we continue with the path that we’re on with the work that’s going on and continue to build the league the right way.”
Who better to be part of the ownership structure than a local businessman who previously owned an NWSL team?
Elam Baer, the CEO of North Central Equity LLC, purchased FC Kansas City in 2017. There was some chatter of relocation to Minnesota at the time, but the team was ultimately bought back by the league, had its operations ceased and assets transferred to Utah.
Still, Baer has previously said he would like to bring the NWSL to Minnesota. “If somebody called me up and said ‘Hey, I’m getting together a group to put a soccer team in Minnesota, I would love to participate in it,’” he told Minnesota Sports Biz Blog in December of 2017.
We lack the business insider knowledge to speculate on whether Baer could convince others to join him in the pursuit of an NWSL franchise, if parts of the Minnesota United ownership structure would be interested, or what the league might be looking for. It seems safe to say, however, that there are both interest and history here. Seems like a good enough combination.
Where would they play?
Average attendance for an NWSL game in 2018 was about 6,000 fans. That number is heavily boosted by the Portland Thorns (averaged almost 17,000), however, and most clubs drew closer to 4,000 or 5,000.
Allianz Field is the obvious answer, especially if Minnesota United is involved in ownership or operation. With a capacity of 19,400, the ground could easily host larger crowds if necessary, but for typical games, the upper level could be closed, as has been the case for Loons’ US Open Cup games.
Five of the league’s nine teams played in MLS soccer-specific stadiums in 2019. The other four teams all played in smaller stadiums with capacities of 10,000 or under. If an NWSL team in Minnesota opted for that route, there are still options.
During the club’s NASL days, Minnesota United played games at Blaine’s National Sports Center — the USWNT has even played there four times. At the time, the stadium’s capacity was listed as 10,000, but as many as 15,000 fans could be accommodated.
Since the Loons left for bigger pastures, the stadium has been slightly renovated. The temporary stand has been removed and two full-size fields run perpendicular to the original layout.
The concrete main stand remains, however, and has a capacity of 5,500 by itself. The stadium could surely return to full functionality with minimal work and be a suitably sized ground for a potential team. FIFA-quality artificial turf has been added to the stadium fields, which may or may not be a selling point.
There’s still another suburban stadium solution, albeit one that would be a less-likely option. The Minnesota Vikings’ TCO Performance Center includes a 6,000 seat stadium that has been used for high school football games.
Securing use of the stadium might be a stretch — and fitting a soccer field on the surface could be too — but it’s another smaller option.
Would people care?
The final problem to solve is that of support that the team would receive. Is Minnesota a desirable women’s soccer market?
It now seems solidly established that Minnesota is a soccer market. United has sold out every regular season game so far at Allianz Field, and has drawn strong single-ticket crowds for US Open Cup games and international friendlies.
Outside of the pro level, Minnesota is also (largely) home to the NPSL North Conference, a fourth division league with amateur players. Attendances across the board have increased through the league’s third season.
Minnesota also supports the Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL), which just wrapped up its second season of play with a (largely) Minnesotan conference. Three teams from the Twin Cities, as well as clubs from Rochester, Mankato and the Fargo-Moorhead area all have been successful thus far.
The University of Minnesota’s women’s team can hardly be forgotten either. The Gophers are routinely among the mix of top national teams, and won the Big Ten Conference tournament in 2018.
Outside of soccer and in the realm of women’s sports, the Minnesota Lynx basketball team and Minnesota Whitecaps hockey team have both been successful and well-supported among Minnesotans. Clearly, there isn’t an aversion to supporting female athletes here.
The Bottom Line
Is all of this enough for Minnesota to merit an NWSL franchise?
We’re not the ones to say, but it’s a resounding yes.