As part of “What if?” week here at SB Nation, I ask the question that has been nagging me the most over the years: What if LAFC had founded an NWSL team?
It’s possible, of course, they could yet get into women’s professional soccer in the future, and I sincerely hope it happens. It’s also possible another club or owner could finally, finally, bring NWSL to California, and I’m more than ready to see it happen, one way or another.
But what if Los Angeles Football Club had gotten in the game, been awarded an NWSL team, and begun play already? Let’s walk through it.
On the field
Here’s where it gets tricky: I’m confident in saying I have no idea who would be the coach, how the team would be constructed and who would be on it. I think there’s a few candidates to be the marquee star for the launch, with local product Christen Press the obvious choice, and while Utah Royals moved heaven and earth to get her, star player leverage in the league could have likely still allowed Press to come to Los Angeles.
Since there’s only nine teams in this non-LAFC involved world, it’s also hard to gauge what the team’s level would be. Strictly speaking, Utah and the North Carolina Courage are not expansion teams, although Utah had more upheaval after moving from Kansas City, as opposed to North Carolina getting in a moving van as a group from Western New York. The last two true expansion teams were Orlando Pride (2016) and Houston Dash (2014). The Pride have made the playoffs once in four seasons, the Dash never in six seasons. Success for expansion teams is not a given.
Having said all of that, LAFC has done a masterful job at building their MLS expansion team, and deserve the benefit of the doubt to an extent for a theoretical NWSL project. The leagues are not identical, and it’s worth noting both the Pride and Dash are owned by MLS teams, so MLS ownership does not equal success, either. So given their track record, LAFC could have easily done a good job building a competitive team, but it’s hard to say for sure with everything in the “in theory” realm.
Off the field
Here’s where I think you can get more concrete with the impact of having an NWSL team. Put simply, it seems like a win-win proposition here.
LAFC control their own venue, Banc of California Stadium. While the 22,000-capacity may be a bit large for NWSL (although you never know), it’s a great stadium and would make for one of the very best venues in the league. Opponents would look forward to playing there, even if the atmosphere would also (hopefully) be intimidating to the other side.
But one of the conundrums of being a venue operator is finding events when your primary tenant isn’t available. Obviously, with another pro soccer team there would be more dates to host games, get revenue from ticket sales and concessions. While a squad and staff specific to the NWSL team would cost money, it would not cost very much, if any, for many of the support staff functions at the stadium for regular NWSL games.
Now, as for the support, that is of course the biggest gamble when launching any team. Aside from the outlier success of the Portland Thorns, which is the gold standard, the rest of the league getting an average attendance of anything over 5,000 is success. For some teams the bar is set lower than that at present, so the expectation is not for LAFC to sell out their building for NWSL, although that would obviously be very great. A season ticket base of 5,000+ and an aim for at least 2,000 additional tickets sold every game would lead to a terrific starting point and a point of pride for the league.
And here’s where the other factor comes into play: While there are obviously some supporters for both an MLS (or in North Carolina’s case, USL) team and NWSL team in markets that are in common, by and large the fanbases are distinct. Even in Portland, the overlap of Thorns and Timbers fans isn’t substantial. That’s not to say that LAFC couldn’t break with the tide and get more crossover fans, it’s certainly a possibility, but the markets aren’t actually identical.
You can pitch NWSL ticket sales to:
- Fans of women’s sports
- Fans of the U.S. Women’s National Team
- People who can’t afford MLS season tickets but could afford NWSL season tickets
- More families — while NWSL is aiming for the young adult demographic, too, families still make up a major portion of fanbases at present
- Queer fans — certainly already present in men’s soccer, but usually hold a higher profile in women’s soccer
In this way, the base that is LAFC can be extended with a new, but similar product, with people from outside the typical MLS supporter catchment still able to participate for a variety of reasons.
And hey, there will absolutely be Galaxy fans or Eurosnobs who would become LAFC fans (I’ve talked to some of them!) if they got an NWSL team — this is a way to get market share!
The thing with any pro soccer team is you have to put in the work in all facets. If you slack on the team, the product suffers. If you don’t bother with marketing after the initial push, the support lags. But while I can’t predict what would have happened on the field for an LAFC NWSL team, I am confident off the field it would have strengthened the club overall, helped the business and expanded the supporter base. What’s past is past, but what if LAFC takes the plunge and gets involved in NWSL in the future? What if, indeed.
What do you think? Leave a comment below.