By: Nur Renollet
Jan. 29, 2023
For the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), the year started off with four former NWSL coaches, Paul Riley, Christy Holly, Rory Dames, and Richie Burke being permanently banned from all participation in the league. This came at the behest of commissioner Jessica Berman following the findings of the joint NWSL/NWSL Players Association investigation into allegations of multiple accounts of sexual harassment, coercion, verbal and emotional abuse by the now banned coaches.
An independent United States Soccer Federation’s investigation led by former U.S. Deputy Attorney General, Sally Yates, was released on Oct. 3, 2022 detailing allegations of past abusive behaviors and sexual misconduct in women’s professional soccer.
In lieu of these reports, the league has further suspended coaches from various clubs and issued fines to numerous NWSL teams, notably a $1.5 million fine to the Chicago Red Stars and a $1 million fine to the Portland Thorns. The NWSL’s response to these reports affirmed their stance on how they will handle allegations of sexual misconduct, verbal abuse, racism, and perpetuating a toxic work culture.
A fear of how brand partners and investors would respond to such egregious revelations of misconduct within the NWSL as it enters its 10th year of existence was quickly quelled after one of the NWSL’s top sponsors doubled down on their support of the league.
On Oct. 29, 2022, match-day of the NWSL Championship, Ally’s chief marketing and PR officer, Andrea Brimmer, announced that they renewed their partnership with the NWSL until 2027. This is a profound statement of growth and brand development for the League as the Ally deal would be their second-longest sponsorship deal, behind Nike’s deal which runs until 2030.
The deal between the NWSL and Ally has resulted in an interestingly unified vision as to how the NWSL should develop and how the league can increase its brand and market share within the sports market.
According to Brimmer, the restructured investment in the league involved guaranteeing significant media commitment to the league’s official partners. This is said to help increase the negotiating power of the NWSL as they enter a pivotal negotiating period for their media rights with potential suitors.
Prior to the new deal, Ally was the league’s sole financial services provider. In an astonishing move, Ally has stepped away from select services they provided the league with the hope that other sponsors fill those open niches. Ally’s reasoning for doing this is quite simple: they want to increase the number of brands sponsoring the league, which will heighten the league’s visibility, and strengthen the NWSL’s overall financial and social power.
As the NWSL enters its teenage years, its mission to create a league that accurately reflects the values of the athletes by rooting out systemic issues within the league will be palpable. The importance of commissioner Berman’s vigilant leadership will be crucial as the NWSL enters a pivotal next few years that will test the league’s ability to increase the volume and value of their current and future partners to ensure a new decade of successfully championing women's soccer.