Monson: Will Dell Loy Hansen stir you to buy tickets for Utah’s newest professional sports team?
(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune)
Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen announces that the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) will field a team in Utah for the 2018 season. He was joined by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, right.
Sandy • OK, so here’s a question only you can answer.
Would you be excited about carving out time on summer nights around here to pay for tickets to attend women’s pro soccer games?
It’s a question you now get to answer for real starting next April, when Real Salt Lake will offer an entry in something called the National Women’s Soccer League. It is the top soccer get-up for women in the United States, made up of 10 teams — with the addition of Salt Lake’s side — that compete during the regular season straight into September, after which the top four teams face off in the playoffs.
Intrigued? Or bored to death?
Rosters of teams are sprinkled with players from the USWNT, as well as national teams from Mexico and Canada. You know some of the names — Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe. Additional players are in the league’s mix from lesser-known realms.
But here’s the thing: Some fans of soccer enjoy the women’s game better than the men’s, at least the men’s as we’ve come to know it in this country. It could and should be said that the U.S. women play at a higher international level, in relative terms, than the American men. The record of global success in that regard speaks for itself.
Whether that fan enjoyment comes from actual skills and thrills or so much winning, you be the judge.
Real Salt Lake’s iteration, the name for which has been determined but not yet announced, will gain players in some fashion or another, the details of which are still to come. The league started in 2013 and includes teams in places such as Portland, Houston, Orlando, Chicago, North Carolina, Seattle, New Jersey, Boston and Washington.
This past season, Portland Thorns FC beat the North Carolina Courage, 1-0, to win the NWSL Championship in a game that was tight, competitive and physical.
Whether RSL’s new team can rise quickly to that level of competition, providing a product that will stir the loyalties of a notable number of soccer fans here is unknown. Certainly Real owner Dell Loy Hansen, who spoke at a news conference at Rio Tinto Stadium on Thursday, announcing the launch of Utah’s new women’s team, believes it can.
He said he bases much of that belief on the large number of girls who play soccer in the state, which, in theory, will bring those girls and their families to games. In addition, the fact that salaries in NWSL are limited — between $15,000 and $45,000 — will keep ticket prices low.
“We’ve put a price point that will allow everyone to participate,” Hansen said. “The salaries allow us to lower the ticket prices. They will be very affordable. … We have more soccer participation among young women than men [in Utah]. … To me, this will be their rallying point. Among women, this will be their epicenter.”
In something of an ideological/practical smashup, that rallying point has drawn criticism from some observers that women soccer players are vastly underpaid compared to their male counterparts. But there was little mention of that business Thursday.
Hansen said he has no plans to build a smaller stadium for the women’s team because the women will fill Rio Tinto.
“That’s what I absolutely believe. … We’ll be successful,” he said. “I don’t even blink at that.”
Others will and have blinked at that.
Kansas City, for instance, is discontinuing its entry in the league after averaging a mere 1,788 fans this past season. The Utah soccer market already has RSL and the Real Monarchs. How will a third pro team do?
I don’t know and neither does Hansen. What say you?
You have to give the man credit for his vision that a pro women’s team not only will draw fans but that it will enrich the sports experience for fans of any gender, as well as provide female athletes in the state something to celebrate, something to shoot for in their own athletic careers.
As with any professional league, winning will be important. It’s not a marketing guarantee — Kansas City fielded some competitively successful teams — but it helps.
Portland, which has won two league titles, drew an average of 17,653 fans in 2017. The next closest draw was the Orlando Pride, which averaged 6,186. The Houston Dash got 4,578, followed by North Carolina (4,389), Seattle (4,037), Washington (3,491), Chicago (3,198), Boston (2,896), Sky Blue FC (2,613), and FC Kansas City.
Filling Rio Tinto is a bit dreamy, maybe delusional.
But if Hansen builds this thing right, competitively better than what he’s done with RSL, it has a shot to do more than just inspire women, young and old, and men, too. It might cause them — you — to pull out their — your — wallet to buy cheap tickets to the games.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.