NWFLThey haven’t made it to the big time yet. No TV contracts, nary a score mentioned on national sports networks, no big-league endorsements for high-profile running shoes or sports drinks. But the National Women’s Football League (NWFL) is on the move and with aggressive management and marketing, hopes to become more prominent than the WNBA..
Catherine Masters, whose previous experience included work for the Virginia Slims tennis circuit, ownership of a chain of sports shops, and stints in video production came up with the idea for a women’s football league and ran with the ball. In late 2000 she had just two teams--the Nashville Dream and Alabama Renegades--and by the time the six-game pre-season matchups between were history, eight more teams were ready to suit up.
Following the first official season, 11 additional teams joined the league, including (according to the league’s media department) one under the ownership of boxing great Roy Jones, Jr., with even more hoping to get in on the latest rage.
That’s not to say this league is a sure thing. Some teams barely manage to break the 300-mark in attendance, although the first championship game hosted more than 5,000 fans. Not all the teams have owners at this point. And unlike women’s professional basketball, this sport has no recognized talent pool from which to draw—no high school standouts, no college letterwomen, no trophy-winning running backs, no minor league structure.
What it does have, however, is drive, determination, and will, along with, in many cases, outside jobs because the women don’t get money for this playing this game. Players, coaches and ownership beat the paths looking for sponsorship to help defray costs and build interest. They’ve also recently added a Harvard graduate to the staff to handle public relations, player relations and general vice presidential duties, whatever’s called for in fact.
To some extent it’s working, at least at the local level. Newspapers in team hometowns have not balked about featuring players, scores, or team profiles and the league’s website (www.nwflcentral.com) reports an explosion of visitors.
As with many professional sports, the biggest hurdle in the way of this league is fan support. Will the men buy into it? Will the women support it?
Time will tell if the championship event (held in June of each year) will ever garner the kind of headlines the Super Bowl reaps or whether, like the old USFL, the NWFL will become just another footnote in the history of sports in America. The secret to their success will likely depend on marketing and fan base—and an eventual pointspread to bet into wouldn’t hurt either.