Soccer

NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird discusses expansion, 2021 championship site and Richie Burke’s suspension

National Women’s Soccer League commissioner Lisa Baird hosted a midseason press conference to discuss league updates and the current 2021 season on Wednesday. 

The press conference came shortly after the Washington Spirit announced head coach Richie Burke was stepping away from the team. The Spirit initially said Burke was leaving his role due to health concerns, but a report from the Washington Post revealed an on-going investigation was taking place in light of Burke’s history involving abusive language and harassment of players.

Here are some notable moments from Baird’s press conference. You can watch live NWSL action all season long on Paramount+.

What is going on with Burke?

The Washington Spirit announced on Tuesday that Burke was stepping away from the head coaching position due to health reasons and would be re-assigned to a front office role at a later date once health concerns passed. New reports of Burke’s history with abusive behavior surfaced on Wednesday morning, and the Spirit announced Burke was suspended while they investigated the claims. Here’s their new statement:

Baird clarified that the league was not involved in the initial press release from the Spirit, but echoed the new statement during the press conference. Baird said the league and the club initiated an investigation in response to credible press reports, and that Burke has been placed on administrative leave pending the results of an adjudication process.

What’s next on the expansion front?

The league has already introduced two additional teams for the 2022 season, bringing the total number of NWSL clubs up to 12 for next year. L.A.-based Angel City FC have already introduced their new logos, and announced ticket pricing for fans. NWSL San Diego made big hires with President of operation Jill Ellis and new head coach Casey Stoney. Two of the league’s MLS-partnered franchises recently announced new ownership, with the Houston Dash and Orlando Pride welcoming Ted Segal and Mark Wilf, respectively. 

As Canada won the gold medal in the Olympics, several of their players expressed the desire to have NWSL teams in Canada, and Baird commented on the possibility of expanding to the north, and noted that borders finally opening up during the pandemic is a positive sign.

“I love seeing on social media, the excitement from fans in the U.S. and in Canada about potentially bringing an expansion market,” Baird said. “One piece of good news is the border is open, so that bodes well for something in Canada . . . I’ve heard from fans in Vancouver and in Toronto and other places that they’d love to have a team and it’s certainly something that I in the ownership will seriously consider as we finalize our expansion plans.”

Where will the NWSL Championship site be?

All NWSL Championship finals have taken place at a predetermined location in prior years, offering a potential neutral site for two teams to square off in the championship final. The 2019 final was in North Carolina and the Courage made their return to the final and were crowned champions. When the pandemic derailed regular season plans in 2020, Utah was selected for the Challenge Cup. 

Finals have been held in Houston, Orlando, Portland, among others, and Baird says an announcement on a selected site will be forthcoming in the next few weeks. The regular season concludes on Oct. 31, with playoffs taking place Nov. 6, and the NWSL Championship slated for Nov. 20.

“[A predetermined site] allows us to do the full planning,” Baird said. “…There are a number of interested teams that are putting together the proposal, and I’m hopeful to announce something in the coming weeks.” 

Future broadcasting plans

Baird also touched on the broadcast partnership with CBS and the importance of building audiences via streaming platforms, calling it, “a significant media investment by the league and ownership, and one that we think is critically important.”

Baird also referenced some proprietary fan research the league is currently in the beginning stages of completing, and recently sized their core fan base at over 10 million. “That’s a high watermark and that research continues to validate that we have one of the most highly sought after audiences in sport — men’s sports or women’s sports combined.”

With three years remaining on the current broadcast partnership, Baird said the league is focused on investing as much as possible into CBS broadcast coverage and building their streaming audience as the fan base continues to grow.



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