U.S. NWSL Commissioner Baird targets season opener in June


(Reuters) – Lisa Baird, commissioner of the U.S. National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), says they are targeting a return to action in late June and trying to hammer out a new schedule after the season was postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The NWSL’s eighth season was set to start on April 18, riding a wave of momentum following the U.S. national team’s triumph at the women’s World Cup and the signing of marquee broadcast deals with CBS and streaming service Twitch.

However, the global pandemic stopped the premier U.S. women’s league in its tracks and presented Baird with a huge challenge soon after she took the reigns in early March.

“In an ideal world, which we don’t live in right now, we’d love to get back at the end of June. That’s a target,” Baird told Reuters by telephone on Thursday.

“The work we need to do now is to operationalize the calendar to see what venues are available,” she said of the nine-team league, which usually shares stadiums with teams from Major League Soccer, the top U.S. men’s league.

Baird, who helped secure broadcast, sponsorship and licensing deals during her decade with the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee, said she was confident CBS would still want to carry the league’s matches this year.

“CBS has been incredibly supportive,” she said.

“But to answer these questions I really need to have a printout of a schedule in front of me that’s been blessed by the owners and seen by CBS.”

Baird said she was not the only leader navigating the crisis without a playbook to guide her but said she strives to be a steady hand amid the uncertainty.

“I hope I’m being that calm leader for the staff and working on the priorities that the owners and players need me to,” said Baird, adding that NWSL players were still being paid and no staff had been laid off.

Baird said it was also critical to keep an eye on the big picture.

“This is my dream job, it’s just a little bit more challenging and a little less sleep in the beginning than I thought,” she said.

“Women’s sports is really an exciting place to be for any sports executive — not just women — any sports executive because there’s so much momentum and growth,” she said, adding that the league was in discussions to add sponsors.

With the men’s World Cup being played in the United States, Canada and Mexico in 2026 and the Summer Olympics set to be held in Los Angeles in 2028, there was no better time to be involved in soccer in America, she said.

“It has been a long time since the U.S. has hosted the world on our shores and that is to me a long-term, exciting goal that we can be part of.”

Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles; Editing by Peter Rutherford