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With U.S. Soccer in the loop, NWSL expansion is up to Houston Dynamo

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The Houston Dynamo are rapidly approaching a decision whether to join the National Women’s Soccer League next year – and the evidence in favor is mounting.

A drive for 2014 season ticket deposits for a prospective Houston NWSL expansion team ended Monday after four days and the response was enough for club President Chris Canetti to move forward, he said.

“There was a number in my head that if we got there, this becomes a no-brainer – it would’ve been a very easy presentation to my ownership group,” Canetti told SBI by phone on Monday. “We didn’t get there, but the number that we got makes a very compelling argument in its favor.”

“The team doesn’t exist, there’s no players and there’s no name. So, the number we got gives us a lot of food for thought.”

If the Dynamo join the eight-team NWSL, they would be the second Major League Soccer-backed franchise and first expansion team in the year-old league that is owned and operated by the U.S. Soccer Federation.

The club has conducted research, drafted a business plan and developed a financial model for a Houston NWSL franchise, which has been presented to U.S. Soccer.

For Dynamo, the final piece is to decide, Canetti said. He will present his recommendation to move forward with the NWSL expansion to the club’s owners group and have a decision from it in coming days, he said.

If the Dynamo owners group opts in, an announcement should come quickly.

“The next big question is, where do we stand?” Canetti said. “The ball is definitely in our court to work quickly and reach a conclusion, and get back to [U.S. Soccer and the league] to let them know where we stand. We have a lot to discuss – we haven’t talked about allocation of national team players, we haven’t talked about expansion drafts, scheduling, etc. Those things are all secondary and will come after we make our decision, which hopefully is one to move forward.”

Sources not authorized to speak on behalf of the federation have confirmed negotiations for Dynamo’s entry for 2014 include U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati. Reached Friday, Gulati referred questions to NWSL Executive Director Cheryl Bailey.

“We expect to be an eight-team league in 2014, but have always welcomed interested parties to reach out about expansion opportunities,” Bailey told SBI in an email. “The league and clubs are always open to those conversations, but there is obviously a process for that to occur. We were pleased to hear from the Houston Dynamo, especially as they are in a unique position as an MLS organization. We will continue to have discussions with them in the future.”

Back in August, Gulati said the league would stand at eight teams for 2014, saying: “Let’s get all the wrinkles out of this system and then we can talk about growth.”

But that was before Dynamo got involved.

Discussions between the club and U.S. Soccer began in September, but Dynamo went public with their interest last week, sending out a survey to Dynamo season ticket-holders and pushing the issue on social media to gain feedback.

“The survey was positive,” Canetti said. “It said most of our season ticket-holders support the U.S. Women’s National Team. A majority of them are aware of professional women’s soccer in America. A majority would support a women’s club through season tickets and majority without season tickets would attend games.”

The Dynamo have 12,000 individual season ticket-holders connected to 3,500 accounts. Of that target audience, 25 percent responded to the survey, which is more than enough to provide valuable insight, Canetti said.

A Dynamo-backed women’s team would not share the name Dynamo because Adidas sponsors MLS while the NWSL is sponsored by Nike.

To make a Houston NWSL franchise work, support will need to mostly come from the existing base of the Dynamo, Canetti said.

“We need to weigh the impact it’s going to have on the Dynamo, both positive and negative,” he said. “At the end, we need to net out if this is a solid business proposition on a standalone basis, but also in bringing value to the Dynamo and not detracting.”


What do you think about NWSL possibly expanding next year? Would this move be good for the Houston Dynamo? Would fans carry over to a pro women’s squad?

Share your thoughts below.


    • I think it’s obvious that Houston should add an NWSL team.

      1. Houston is already profitable so it’s not like they need to add one out of desperation. Everyone who is concerned about Houston’s future in the MLS should look to the profitability and value of the team according to the recent Forbes article. Adding an NWSL team will not stretch them thin because they are already in the black.

      2. Looking at the Portland model, it would give them a way to make more money off of their stadium, without a significant increase in costs. The Thorns average around 13k fans a game with highs in the 17k area. That’s in a 20k stadium that the Timbers already own. Even if Houston fills only one third to half of their stadium they would still be doing it for a very small fraction of the cost of their Dynamo team (considering the cap AND the nationally payed players). They also wouldn’t have to develop new front office staff, or very minimally so. Costs would be barely noticeable, while they’d gain revenue streams every week.

      3. Overlapping fandom. A women’s team, and our national team stars could lure in fans that haven’t yet made the plunge into MLS (women and girls, as well as WNT fans that haven’t yet seen a reason to cheer a domestic league if they can’t regularly cheer for national heroes).

  1. I’m no expert on the legal aspect of this situation, but as an idea; I think if an expansion is coming on especially if it would be a direct link between NWSL and MLS, said MLS team should put funding forward before hand to ensure media etc. For example, IF Houston Dynamo becomes affiliated, have them put forth a small portion that would go into the struggling media portion of the NWSL for their specific team affiliation. But in the case of time between receiving the fund and forming a team is not on their side they might just have to stick to the way things are being run. Which is going very smoothly. And instead of Houston having a team maybe it should be more open to other parts of Texas but us the Houston stadium. It is done all the time in other pro sports in America. For example, the New York Giants and New York Jet play in Jersey. Maybe where they play (which should never be on an american football field) is the “problem”

  2. The Dynamo would do well to hold a season ticket drive for its MLS team. BVA Compass Stadium was embarrassingly empty for WAY too many games yet again this season. And why is it when Dynamo do get a decent crowd, most of the crowd leaves at halftime?

