In the United States today, 400,000 girls play high school football. Another 40,000 women play on college teams.
But there are only 12 women’s professional football teams. It’s 300 places, for all these players. Add in coaches and administrators, and the opportunities for women in professional football are extremely limited.
The fanbase is there, though. So does the growth potential. And Amanda Vandervort does what she can to fill it.
Last fall, the former varsity, junior and adult coach – a seasoned marketer and executive, and FIFA consultant – was named president of the USL Super League. The Division 2 professional women’s football league begins its first season next year. It will be the next step in a journey that already includes the pre-professional W League, the USL Academy and the USL Super Y League.
Vandervort brings two decades of experience in global football to his role, including grassroots initiatives and business development. She was a pioneer in women’s football, in roles as President of United Soccer Coaches and co-author of “Raise our game», the 2020 report which highlighted the rights and conditions of players.
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to how to create a new football league, warns Vandervort. But with NWSL teams in just a dozen markets, USL is poised for growth. “There are female fans and female football fans,” says Vandervort. Her job is twofold: to create an environment that keeps women in the game and to market that environment so that those women can thrive.
The USL W League is an important component. Forty-four teams in 20 states spanning seven regions kicked off their first pre-pro season last month. In Indianapolis, Indy Eleven defeated Cincinnati’s Kings Hammer, in front of an SRO crowd of 1,571. The Minnesota Aurora drew a sold-out 5,219 spectators for its first game, tied with Green Bay Glory. The league’s 254-game season runs until July 23. Other teams expected to join next year include Oakland, Spokane and Stockton, Calif.
Right now, says Vandervort, “the market momentum is perfect. Interest in women’s sports has never been higher and the demand for football in particular is out of this world. Everyone – owners, sponsors, media – is interested. People don’t see it as just a game, but as a real business proposition, with value. »
It’s a positive cycle: increased coverage leads to larger crowds, which leads to more sponsorship and investment, which leads back to increased coverage. Vandervort quotes a business consultant: “The time to invest in women’s sports like football was yesterday.”
Is investing in women’s football different from that of men?
“I don’t compare them,” retorts Vandervort. “It’s apples and oranges. It’s the same sport, but a different industry. But the opportunity to buy women’s football is a good long-term value proposition. The level of talent is extremely high and there is a level of sponsorship that has yet to be tapped.
In fact, she says, the USL sells “more than just soccer. It’s not just the 22 people on the ground. It’s the walk to the game, the sound of the fans, who you are as a club. This is true on the men’s side too, of course. But in the United States, most players – and men who follow women’s football – have not yet had the chance to pledge allegiance to a club close to them like this.
Success will be measured by the usual business metrics, including attendance and revenue. But there are softer metrics, like “fan experience” and “long-term sustainability.” Vandervort and other executives like the former college coach (and chairman of United Soccer Coaches) Priceset short and long term goals.
Her whole career has prepared her for this, says Vandervort. “As a coach you think about leadership and the impact your actions will have on those you lead. As a goalkeeper I know the importance of communication.
“My professional background has focused on fan engagement.” (That was one of her roles, as vice-president of MLS.) “There are so many ways to deliver that, whether it’s in the stadium or through a mobile device. So many fans haven’t had that opportunity in women’s football yet. We want to build a fan-centric league. And still, Vandervort keeps his eyes on those 400,000 high school players and 40,000 college athletes, who currently have an extremely narrow funnel of just 300 pro spots.
“Think of all these players coming up,” said the USL president. “It will be such an exciting path for them.”