An Open Letter to NWSL Executive Director Cheryl Bailey

Dear Cheryl,

I hope you don’t mind me addressing you as Cheryl, I feel you are as much a fan of the game as anyone and I’m writing one fan to another.

So, Cheryl what’s going on?

I recently became aware of MLS team Houston Dynamo’s interest in joining NWSL.  I was very happy with the initial season of NWSL and thought the decision not to expand in 2014 was a good one. The reasons Mr. Gulati gave were all sound and seemed well thought out. Now it seems that isn’t the case and Houston is giving the impression that if they show good enough numbers NWSL will allow them in for 2014. This concerns me, how about you?

This is troubling on so many levels, but mainly it’s a trust issue for me. After two failed leagues I am totally invested in the success of NWSL. I was ecstatic when USSF announced its formation and supported it with my time and money. I bought season tickets to every team. I traveled to attend games and when I could not, I made sure that someone else was in my seat. I bought merchandise and encouraged everyone I knew to at least give the product a try. I defended short comings and encouraged better efforts, from teams and fellow fans alike. In other words, I bought-in, with words and money and time, I bought-in. And I am certainly not alone.

Now it seems that after convincing me NWSL/USSF finally got it right, it’s all going wrong. Make no mistake, I truly do support the league and that’s why I’m concerned. When so many people, on both sides of the business, invest their energy in something with the expectation that it will be better handled than their last two investments only to see things happening that question whether those expectations will be met, it’s disheartening.

I trust NWSL/USSF to say what they mean and mean what they say. When the president of USSF clearly states “no expansion in 2014”, as a fan I trust that to be true. And I’m sure that future investors trust that also. I know other teams, as well as Houston, have eyes on an expansion team, what message does this push by Houston send to them?

If USSF/NWSL has no intention of allowing Houston in for 2014, they should say so, and the opposite holds true, don’t you think?  Or is USSF/NWSL so interested in getting more MLS involvement that they’ll go back on their own word to get it? And if they were to allow Houston a 2014 team, does that give the green light to other MLS teams that they can also impose their will on NWSL? And to extrapolate that out, what happens when NWSL becomes MLS-Lite and teams decide it’s too much trouble? Does NWSL fold like the first two leagues?

Are you starting to see where I’m coming from, Cheryl? I’m a fan. I love the game and support the league, but this new iteration has very little transparency of late and not enough history to make me feel comfortable with this expansion talk. As a fan, don’t you want to know what the league intends? I understand business and that most negotiations are out of sight, but the ill will this will create with other teams looking to join NWSL just isn’t necessary. As a fan I’ll put up with a lot to be able to have a pro women’s league, but I won’t go quietly when I think the league is heading down a wrong path. I think allowing any team in for the 2104 season is the wrong path. And I have nothing against Houston or expanding there, but I am against unequal treatment which seems to be the case since Houston is an MLS team.

Do you think I’m wrong? I’d like you to change my mind, or at least put it at ease. Right now I’m not feeling very happy with my NWSL, how about you? Help me out here.

Thanks for your time, Cheryl. Hope to hear from you soon.

Always a fan,



2 thoughts on “An Open Letter to NWSL Executive Director Cheryl Bailey

  1. Dear Deegley,
    I’ve received your heartfelt message and want to thank you for going the extra mile (and then some) to support NWSL this past season. Your tireless work to promote our league serves as a beacon of inspiration for all of us at NWSL. For that, I am truly thankful.

    Getting to the heart of the matter, your concern regarding the latest developments seems to be two-fold. First, you believe that since NWSL stated that there won’t be expansion in 2014, it should honor the words. Second, accepting Houston NWSL team next year will do more harm than good.

    It is true that officer of NWSL/USSF stated shortly after the 2013 season concluded that there won’t be an expansion for NWSL in 2014. How to interpret these words? You seem to take it as some sort of government policy announcement. So any deviation afterwards would be deemed a breach of trust to the constituents. This was not our intention. Instead, think of the announcement as something similar to CEO of a business laying out guidance report to the shareholders regarding upcoming fiscal year. At the time of the announcement, it seemed to us that staying the course and not expanding was the most prudent thing to do. However, we live in a dynamic world and new variables have appeared which has made us reconsider our previous position. Successful business must be nimble enough to adapt to new situations and not be bound to old way of thinking. That is what we have done here.

