Sunday, July 14, 2024
Sunday, July 14, 2024

Something Funky’s Brewing in Spokane

Firstly, let me just say that I personally think more soccer is always a good thing. Secondly, the women’s game growing in the US past strictly college/amateur ranks and NWSL is one of the more exciting advances of the past decade. Let me also say that I haven’t the first clue about Spokane, Washington, though I have every reason to believe the people there are lovely and that there probably are a good amount of soccer fans embedded in the city’s ~500K metro population. The Reign have great attendance and I’m sure there would be WoSo fans in Spokane who’d gladly attend matches closer to home than making the multi-hour trek to Tacoma.

That being said, I’m confused about the plan for USL’s expansion in Spokane.

In April, the Spokane School Board approved plans to build a 5000 seat stadium in downtown Spokane, included in that was provision for a professional men’s soccer team to share the facility with five Spokane-area high schools. It would later be announced that the pro men’s team would be a USL League One expansion. Oddly (or maybe not?), I can find zero information on prospective club ownership despite giving the old google machine a workout.

Amateur vs Pro WoSo

In June USL announced a new-look W-League, focused on the amateur level so that players could maintain their NCAA eligibility while playing for these W-League clubs over the summer. While on its face this seems like a perfectly fine thing, I have problems straight away with clubs charging for tickets/merch/etc. while not paying their athletes, similarly to how I have problems with the NCAA also making millions off their athletics properties without compensating their athletes.

Do I think the W-League sides will make millions every year? Hardly. And sure, there will be exceptions with the way some of these clubs are run, like in the case where a club might operate as an NPO, be a true community asset and not a cash cow, offer athletes a taste of what the pro game is like (exposing them to the mechanisms on business side of the game), give them a chance to play with the best of the best college athletes over the summer while also staying in shape, etc. A lot of good could come from the W-League.

However. I also can see the potential for situations where a club operates both a USL League One / USL Championship team and a W-League team, and the women’s side being treated as an afterthought due to the men’s team bringing in more revenue. The experience from one USL1/USLC club to another varies a lot, at least from conversations I’ve had and interviews I’ve read with players, which is proof positive enough for me that USL needs to be putting more thought into how this league and the member clubs will operate, and what sort of minimum standards will be in place (beyond things like stadium capacity and ownership net worth).

Candidly, some of these factors are why FMFC doesn’t yet have a women’s side. Fans of Forward Madison were asked earlier this year by FMFC ownership as to our thoughts on the prospect of a Madison women’s team, and that group stated that we’d absolutely love the addition of a women’s team, with some caveats. We raised concerns about how gender equity (facilities, pay, etc.) was paramount and that we’d only support a Madison WoSo project if the women’s side had equal billing and treatment to the men’s side.

Back to the Spokane confusion

Later in June, it was announced that USL had appointed a President of their USL to Spokane project in Cindy Wendle. A few days later, they announced that along with the aforementioned USL1 team, there would also be a W-League team in Spokane as well. Cindy seems nice enough, don’t get me wrong, but the way it’s been reported is (as I said previously) confusing. I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised, as I’ve also never heard of a football league having a Chief Real Estate Officer until USL. I’m skeptical of any situation where the governors of a league are also the same people primarily profiting off its expansion.

Fast forward a few months, and neither team slated for this project has an owner lined up. It just seems backwards that a sporting league comes in, works to help influence a stadium project costing taxpayers millions, has no real investors lined up, and is apparently publicly operating this entity until someone comes in and pays them the expansion fee needed to assume operations. When the owner of this Spokane project is solidified, I can nigh guarantee USL will recoup the $2M they committed to the $31M stadium project as part of the deal to buy. But at that point, it would appear a prospective owner may be purchasing a close to finished product, at least on the branding/identity side of things.

Public listening sessions are scheduled, and it would appear that plans are in motion to give the club its identity, despite not having franchisee/ownership lined up. Wendle says the public will inform the club name, colors, and crest, which from the sounds of it will be created before an owner is even identified. Who’s to say that the feedback offered during the listening sessions and the crest/colors/name won’t be thrown out once an owner comes in? How is this whole project even close to being organic or grassroots? It’s all (as I said) very confusing, and I hope the prospective fans of this nascent Spokane club get some answers before getting too invested.

Author

  • Andrew Schmidt

    Eclecticist, FMFC supporter, Flock co-founder, designer of things, and taker of photos. Writer, wrench, motorcyclist. Pro-intellectualist, anti-pedant. Drinker of coffee and greeter of dogs.

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