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Guest Host: Sasha-Ann Simons
It’s been a big year for the Washington Spirit. The team finished their season just out of playoff contention, but they’re still riding high. Buoyed by fan excitement after the U.S. Women’s National Team victory in the World Cup, the Spirit played two games for nearly sell-out crowds at Audi Field, more than doubling previous attendance records. And their overall record–nine wins, seven draws, and eight losses–is a significant improvement over their 2018 performance.
Off the field, the club has improved amenities for players and is pursuing more local and national corporate sponsorships.
Has Washington “caught the Spirit” for good this time? We’ll examine the Spirit’s new momentum, and how it might ultimately translate to the 2020 season.
Produced by Margaret Barthel
SASHA-ANN SIMONSWelcome back. I'm Sasha-Ann Simons, in for Kojo Nnamdi. The Washington Spirit scored some big wins this season, on and off the soccer pitch. Under the stewardship of a new majority owner and new coach, they significantly improved their standing in the league, narrowly missing a playoff berth. They blew their previous attendance records away, playing two packed games in front of nearly 20,000 fans at Audi Field. Several of their players returned home to D.C. as World Cup Champions and household names.
SASHA-ANN SIMONSNow they're playing shots on a new set of goals for next season, in hopes of continuing to build on their momentum. So, will Washington fans finally catch the spirit and keep it, too? Joining me to discuss this is Steve Baldwin. He's the majority owner of the Washington Spirit. Hi, Steve.
SIMONSAndi Sullivan is a co-captain and midfielder for the Spirit.
ANDI SULLIVANHey, thanks for having me.
SIMONSHey, Andi. And Tori Huster is a co-captain and midfielder, as well.
SIMONSHi Tori, thanks so much for joining us. So, Tori, I'm going to start with you. This was a big season, as I just outlined. What was the high point and the low point for you, especially?
HUSTERMy high point and low point actually came pretty much in the same weekend. We were able to, in front of our home fans, beat North Carolina Courage. They've been a great team for a number of years now. We beat them, I think, it was two to one, or something like that, in front of a great crowd. And the very next day -- that still gave us a playoff potential opportunity. It kept us alive. And then the very next day, Seattle was able to beat Portland. And based on points, we were out of playoff contention. So, it was a very high-high, and then a very low-low.
SIMONSLow-low, yeah. A rush of emotions, right?
SIMONSSame question goes to you, Andi: best moment, toughest moment.
SIMONSCome on, you had some time to think about it. (laugh)
SULLIVAN(laugh) I think playing at Audi, both games were just so much fun. I think the first game, in particular, the environment was crazy and, you know, Steve was set on selling it out, and I was kind of wondering how it was going to be. And I just remember, in the game, feeling the packed environment, and that was incredible. And I think, obviously, the low point would be missing out on the playoffs, as well.
SIMONSYeah, and we'll touch more on that a little bit later. Steve, you've been with the Spirit as a majority owner for close to a year now. What have you learned? And tell me your proudest moment.
BALDWINWhat I learned, that's a good question. You know, coming into it, this was new for me and new for some of the leadership in the club. Learned that we have to change the business model in the league, and that we really have to understand all the things that we need to do better, both for the players and our fans, to take our game to another level. What was the second question?
SIMONSYour proudest moment.
BALDWINMy proudest moment, I would say, was really Tori joining St. Jude. You know, one of the things that we've spoken about as a club when we came into it was our objective is really pretty simple, to be the best club in the world. And that includes things on the field and off the field. And our club getting behind the fight for childhood cancer, what Tori's doing with St. Jude, would be my proudest moment.
SIMONSYou've said that one of your biggest goals coming into the organization was to improve the player experience, to make this a club that attracts great talent. What have you done so far to actually make that a reality?
BALDWINOkay. So, as we were looking at coming in last fall, we spent some time with several of the players. I spent some time with Tori, in fact, and our other captain, Aubrey Bledsoe. Larry Best spent some time with Andi, and we got feedback from all of them on the things that they felt would make a difference. Ranging from things of having meals after every training session. We did not have full-time laundry service before, so we changed that. Players that wanted to be in apartments rather than with host families, we took care of that.
BALDWINWe had full-time coaching staff that were not being shifted into coaching youth teams and things like that. You know, so those are few of the examples. And, you know, we upgraded the strength and conditioning facility that the players went to this year. We built a new locker room. We built a player lounge for the first time.
BALDWINAnd so, you know, as part of going back to, you know, the big objective of being the best in the world, first thing we had to do was improve things for the players.
SIMONSAnd this, in turn, probably improves player performance, too. Right?
