The future of top-flight women's professional soccer in the United States is stronger than ever thanks to a new deal between Nike and the National Women's Soccer League that comes just one day before the league's 2015 championship game.
The league announced on Wednesday that their partnership with Nike has been extended through the 2019 season. The deal not only gives the NWSL a supplier of jerseys, apparel, equipment and league-specific balls for all nine NWSL teams (as well as any future ones), but also a long-term corporate ally.
When asked by Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl whether or not the Nike deal guarantees the NWSL's future until at least 2019, NWSL commissioner Jeff Plush replied, "I would say this just underscores the fact we'll be around."
The league was first started in 2012, but until now has not had a long-term commitment from Nike, which also sponsors the women's U.S. national team. NWSL play began in 2013 after the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) took the lead in planning and running league operations, providing the league with the necessary early support of American soccer's official governing body. Propped onto their feet by the USSF, the new Nike deal gives the NWSL momentum heading into a fourth season of play in 2016.
Under the terms of the deal, Nike will continue to collaborate with the NWSL on soccer design and technology advancement initiatives and provide a sport science resource to each team.
"This deal is really about the future of the league," said Houston Dash midfielder and World Cup hero Carli Lloyd said in a press release. “For women’s soccer to continue to flourish, we need partners like Nike who are committed. In past, there’s always been a huge question mark around the future. Now, the stage is set for continued success at the national level, as well as the club level.”
The deal comes at a time when the NWSL has faced questions over whether or not the league has been able to capitalize long term on the United States' July victory in the World Cup Final, the most watched soccer match in U.S. history.
Since then, there have been signs of increased interest. The NWSL set a league attendance record of 21,144 for a Portland Thorns-Seattle Reign match featuring World Cup stars Megan Rapinoe and Tobin Heath in July. Teams across the NWSL reported rising ticket sales. Two MLS clubs, the Orlando City SC and the Portland Timbers, recently purchased ownership stakes in NWSL teams.
But the NWSL has yet to add a single new sponsor in the three months after the World Cup, according to The Guardian, a sign that businesses may be hesitant to invest in the fledgling league.
The two previous attempts at creating a top-flight U.S. women's pro soccer league each failed after three seasons. The Women's United Soccer Association came and went between 2000 and 2003, and Women's Professional Soccer was unable to continue beyond 2013.
Pash is undeterred, however, and believes that the league's continued partnership with Nike will open up additional avenues for progress.
''We have enjoyed a tremendous start to our journey together, and we continue to look for ways to elevate soccer in this country to new heights," he said in a statement on Wednesday. "This partnership is integral to that journey."
For at least the next four years, the NWSL and Nike will make their own way.
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