September 1, 2023


Feature Story

September 1, 2023

U.S. Soccer Federation
303 E. Wacker Dr.
Chicago, Illinois 60601

Dear U.S. Soccer Federation Members of the Board,

The Women’s Independent Soccer League – WISL (pronounced ‘whistle’ and branded with a blue bird icon, the symbol of the original women’s suffrage movement) — was born of three big ideas.

Big Idea No. 1: We must create more professional opportunities for more women on the field, on the touchline, in the front office, and in the owner’s box.

Big Idea No. 2: A safe, inclusive, positive culture is a powerful and necessary foundation for a successful professional women’s soccer league at any level.

Big Idea No. 3: The investment in developing that opportunity pipeline can offer a return worthy of the intense, sustained effort a Division II women’s professional league requires.

Today, WISL submits its sanctioning application to the United States Soccer Federation to play as a professional Division 2 league with six community clubs for the 2024 season and five additional clubs already committed for the full 2025 season. It is a step towards making those big ideas a reality.

Building A Soccer Bridge

WISL is conceived as a bridge between the uniquely American college game and the higher aspirations of literally thousands of soccer-passionate young women.

There are more than 1,000 NCAA Division I, II- and III-women’s soccer programs in the U.S., plus nearly 200 in the NAIA. At any given time, there are no fewer than 30,000 women soccer players in this pipeline. Yet each year’s graduating class will find only a handful of soccer jobs – on the field and otherwise – in Division I and internationally. For most, any career aspirations will be quickly extinguished with the dearth of opportunities.

Most of these young women have come up through the U.S. youth soccer ranks with an enormous commitment of passion, time and money that began as very young girls. They played club and high school soccer, spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars traveling to tournaments and showcases. They dreamed big dreams. The opportunity to create a career path as players, coaches, referees, management and, yes, even owners, is that dream. WISL gives them a practical pathway to help make that dream reality.

The WISL Business Model

WISL is built on the international business model of independent community clubs that are members of the league. The English Premier League and the German Bundesliga are examples of that league model. There are annual membership fees rather than large upfront franchise fees. The financial priority is investing in the club and its community.

WISL’s foundation is an ethos of cooperation and collaboration and a culture built on seven pillars that are embedded in all we do. Our goal is not to compete with others doing important work in our game, but to build partnerships and synergies both “above” and “below” Division 2 that allow us to play above our weight.

WISL is an independent venture, but with common league-level investors has the significant business advantage of having a relationship with the four-year-old men’s National Independent Soccer Association (NISA). This is a perfect example of cooperation and collaboration. In this first year, a selection of NISA owners has stepped up to leverage their existing Division 3 business operations with an investment in owning a Division 2 WISL team and adding it to their community club portfolio. Each of these owners, their community, facilities and operations have already been approved for U.S. Soccer Federation sanctioning under the NISA umbrella. This offers WISL an impeccable foundation for its first sanctioning application.

WISL Culture in Action

Culture is only a wish until you make it concrete. WISL is founded on seven cultural pillars that do just that. Having a Safety Officer is good but not enough. It is culture that must be at the front end of any professional soccer endeavor. The cultural pillars are:

1. SAFE & STRONG — WISL provides a safe environment for every player, coach and staff including a confidential reporting hotline focused on clear and consistent follow-up, communication and action. WISL has zero tolerance for improprieties of any kind – whether from a position of power or from a position of difference.

2. DIVERSITY RULE — To ensure and promote diversity, equity and inclusion from the pitch to the executive offices, WISL and every club will interview a minimum of two qualified external female and/or minority candidates for any open position.

3. PARENT FORWARD — For every new parent, WISL offers paid parental leave for all club and league personnel. Coaches will make good faith return-to-roster opportunities for players who use this benefit.

4. EQUITY LEADERS — An Equity Council will be charged to review, recommend and report on WISL’s and its clubs’ commitment to ongoing diversity, equity and inclusion. The EC will be transparent and unsparing in spotlighting shortcomings, operationalizing solutions and honoring successes. It will be composed equally of players, coaches, management and owners representing all WISL clubs.

5. EDUCATION PROMISE — WISL offers continuing education for its players in developing their career and post-career opportunities, as well as its coaches in elevating their skills in the coaching of women athletes.

6. MENTAL WELLNESS — Mental health care and recovery are treated with the same seriousness and support as physical health care and recovery. The mental wellness of players, coaches and staff is the responsibility of the entire WISL family.

7. SUSTAINABILITY — WISL and its clubs use the lens of environmental impact in daily decisions and practices to be valuable sustainability partners with their communities.

In Closing

WISL is here to help fulfill the dreams of those thousands of young women who may not have been plugged into the USWNT pathway. They may be the late bloomers or didn’t have the money or parental support to get on that path. WISL may help develop them for bigger soccer opportunities on the field and off or it may be the chance for an extraordinary first job out of college that lets them try on the professional soccer experience before proceeding with the rest of their professional life. Regardless, it brings a professional club in the European tradition to more communities across the nation.

In all ways, soccer wins.

Thank you for considering our application, and we look forward to any questions you may have.

Lynn Berling-Manuel
Managing Director
Women’s Independent Soccer League