    Now, regarding Houston (Dynamo) NWSL entry for next year, you seem to have a fatalistic view that puzzles me. Your train of thought seems to be that allowing Houston to join next year is bad. Houston will try to control NWSL. Houston will invite other MLS backed entries to come in to the league and gain control. And sometime in the future, Houston will lose money, interest or simply get bored and leave NWSL along with other MLS backed teams. Which will lead to the demise of NWSL. Is this scenario possible? technically I suppose it is. But how likely? I submit very unlikely.

    I think we need to be honest with ourselves that in current US market, any serious money, sponsorship, TV coverage, infrastructure & credibility associated with soccer lies with the MLS. Take a look at this Forbes article from this week highlighting the growth in value of MLS franchises.

    As you can see, Houston at $125 mil is the fourth most valued franchise in MLS. Their net income is third highest in the league. If this was a stock market, Houston is the equivalent of Apple or Google. In other words, we have a blue chip stock here that is being offered for sale and we would be foolish to not consider buying simply because of our previous guidance statement.

    I also don’t understand the lure of delaying for one year before expanding. What does waiting one year accomplish? Small minded teams will still stay small minded. Happy to play in front of a small crowd, to near zero press coverage without any significant promotion. 1 year will not change that. For the league to grow and evolve, it needs calibre of teams like Houston that has first class stadium, trade knowledge of how to sell tickets and promote the game and eager to invest in order to compete against the best.
    2015 as you know is WWC year. This is the worst time for any franchise to start. Fledgling team will no doubt lose players to WWC, might have to go head to head against WWC matches and basically play second fiddle to the WWC spectacle. Starting a WOSO team is tough enough. Doing it in WWC year might be described as masochistic.

    In closing, I can understand your trepidation when the league changes it’s course in mid flight. Rest assured, NWSL will be careful in its decision regarding expansion with long term stability of the league forefront in our mind. Whether it’s 8 or 9 teams competing next year, I hope NWSL can count on you for your continued support. Thank you.

    yours always,
    Not Cheryl


    • Dear Not Cheryl,

      I appreciate your reply, but respectfully do not agree.

      My concern over NWSL/USSF not honoring the “no expansion” statement has as much to do with keeping their word as it does with the reasoning behind it. Many things have to be worked out after the initial season and it will be much easier to do without the added pressure of on-boarding a new team. WPS was ruled by chaos for the last season and we see how that ended. Allocation/draft/FA all have to be looked at and tweaked. Less competitive teams need a chance to up their game without the specter of an MLS backed team swooping in and arguably having the clout to attract/be allocated/draft much needed talent. NWSL has to figure out who they are before they surrender it to MLS.

      Yes, I am leery of too much, too early when it comes to MLS involvement. While I agree that a partnership with MLS is advantageous, I do not concede that it’s absolutely necessary in every market. And as you so astutely point out, it IS about the money. I don’t think you can argue that if an MLS team does not get a return on their investment in a relatively short period of time that they’d be pretty well inclined to bail out of their NWSL team. If too many NWSL teams rely on MLS backing, what happens to the league then? Steady and slow was what Gulati said and he said it with purpose.

      Now onto the expansion in a WWC year. My reasoning holds that if any expansion is going to happen in a WWC year then who better than a team backed by MLS. They can certainly withstand any shortcomings you stated. Not to say that only an MLS team can survive a WWC year launch, but certainly an MLS backed team can.

      As a league NWSL cannot put all their eggs in the MLS basket, or any other basket. It will have to be a mix of money, passion and dedication. It will have to be built on trust with the fans, owners and sponsors. It will have to reflect what is unique about women’s sport and not turn into the money hungry spectacle that most men’s sport is becoming.


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