BALDWINYeah, we certainly believe that what happens off the field translates to what's on the field. And I think they can probably speak to how they felt the impact from it. But, you know, one of the things that Tori spoke to me about last fall when we were looking to come in, is that she believed the improvements that we would make off the field would actually impact results.
SIMONSAnd, Andi, I see lots of nods from you, as well. (laugh) What do you think? Are these kinds of improvements from management, are they going to make a difference on game day?
SULLIVANAbsolutely. I just wanted to jump in and be, like, the list of changes they made in such a short period of time, they could go on and on. And they're so impressive, because of the tight turnaround. But, I think, because of things like you said was important, living in apartments together, the team was very close. And you could see that chemistry really play on the field and during training. And I think that's another improvement that we made, was our coaching staff and the quality of training. And our on-field product was incredible.
SIMONSTori, it sounds like one of the things Steve and the management team are trying to do is be transparent about some of their decision-making. Do you think that that's having an impact on the team culture?
HUSTERYeah, definitely. I think the coaching staff and Steve, as well, Larry, as well, they all look to us when they're about to make a decision. They make sure it's actually something that we will enjoy or will work for us. They are very clued in, keyed in to just improving the player experience, overall. And, like Steve said, that was something that was hugely important to him. And I think it definitely showed on the field, and it showed just in the team. Even off the field, we got along so well, because we were happy. We had a good quality of life, (laugh) if that makes sense.
SIMONSYou have been playing with the Spirit, Tori, since 2013, so you have quite a bit of experience with the club. How does this year compare to previous years?
HUSTERA lot of the girls ask me this at the very beginning of the season: what's your favorite season that you've been here?
SIMONSTell us, tell us, what can we expect?
HUSTERYeah, exactly. I'm like, well, it hasn't been long enough to be this season, but now that it is October, and I've gone through the season with this group of girls, this season blows other seasons out of the water. We, even in 2016, actually went to the championship. And although that was also a very good year for me, personally, and on and off the field, this season has been extremely just exciting. And I'm just really excited about the direction of the club from this season.
SIMONSAnd let's jump to the phone lines. I see John's on the line, from Ocean City. Hi, John.
JOHNI'm a third to fifth grade coach, and we've got a third grader in there playing girls soccer (unintelligible) sort of inspire our daughter. I said, let's go see a Spirit game. And she loved it. She came back ready to play. It was just nuts. It was a really good community, family sort of feeling and we came early. And she got the feeling like at the beginning of her games, you know, where all the girls are sort of, like, passing. And, I don't know, it just sort of brought it to life for her. You know what I mean?
SIMONSYes, absolutely. And that's super inspirational for -- they're third and fifth grade soccer teams, you said, John?
JOHNIt was, like, a combination, because of the amount of kids, we had to combine the ages. So...
SIMONSYeah well, thanks for that. And what do you think hearing that, Andi?
SULLIVANI love that. I was one of those kids growing up. I grew up in this area, and I got to come to, you know, Spirit games in the past. And I think it's extremely important for, you know, young kids to be able to see us. And to hear that players are aspiring to be like us, it means the world and it's a big motivation for our team. So, thank you for coming and enjoying.
SIMONSAnd Andi, in your first season, with the Spirit in 2018, the club won just two games. This year you almost made the playoffs so that's like a huge shift. How do you account for it?
SULLIVANEverything that Steve did and changed, everything he listed earlier, like we said, it all played a part. And I think you can't pinpoint one exact thing. It was a multitude of things. And I think also the head coach Richie Burke did a really good job managing all the changes and trying to establish and build a new culture. And, yeah, I think it really showed and, like Tori said, it's exciting, because this was just the first year. So, imagine how good year two, three and onward are going to be.
SIMONSExactly. Tori, there are a lot of new faces on the Spirit. Much of the team has either joined this season, or at the end of the 2018 season. Was that an adjustment for you, besides having to answer so many questions, (laugh) you now, as the veteran? And how is, like, team spirit these days?
HUSTERFor me, it was definitely refreshing. I think, you know, we struggled the last couple of years, and then this year, we got some new faces in there, all across the board. And it just helped. It was something new. It was something to look forward to. Trying something new is always a good thing. It definitely got me out of my comfort zone. I have been here, so I did have to answer (laugh) a lot of questions, but I was happy to help, ready to help. I think team spirit, as you say, it is as high as it can be. We see that we missed out on playoffs, and that just keeps us hungry for next year.
SIMONSAnd, Andi, you now have joined Tori as co-captain. So, tell us what your role entails, and if it's given you sort of a different appreciation for the team dynamics.