  3. Houston can’t sell out their Men’s games, why do they think the fans will support a Women’s team? #EvenHoustonHatesHouston

  4. The strategy of pairing with an MLS club obviously worked here in Portland. That’s no guarantee it’ll work every time in every place, but it’s got to be a good sign. It makes financial sense; it makes marketing sense. That sort of pairing is probably the only situation in which it makes sense for the NWSL to make an exception to the “no expansion in 2014” policy.

  5. So here is a crazy idea. Why not have MLS teams share a NWSL club? The NWSL can play a summer tournament in association with the northern MLS clubs and then a winter tournament in association with the southern MLS clubs. The MLS can spread the costs around and the women can gain national exposure.

  6. Wait, women’s teams can’t share the same name as the men’s teams because there are two different companies that make their shirts? I get that in England and other countries clubs sign their own kit deals rather than through the league, but I wouldn’t have figured that the Adidas deal prevents Houston from using “Dynamo” in NWSL (probably something about confusion of brands and other legal mumbo-jumbo).

  7. there needs to be a women’s league of say 10-12 clubs. Use all the hype and PR of the women’s NT to promote. offer cheaper tickets. ensure the heroes, biggest stars of the team to shine

    • You mean like they did for the last two women’s leagues that folded and they’re already doing for this one? Of course they’re going to use the national team players to promote – that’s partly why U.S. Soccer is involved and paying for the players. And cheaper tickets? Using the cheapest seating areas as a guide, season tickets barely run over $200 and are considerably lower for some teams. I don’t see how they could get any lower.

      10-12 teams is a solid goal, but I think U.S. Soccer wants to take its time and make sure everything is running smoothly. They don’t want to fall into the trap of the WPS where they’re expanding or selling teams out of desperation.

  8. Canetti translation: we did not make our season ticket goal but this will still be brought to the ownership group. Since they’ve made a public fuss about it I would think it’s hard to back out, though.

    A lot of the European women’s teams are adjuncts of the men’s pro teams. Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool. The issue I see with that is whether American businessmen are willing to back a women’s team that may lose money just to say they have teams for men and women. I’d be interested to know the profitability just for the men of most MLS teams east of Seattle.

    • Here are a couple articles that give a league-level report of the profitability, or, rather, lack-there-of, of the MLS.

      LA Times, Nov 2011:
      Here’s a quote from that article:
      “Even with revenue at an all-time high, fewer than one-third of the league’s teams will make a profit this season. Even the Galaxy, with an estimated value of more than $100 million, will finish in the red after paying more than $12 million in salary to three designated players, David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane.”

      A follow-up article from the LA Times in Dec 2012:

      “… numbers that show the league to still be struggling in several areas. Although revenue has increased dramatically — gross royalties from licensed merchandise jumped more than 230% over the last seven years — no more than a handful of MLS teams have ever turned a profit. Most have never come close.

      … Despite the overall attendance gains, seven teams experienced declines at the gate in 2012, including the MLS champion Galaxy.”

      The MLS has been around for about 20 years now. It looks like a whole lot of people are willing to lose a whole lot of money on it, thus voiding the argument against women’s teams that ‘no one wants to lose that much money’. I’m not saying MLS owners would want to lose even more money by adding a women’s side, just saying the “losing money” argument against women’s soccer doesn’t fly.

  9. Not the best idea. The MLS is barely starting to make money, I don’t like the idea of tying clubs to the womens league which, lets face it, will never be very popular.

    Obviously no was has the numbers or projections, but womens soccer has consistently failed even as the game has grown drastically in the US. Not trying to hate on the ladies but I want the MLS to flourish and this does absolutely nothing to help.

    • Disagree about the concerns over money for the most part… The Dynamo own their stadium, which the NWSL team would presumably use. This means that the Dynamo don’t have to pay rent and make money off any ticket sales and food sales during the games which should for the most part cancel out the costs of the team itself. Remember that several of the players will still likely be paid for by the USSF, Canadian Soccer Association, and Mexican Soccer Association so the team won’t even be paying the salaries of some of their top players…

      I expect that for the most part, they’re looking at probably breaking even with the team… and if they do lose money it will probably be minimal losses for the first few seasons.

    • Calm down jeez lol. They have the buildings and staff in place. Look a team NWSL salary cost may be 500k to field a full team and that’s one bad Dynamo DP. So think they could have a ladies team to keep the stadium useful during spring or off weeks for the Dynamo or bring in another Carlos Costly not a hard choice in my opinion. But I see them being the catalyst for other teams like Red Bull and LA to join in as well. Can’t hurt to expand the brand to women on a playing level not just buying jerseys and its fairly inexpensive.

      • Current salary cap is $200k for a 20 player roster with 7 NT players paid by their respective federations. Some of that may change, but it’s pretty affordable. Even when you triple that number with health insurance and housing and other player costs, it’s a pretty doable number.

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