After a whirlwind month of June amid the fervor of the World Cup, the Washington Spirit have reloaded with every World Cup player ready to play against Sky Blue in New Jersey on Wednesday.
Rose Lavelle, Mallory Pugh, Chloe Logarzo, Amy Harrison, Elise Kellond-Knight and Cheyna Matthews are hoping their successes big and small will carry over from their World Cup experiences to make the NWSL have a larger impact in the coming years.
“Hopefully people come and watch it, take their first glimpse and realize that it’s not all mayonnaise in this league it’s a pretty good product,” head coach Richie Burke said.
Part of that starts with more media coverage, including the new deal the NWSL signed with ESPN to carry games on their network. The league had a deal with Yahoo! Sports and NBC Sports Washington announced a broadcast deal with Monumental Sports Network and the team in January ahead of the World Cup.
"In the NWSL it’s been frustrating because you have those same players that you saw in the World Cup, they’re all here, not all of them, but a large majority are here. So it’s kind of like why are people not engaging with it?" said captain Andi Sullivan said.
For the Spirit, the ESPN deal was validation that the sport was growing.
“I think it’s been frustrating that sometimes, you turn on ESPN and there’s like corn hole or cricket," Pugh noted. "Everyone is saying how great and competitive this league is and I think people just need to see that and now that we have the option and they actually can do that it’s absolutely amazing.”
“I’m actually shocked that there hasn’t been a broadcast deal [with ESPN],” Australian national Chloe Logarzo said. “It should’ve happened a really long time ago.”
ESPN will carry the Sprit's game against the Houston Dash on Sept. 25 at 9 p.m. and it will air on ESPN2. NBC Sports Washington will carry the Spirit's remaining home games through Sept. 28 when they take on Reign FC.
That media coverage also includes print and online mediums showing up to games after the first-week post World Cup spike that every NWSL team experienced.
“Part of what will continue to grow this is to have more media coverage forever,” Chief Marketing Officer Gretchen Hamm said.
“It can’t just be a once every four years kind of thing or once every two years kind of thing," Logarzo noted. "It just needs to keep rolling.”
In addition to the media deal, most of the international players hope that the exposure helps force their federations and FIFA to invest more, and hopefully help them reach equal pay.
“The first step is taking the first step,” said Jamaican national Cheyna Matthews. Matthews hopes the Reggae Girlz first appearance in the World Cup, coupled with the success of other CONCACAF teams, will “put pressure on the JFF (Jamaican Football Federation) not only to talk about the things they want to do for us but make those things happen.”
“The argument and the discussion [for equal pay] started before World Cup,” said recent acquisition Elise Kellond-Knight. “I’m a part of our player's union back in Australia, the PFA (Professional Footballers Australia), and we actually put a legal case together."
The union called on FIFA to expand the player payment pool from $30 million to $57 million. "There’s actually some grounds here to what’s going on that the percentage increase for the females wasn’t anywhere near what the males have received for their World Cup," Kellond-Knight said.
Spirit ownership have noted that disparity and owner Steve Baldwin helped bring in sponsorship deals, including one with local insurance giant GEICO.
“He (Baldwin) feels that they are underpaid, under-recognized, under-appreciated and he’s doing everything within his power to change that,” Burke said. “I’ve been involved in football for a long time and lot of different levels and never known an ownership group or executive branch to be so committed to a team.”
“All the people who are working for us now are saying ‘this is the bare minimum now and we’re gonna push this so far,”” Sullivan said.
Eventually, the hope is that this iteration of a professional women's soccer league will last.
"I think that the engagement will stay and I think having all these international players with such great play such great character such great stories, I think that that is what will resonate with the community,” Sullivan said.
After meeting another Rose Lavelle, the Spirit's Lavelle hopes that people will cheer on the younger Lavelle in the NWSL in years to come.
Post World Cup press conference with the @WashSpirit international players.— Anna Witte (@AnnaWitte_) July 22, 2019
“Hopefully little Rose Lavelle will come up and everyone will forget about old Rose Lavelle.” -@roselavelle @USWNT @TheMatildas @NWSL @NBCSWashington pic.twitter.com/cazZdvLzuF
“Hopefully little Rose Lavelle will come up and everyone will forget about old Rose Lavelle,” Lavelle noted.
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