SULLIVANYeah, Tori, Aubrey Bledsoe and I are kind of the leadership group, and we work extremely well together. And we work extremely well with the staff. And we just try to, like Tori said, kind of answer a lot of questions and be kind of a sounding board and a bridge between, you know, the players and the staff. And it's been pretty great. We get along pretty well, and it's not so hard with that group of girls.
SIMONSFor sure. I think we have some more love for you on the phone lines. We have Robin from Silver Spring. Hi, Robin.
SIMONSHi. What's your comment or question?
ROBINWell, I'm a mom to three daughters ages 10, 13 and 15, and all three play soccer. All three love the Spirit. So, we've been attending games for a number of years and we were there for that game against the Courage this year. It was fantastic. Just such an exciting year for women's soccer all across the country, and certainly here in D.C.
ROBINAnd we always, when we come to a Spirit game at the SoccerPlex, sit up on Spirit Hill, right behind the goal. And when we talk around the dinner table about the prospect of the games moving partly or entirely down to Audi Field -- which I know is something that has been talked about -- my kids put in a vote for at least continuing to have some games up in Germantown. They just love the intimacy of that arena. They love being able to hang out right on the fence the whole time, if they want, and be 10 or 15 feet away from some of their idles. And so I know that may not be the most popular vote among folks who are looking for bigger attendance, and there is nothing like the thrill of being in the bigger arena and, of course, capturing some more fans from D.C.
SIMONSExciting. Thank you, Robin. That's awesome, right? Let's take another call. We've call Chris on the line. He's in Frederick, Maryland. Hi, Chris.
CHRISHi. Thanks for taking my call. My daughter played soccer in high school and college, and we also went to the SoccerPlex quite a few times to see the Spirit. And I just wanted to congratulate all of the players on their remarkable athleticism and power and accuracy. I think that unless a person plays soccer at that level, you can't appreciate how difficult it is and just the level of that athleticism that these women play at. I just wanted to thank you.
SIMONSThanks for your call, Chris. So, Andi, we talked a lot about how close you are. We talked about the changes that Steve has made, one of those being the fact that now you're all roommates, right? And so I would love to know, behind the scenes, tell us how that works. And does it ever complicate working together on the field? I mean, like I'm thinking what if one of you hasn't done the dishes? (laugh) Like, do you take it out on her when you get to playing?
SULLIVANI live with Mal and Rose, and we lived together last year. And, for us, it's very seamless, but I could see in other situations where it'd be a rise for conflict. But I think our group did a really good job. I think it brought us closer together. I think living in groups helps defuse any sort of tension that could arise. (laugh) But, no, I think it's really fun. We're all really close. It more just gave people more opportunity just to hang out and get to know each other better, explore the area, come into the city, things like that.
SULLIVANSo, I don't really recall any (laugh) sources of problems. But people are also very professional at taking time for themselves when they need it, and no one ever took offense to that. You know, I think we did a really good job of spending good time together, but then also taking time for ourselves.
SIMONSFor sure. Now, as you mentioned, Rose Lavelle and Mallory Pugh, they played for the U.S. team at the World Cup. And you narrowly missed out on going. How did you cope with that?
SULLIVANIt was definitely difficult, and I think my strategy changed multiple times. Obviously, I was very crushed, but Steve and Richie both pointed out to me, like, hey you get to be here and you get to lead this team. And so I think turning my attention to the Spirit was very therapeutic and good for me, good for the team. And it also enabled me to support, you know, the Women's National Team. And I had done a lot to help them prepare, and I take pride in that. And I'm extremely proud of everything they did this summer and everything they did to prepare. And the future for soccer in the U.S. is in good hands because of them.
SIMONSTori, I want to turn to you for a moment. The World Cup happened in the middle of this season, and several of your teammates -- including Andi's roommates that we just talked about -- they went overseas to compete for the U.S. Women's National Team. Was it tough to have some of the players in and out for several weeks in the middle of the season, and was it a challenge to integrate them back into the day-to-day when they did come back?
HUSTERDefinitely. I think that kind of happened all across the board with most teams that are in our league. So, everyone was dealing with that dynamic a little bit. I think we were very good at it. We missed our World Cup players off the field, as well. We wanted to hang out with them, and we definitely missed them when they weren't here. So, getting them back, it was very easy to just throw them back in there. They're world-class players, so why would you not want to have them back?
HUSTERAnd they're just good people to have around, and they definitely contribute to our good team culture. We were ready to get them back when we did. We were happy that the U.S. players had so much success. And most of the other internationals did well individually, as well. So, it was great when we did get them back.
SIMONSAnd, Andi, you played two games at Audi Field after the World Cup, in front of nearly 20,000 people -- crazy -- each time. (laugh) What does that feel like, when you're used to the smaller crowds at the Maryland SoccerPlex?
