A longtime fixture in the U.S. Soccer hierarchy, National Women’s Soccer League Executive Director Cheryl Bailey has had her hands full over the last four and a half months. Faced with building a whole new league from scratch, Bailey has been crisscrossing the country organizing and building. It’s a role that she knows well having been the general manager of the U.S. Women’s National Team for the 2007 and 2011 Women’s World Cup as well as the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
In Portland for the historic Portland Thorns FC home opener against Seattle Reign FC, Bailey spoke to reporters at halftime about the first week of the season, how the league is progressing and how the various U.S. Canadian and Mexican soccer federations are feeling about the launch.
What do you think of the match so far?
Cheryl Bailey: It was great. What a wonderful environment. Obviously, having this type of excitement, this type of fan base, and this great game is really special.
What are your thoughts so far on placing teams in NW and the soccer culture up here?
CB: Well, I think that’s really important. And when they were looking at the different teams they were going to put together, knowing those soccer markets was critical. I was at the opening last week in Kansas City and they, too, had a sellout in their stadium. A great environment because it’s another soccer rich city that really appreciates it. It makes a big, big difference.
How has it been after putting the league together in such a quick timeframe?
CB: It was quick, there’s no doubt. There are a lot of little bugs we need to fix, different things that each market is finding they need to do a little bit better. But, with only four months to pull everything together, you look at something like this and this wonderful environment that we have, it’s pretty impressive. Everybody’s worked extremely hard.
How important was it to get a TV deal done at the beginning of the season?
CB: Oh, it’s important. You want to be able to showcase. In some respect it’s good, in these opening games, to get a lot of the kinks out and then go in midway through the season and really start building that with a TV package that we have with FOX. So that’s going to be great for the sport, as well.
What is the feeling on the overall sustainability of the league after just a few games?
CB: I think every team has a little different environment that they’re trying to market to. You have five teams that were in the WPS, you have three that are new coming in, you have one here in Portland that’s connected with the MLS team. So, each market has their own uniqueness to it. It’s to make sure you get the grassroots and build from that. Like I said, I was in Kansas City last weekend, theirs was sold out. I was in Boston the next day and theirs was sold out. You come here, and what an amazing crowd. So everybody is going to have a little bit of something, but it’s putting the roots in and then we build from there.
While I know you’re well connected with U.S. Soccer, what has been the level of satisfaction from Mexican and Canadian federations?
CB: Yeah, I think it’s exciting. The very first goal scored in the league was from a Mexican allocated player and the second goal was from a Canadian allocated player. Clearly, they’re making an impact and that’s important to appreciation all that they’re bringing to the league, as well. I think they’re very pleased.