Yesterday FC Barcelona cut the ribbon on their shiny new offices in New York. Like Bayern Munich before them, Barça are looking to make maximize their opportunities in a potentially very lucrative American market.
During the event, Barcelona president Josep Bartomeu said the club is really interested in expanding and investing in American soccer by fielding a new team.
But he wasn’t talking about MLS.
Bartomeu instead wants to “create a team that can take part in the National Women’s Soccer League” in order to boost Barcelona’s profile in the US.
”The women’s football league here is very interesting. We’re thinking about the option, in the future, of having our own team here, to compete at the maximum level, and to help us become more well known.”
So, that’s all well and good. Bartomeu was pretty vague and noncommittal, but the idea of a Barcelona-backed NWSL club is pretty fun to think about.
But the story inadvertently raised an uncomfortable question— where’s the real power in women’s soccer in the US?
The NWSL didn't have a presence at the event. Neither commissioner Jeff Plush nor anyone else from the league were in attendance.
When the story first started filtering out, Bartomeu supposedly had his talks concerning the NWSL with… MLS commissioner Don Garber.
And soccer people basically carried on as if this made perfect sense.
Which points to something of a power imbalance in women's soccer.
No one from the NWSL has commented publicly on Bartomeu's statement yesterday. But this has become enough of a thing that Don Garber felt like he had to say something.
To fill out the context a bit more here: incoming MLS expansion franchise LAFC are reportedly looking to field an NWSL team of their own, with backing from retired USWNT superstar Mia Hamm. This would continue a trend of NWSL clubs with backing from MLS franchises, such as the Houston Dash and Orlando Pride.
It seems that every few years MLS adopts a pet project for further investment. 10 years ago it was soccer-specific stadia. Then it was club academy systems. Now MLS seems to be going in on women’s soccer. Where direct investment isn’t likely, MLS seems to want to position itself as a gatekeeper for foreign investment in the women’s game. And NWSL’s involvement in these investment schemes seems, at the very least, speculative. This dynamic is weird enough even without the gender politics involved.
So here we have something of a throwaway newsbyte that may or may not pay dividends years down the line. But it seems like the real story is that powerful people in the soccer world, in the US and abroad, met to discuss the future of the women’s game in the US and potential investments in the country’s domestic top flight league (which boasts a collection of the best players in the world, American or otherwise), and executives for that league weren’t even in the room when it happened. And, it must be noted, these talks on women’s soccer were carried out entirely by men. Maybe Barcelona will invest in women’s soccer in America and maybe they won’t. But this story shows that it might be worthwhile to look into where and how power is situated in American soccer with regards to the women’s game. And whether that helps or hinders the growth of the sport.