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USWNT Fans And Players Hope World Cup Win Will Help National Women's League Succeed

Jul 10, 2019
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

This year's ticker-tape parade is over for the women's national soccer team. Now back to work. How can women's soccer take advantage of a monthlong commercial for the sport? When the women won their second World Cup in 1999, they had a lot of momentum. But since then, two different pro leagues have launched and folded. Fans and players hope the current league, the National Women's Soccer League, will be different.

Joining me to talk about this is Rachel Bachman. She's a senior sports writer for The Wall Street Journal. Welcome to the program.

RACHEL BACHMAN: Great to be here, Audie. Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: So this is the women's fourth World Cup title. What do you think will be different this time around?

BACHMAN: One of the things that's changed most dramatically is the backdrop of their victory. The Women's World Cup is just so much more popular than it was back in '91 when it started when hardly anyone even knew it was happening. FIFA, the world governing body of soccer, estimates that 1 billion people watched this Women's World Cup, and that's simply unprecedented.

CORNISH: In March, the women's team filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against U.S. Soccer alleging that the federation pays them less than men. People have been talking about this a lot. How does this affect their argument?

BACHMAN: Well, if I were the U.S. women's soccer team, I would take the audio from the World Cup final in which the crowd was chanting equal pay and submit it as evidence because what they have now, in addition to a World Cup title, is they have the public unequivocally on their side. And I would think that can only help them in their lawsuit.

CORNISH: In the meantime, it looks like the private market is starting to step up. Can you talk about how this win has basically kind of brought more attention to the team from the business world?

BACHMAN: Well, two significant things happened during the World Cup itself. One, ESPN announced that it will broadcast 14 games in the NWSL. Another thing that has happened is Budweiser announced a four-year sponsorship agreement with the NWSL as well. And this is a league that really has largely run on a shoestring budget. If it's going to succeed long-term, it needs deep-pocketed investors, owners and, certainly, sponsors. And Budweiser is a very significant first step on the way of what could be increased investment in the league.

CORNISH: Does it make a difference that the team has this charismatic international star in Megan Rapinoe? I mean, is that something that can really be a defining moment for a sport and a league that is trying to push itself forward?

BACHMAN: Absolutely. It's just been remarkable to see the rise of her star. You know, let's not forget she certainly was a very good player for the team going into the World Cup, but certainly not what we would say the unequivocally best player. She scored all four goals in two of the U.S.' knockout round games. She, of course, very famously struck this outstretched arms pose during the France game. And, of course, her sparkling, very effervescent personality.

CORNISH: Yeah, she's good for a soundbite.

BACHMAN: Exactly. And I think that can only help the league. Certainly, in every city she goes to, she'll be the LeBron James of the NWSL, and that can only help boost attendance.

CORNISH: Is there anything other women's pro leagues, like the WNBA, can take from this moment from soccer and apply it?

BACHMAN: Well, I think the most significant contribution the U.S. women's soccer team has made to other women's leagues is the pay discrimination suit because what that did was to launch this national conversation about pay for female athletes, highlighting the fact that some of these leagues are struggling, including the WNBA. So now I think fans understand that the onus is on them, in part, to make sure these leagues survive.

CORNISH: But have we seen this movie before? I mean, we talked about, in the introduction, the idea of leagues coming and going - right? - folding off the momentum of a moment. What makes you think this moment will last?

BACHMAN: Well, one thing that's different is the NWSL is already twice as long as either of the two leagues that preceded it. It's got a little bit thicker of a foundation. It's working off of a larger platform. The Women's World Cup is simply a much bigger deal now than it was when those two previous leagues folded.

In addition, you know, it is becoming international. I mean, Marta, the great Brazilian star, plays for the Orlando Pride of the NWSL. Samantha Kerr played for the Australian national team in the World Cup, plays for the Chicago Red Stars. So you know, these are also stars that the NWSL can market to try to sort of broaden the base of the league.

CORNISH: Rachel Bachman is senior sports reporter for The Wall Street Journal. Thanks so much.

BACHMAN: Thanks so much, Audie.

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