After winning the World Cup, forcing a discussion about equal pay, and correctly mounting Megan Rapinoe on a pedestal, you would think that women’s soccer might be in a better place. But The National Women’s Soccer League cannot catch a fucking break. Case in point: The great state of North Carolina is home to many excellent sports teams (excluding the Panthers), one of them being the North Carolina Courage, a women’s soccer team that finished 2019 as the top team in their league, the NWSL. But now, Major League Soccer has announced a large expansion over the next four years, with the first expansion team going to—you guessed it—Charlotte, North Carolina.
This as-of-yet unnamed team was made possible, in large part, by the backing of a billionaire David Tepper, a man who also owns the Carolina Panthers, an NFL team that could be swallowed by the earth for all I care. Tepper’s bid was reported to be $325 million, the highest bid for any team in league history, according to Sports Illustrated.
While the addition is being hailed as a huge potential boon to Charlotte’s tourism and downtown it is also a painful and expensive reminder of the willful ignorance that men with money have for women’s sports leagues. In the same week that the men’s league solidified its plans for its expansion to 30 teams, the National Woman’s Soccer League announced on its Instagram page that it would not be expanding at all in 2020, despite rumors of interest. (At the moment, the NWSL is composed of nine teams.)
The omnipresent argument is, of course, about money and the theory that women’s soccer will never attract enough eyeballs to justify a better-funded existence. Yet between 2018 and 2019, attendance at Courage games went up, a pattern that held with every other team in the league. This increase was a direct result of the NWSL players who played on the Women’s National Team and went on to win the World Cup. For some teams, this influx has allowed them new milestones: Attendance spiked at SkyBlue FC, a women’s soccer team in New Jersey that employs Carli Lloyd, so significantly that the team will be playing all of its 2020 games in Red Bull Arena, base of MSL team the New York Redbulls, a considerable upgrade from their previous home on the Rutgers college campus. This interest is expected to grow as the Women’s National Team prepares for the upcoming Olympics. Yet most women’s teams can’t even get a game broadcast: It wasn’t until after the World Cup, and halfway through the 2019 season that ESPN decided to air 14 NWSL games.
By bringing a team to North Carolina—despite the fact that a men’s team already exists in the state—MLS is overshadowing the presence of the Courage entirely. How is Courage supposed to continue to compete competition for eyeballs without the money that’s been poured into this new team? How is any NWSL team supposed to grow when the millionaires and billionaires decide that only men’s leagues are worthy of expansion? The athletes of the NWSL have proven time and time again that they are worthy of the same treatment and same investment as those in the MLS. But here we all are, arguing that women’s teams that already exist, and are already extremely successful, are deserving of money earmarked for a team nobody ever wanted.