By CAITLIN MURRAY
The Houston Dynamo are rapidly approaching a decision whether to join the National Women’s Soccer League next year – and the evidence in favor is mounting.
A drive for 2014 season ticket deposits for a prospective Houston NWSL expansion team ended Monday after four days and the response was enough for club President Chris Canetti to move forward, he said.
“There was a number in my head that if we got there, this becomes a no-brainer – it would’ve been a very easy presentation to my ownership group,” Canetti told SBI by phone on Monday. “We didn’t get there, but the number that we got makes a very compelling argument in its favor.”
“The team doesn’t exist, there’s no players and there’s no name. So, the number we got gives us a lot of food for thought.”
If the Dynamo join the eight-team NWSL, they would be the second Major League Soccer-backed franchise and first expansion team in the year-old league that is owned and operated by the U.S. Soccer Federation.
The club has conducted research, drafted a business plan and developed a financial model for a Houston NWSL franchise, which has been presented to U.S. Soccer.
For Dynamo, the final piece is to decide, Canetti said. He will present his recommendation to move forward with the NWSL expansion to the club’s owners group and have a decision from it in coming days, he said.
If the Dynamo owners group opts in, an announcement should come quickly.
“The next big question is, where do we stand?” Canetti said. “The ball is definitely in our court to work quickly and reach a conclusion, and get back to [U.S. Soccer and the league] to let them know where we stand. We have a lot to discuss – we haven’t talked about allocation of national team players, we haven’t talked about expansion drafts, scheduling, etc. Those things are all secondary and will come after we make our decision, which hopefully is one to move forward.”
Sources not authorized to speak on behalf of the federation have confirmed negotiations for Dynamo’s entry for 2014 include U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati. Reached Friday, Gulati referred questions to NWSL Executive Director Cheryl Bailey.
“We expect to be an eight-team league in 2014, but have always welcomed interested parties to reach out about expansion opportunities,” Bailey told SBI in an email. “The league and clubs are always open to those conversations, but there is obviously a process for that to occur. We were pleased to hear from the Houston Dynamo, especially as they are in a unique position as an MLS organization. We will continue to have discussions with them in the future.”
Back in August, Gulati said the league would stand at eight teams for 2014, saying: “Let’s get all the wrinkles out of this system and then we can talk about growth.”
But that was before Dynamo got involved.
Discussions between the club and U.S. Soccer began in September, but Dynamo went public with their interest last week, sending out a survey to Dynamo season ticket-holders and pushing the issue on social media to gain feedback.
“The survey was positive,” Canetti said. “It said most of our season ticket-holders support the U.S. Women’s National Team. A majority of them are aware of professional women’s soccer in America. A majority would support a women’s club through season tickets and majority without season tickets would attend games.”
The Dynamo have 12,000 individual season ticket-holders connected to 3,500 accounts. Of that target audience, 25 percent responded to the survey, which is more than enough to provide valuable insight, Canetti said.
A Dynamo-backed women’s team would not share the name Dynamo because Adidas sponsors MLS while the NWSL is sponsored by Nike.
To make a Houston NWSL franchise work, support will need to mostly come from the existing base of the Dynamo, Canetti said.
“We need to weigh the impact it’s going to have on the Dynamo, both positive and negative,” he said. “At the end, we need to net out if this is a solid business proposition on a standalone basis, but also in bringing value to the Dynamo and not detracting.”
What do you think about NWSL possibly expanding next year? Would this move be good for the Houston Dynamo? Would fans carry over to a pro women’s squad?
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