Women's Soccer News: Rachel Buehler on the Future of Professional Women’s Soccer in America
|Regardless of age, everyone wanted their picture taken with Rachel Buehler
U.S. Women’s National Team defender and co-captain Rachel Buehler attended the San Diego SeaLions’ Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL) home opener against Ajax America Women. After spending time before the game and at halftime meeting fans and signing autographs, Buehler talked with SoccerNation about the current status and future of professional women’s soccer in America. Following a successful college career at Stanford, with time on the pitch as a member of the SeaLions, she played in Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) with FC Gold Pride (2009-2010) and Boston Breakers (2011).
Buehler is convinced that a professional women's soccer league is important in the United States. Although the WPS recently folded and the WUSA failed before that, Buehler knows that a pro women's soccer is critical. From benefiting the U.S. National Team to inspiring the dreams of young girls across America, professional women's soccer must find a way to succeed in our country.
Buehler shared some of her thoughts and insights as a pro player with Diane Scavuzzo.
SNN: How do you think women’s soccer has evolved in America in the last few years?
Rachel Buehler: I think last year’s Women's World Cup against Japan was huge. There was a gigantic evolution in terms of support and awareness.
Women’s soccer gained a lot of new fans with the media attention from the World Cup. More people know about us now.
I think more soccer fans are paying attention to our games and our scores, and that’s just huge for the growth of soccer in general and more specifically women’s soccer in our country.
It’s been great to see this develop. People used to say women's soccer in America was strong. Then we weren’t doing so well, and now we’re doing better than ever.
SNN: America deserves to have a professional women's soccer league. What did you think about the suspension after the draft and the eventual closure of the WPS?
Rachel Buehler: It was sad. I think a women’s soccer pro league is very important for the development of soccer in our country.
Without a pro league there are not a lot of places for women to play high-level soccer after college.
Obviously there are players who are discovered after college and who come out of the pro league. I know girls on the National Team who were discovered through WPS and through WUSA. It’s great that the WPSL and some other leagues are trying to develop and pick up where WPS left off. The WPSL started the Elite League this year and that is great. We’ll see where that all goes, and hopefully it will work.
SNN: From a player’s perspective, what do you think was one of the biggest problems that caused Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) to fail?
Rachel Buehler: I think maybe we needed to start a little bit smaller. Not necessarily fewer teams – you really couldn’t get any fewer.
I think we should have been slightly more realistic about what we could do financially, or we needed investors who were wealthier – one or the other.
With the type of investors we had over the board, it was hard to financially keep up what we were doing.
SNN: Why was it so costly?
Rachel Buehler: They were playing in expensive stadiums, traveling across the country and paying players various rates.
It definitely needed to be two separate regions to help eliminate travel costs – that would have been helpful.
SNN: Do you think more corporations should have stepped up?
Rachel Buehler: Definitely. We didn’t have a lot of sponsorship, and I think the league’s model was built on having a lot of sponsorship.
Perhaps part of the problem was that the economy was not favorable for sponsors to step up.
I also think it’s really sad that it dissolved now because I think we’re at our most visible point. I believe women’s soccer could have gained some sponsorship now. That’s why it’s sad.
SNN: Do you think it is a good time for a new form to emerge that will have more realistic financial aspirations and can capitalize on local interest?
Rachel Buehler: Yes. Exactly. If teams can make a grass roots effort and we can build on existing platforms that exist in the region, I think a women’s league could be more successful. I also think having local sponsors would be beneficial.
SNN: The Major League Soccer (MSL) started small and even paid their players less than the indoor soccer league paid their players at the time and now look at the growth.
I get the feeling that some people feel that American female soccer players should be paid as well as MLS players are paid … or at least as well as European players are paid. Obviously it is not a question of what a woman soccer player deserves to be paid. It is a question of financial sustainability and building from a foundation that can last and thrive.
The average WPS player salary was approximately $27,000 a barely livable wage in most of the cities with pro teams. Brazilian superstar Marta's $500,000 salary was not the norm.
What do you think about the concept of players’ salaries?
Rachel Buehler: I think the structure of the league needs to be such that there are realistic salaries. If women are expected to be full-time soccer players, which is what we were expected to be, then we do need to be compensated in a way that allows us to live. Not necessarily to have a “nice” lifestyle, but to survive.
Most of the girls in the WPS league were not getting paid a lot of money. A lot of the pro players were living with host families, as they could not afford to live on their own.
There were a few players who were getting paid a lot of money, but generally speaking, girls were not getting rich off this.
Perhaps that was still too high of a structure to be realistic, but then the structure of the league needs to change so girls can have other jobs and have other sources of income. We need to come up with a more realistic structure.
SNN: Women may play for the love of the game, but certainly deserve to be financially compensated. Maybe building a bridge to make sure that women can be paid properly would be smart.
Rachel Buehler: Yes, because the reality is, if the girls in the league are not making very much money but don’t have other jobs, it’s very difficult to play more than a year or two. You want a league that can be sustainable and have long-term players so that the fans can develop relationships with those players. And the experienced players can help the newer ones.
The league needs to have practices so that if a player can’t afford to live on her players’ salary, she can work part time to earn a living – at least until the league can pay her properly so she can focus full time on soccer.
SNN: And the owners can possibly get a return on their investment.
Rachel Buehler: Exactly. And so you have to find that sweet spot where players are getting paid enough money but maybe have other means of making money.
Perhaps a structure more similar to European leagues, where you’re practicing at night. More like the type of structure in the WPSL, so that players can have other jobs during the day if the pay scale isn’t going to be enough for them to exist.
SNN: On a side note, you have played all over the country and the world. How does San Diego stack up compared to other communities as a soccer city?
Rachel Buehler: I think San Diego is one of the best soccer cities in the nation. I may be slightly biased being from here, but we have elite clubs. When we had WUSA here we had a great fan base and we have some great soccer colleges here, too. I think we really do have something special for soccer, and it is definitely growing in this community.
|Rachel Buehler with youth soccer player fan from San Diego
Photo Credit: Diane Scavuzzo