World Cup is a shot for Austin women’s soccer teams to recruit new fans

Local Sports

PFLUGERVILLE, Texas (KXAN) — The U.S. Women’s National Team continues its run in the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, topping its group to advance to the knockout round, and local players hope the excitement around the international competition will translate to new fans of the sport at home.

FC Austin Elite, one of a couple dozen teams in United Women’s Soccer (UWS), a second-tier league behind the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), is in its fifth season, and they’ve seen some growth each year.

“But this year is like the tidal wave year,” said the team’s general manager, Danny Woodfill.

He’s getting a lot more calls and messages from people — fans, players, sponsors — who are just now discovering the team.

“The buzz around our team and soccer seems to have grown tremendously since last year,” said second-year player Emily Donnan. She joined the team after she finished college and still wanted to compete on the pitch.

While she’s encouraged that people are seeking out the team now, she hopes the absence of the World Cup doesn’t discourage fans from showing up next year.

“We’re going to hope that the attention that women’s sports have been getting is going to be enough to sustain this for years,” she said.

Attention from fans is growing. Fox Sports announced this week the U.S. women’s match Sunday against Chile was the highest-rated group stage game in the team’s history. More than 5 million people tuned in to watch the the U.S.’s 3-0 victory.

FC Austin Elite is looking to capitalize on the excitement as much as possible. All the team’s home games, now played at 1849 Park in Pflugerville, are free this season; they’re usually $10 per ticket.

The next home game is Sunday, June 23, at 1849 Park in Pflugerville.

Woodfill is also promoting the team through the entire year to potential sponsors and other community support groups.

Now that Austin has a United Soccer League (USL) team and a Major League Soccer (MLS) team on the way, there’s a growing pool of possible supporters the team can tap into.

“We hope that we can at least reach some of them and get them to actually see live soccer right now,” Woodfill said.

The two new teams, Austin FC and Austin Bold FC, are also a source of frustration for some players. The women’s team has been playing here for years, but those two clubs, one of which won’t play its first match until 2021, seem to be cornering the soccer market.

“People are asking from Austin FC or the Bold, why aren’t you doing any women’s sports?” FC Austin Elite goalkeeper Liz-Amanda Brown said. “Here we are.”

Even at the highest level of the sport, women’s teams lag far behind men’s in terms of attendance. Thus far in 2019, MLS teams are averaging nearly four times as many fans per game as NWSL teams.

“You don’t really see as much passion as for the guys,” Brown said.

In addition to growing their fan base, the Elite hope to attract more girls to the game. At practice Wednesday at Wells Point Park, a group of young players, finishing up practice of their own, sat on the sidelines watching the women scrimmage.

As they took the field, one of the girls turned to her friends and told them, excited, that one of the players waved to her.

“It’s just an awesome feeling,” Donnan said. “We hope to be inspiring to them so they can take our shoes when we’re gone and we can sustain that growth that we’ve been talking about.”

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