SULLIVANThe SoccerPlex is extremely intimate, and it does fill up. And so you still feel that energy and momentum and that excitement. And so to be able to multiply that by a couple times over was incredible. And, like I said, being from this area, it meant even more to me, because I was, like, this is the DMV, and they're here for this. And, you know, it was incredible and definitely energizing for our group.
SULLIVANAnd I'm also proud of the way that, you know, our team handled it. Like we mentioned, our team is very young, and you can worry about nerves and how that's going to affect the play. But we had extremely solid performances in both of those games, and I think having the support of the area and the energy of the stands really contributed to that.
SIMONSFor sure. An email here that we have, it says: my husband is a D.C. United season ticket holder. He said, if the Washington Spirit play all their games at Audi Field, he'd go see them. Getting to the Maryland SoccerPlex is too much of a challenge. What say you?
SULLIVANI would say we have a great brand of soccer and we produce a great product, and wherever we play, we'll be fun to watch.
SIMONSThat's right. One of those games at Audi Field was against the Seattle Reign. and it was a big of a heartbreaker. The Spirit scored the go-ahead goal at the very end of the game, but then the Reign came back and tied it up in the stoppage time. Now, you spent a good part of that game guarding Megan Rapinoe, who's now a household name after the World Cup. Do you remember what was going through your mind at that time?
HUSTERIt's crazy, because I almost nearly, like, black out during the games. That sounds weird, but...
SIMONSWow. Tell us more about that. (laugh)
HUSTER(laugh) Yeah, I'm so into the game, usually, that I don't even hear the crowd and what the crowd is saying.
HUSTERYes, exactly. I think she came on at halftime. You know, maybe you tweak it a little bit to be aware that she is actually on the field. You have to be aware of where she is at all times. But I was very confident our back five, including Aubrey in goal, and I think we did a pretty good job against her.
SIMONSSteve, both games at Audi Field more than doubled the Spirit's previous audience record. And, I've got to say, the men's team wasn't quite able to draw that same crowd. So, I want to hear from you, what message do you, as the steward of the club, take from that?
BALDWINWhat I take from it is I think there's a sizeable market for women's soccer in our area. You know, the interest that we had in the two games at Audi, as well as the other games that we had at the SoccerPlex this year, I mean, we had probably a 60 percent increase in attendance year over year. And so I think that's both a credit to the quality of the product that we put on the field, but also reflective of the type of market that we have here in the area for the game. And so we have to take advantage of that as we move forward.
SIMONSThe hot topic on a lot of fans' minds, Steve, right now, is where the Spirit will play their games next season. The SoccerPlex in Maryland, Audi Field and the soccer field in Loudoun County have all come up. What are the factors that you're weighing as you're making that decision?
BALDWINIt really starts with, where do we ultimately want to be? So, I keep coming back to, you know, we want to be the best women's club in the world. And as part of that, we want to get to a place where we're playing all of our games at Audi Field. So, what does that have to look like for us to play all of our games at Audi is really having a high degree of confidence that we can pack that house 12 times a year.
BALDWINSo, it's what do we have to do to further develop the fan base in this area geographically to ensure that we can have that type of attendance at Audi Field when we get there full time. And I think there's things that we have to do within the market to further develop the fan base. Part of it is our relationship with youth clubs. We have to expand that, grow that, adult clubs, people that reside in the District, millennials. You know, there's a whole set of demographics that are tied to the fan base. And so we have to further grow that, to have that type of confidence to where we ultimately want to get to full time at Audi.
SIMONSAnd quickly, I'm just curious, Andi, where do you stand on that stadium question? What are you hoping for?
SULLIVANI mean, if we can continue to play games at Audi like we did this year, I would be tremendously excited. But I think it's going to take time, because we definitely want to make sure it's a full house, consistently. And so whatever path we need to take to get there, that's what we'll do. And I know that Steve will handle that well.
SIMONSYou're listening to The Kojo Nnamdi Show. I'm Sasha-Ann Simons, WAMU's race and identity reporter, sitting in for Kojo. We'll continue our conversation about the Washington Spirit and the World Cup effect in a moment. Stay with us.
SIMONSI'm Sasha-Ann Simons, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. I'm talking with Steve Baldwin. He's the majority owner of the Washington Spirit. Andi Sullivan, who is a co-captain and midfielder for the spirit, and Tori Huster, also a co-captain and midfielder for the Spirit. Now, Tori, have you seen the fan base here change or grow over the years that you've been playing with the team?
HUSTERIt's definitely grown. I think from the first couple of years, you know, walking around even Germantown where the Maryland SoccerPlex is, there were people that didn't know that we had women's professional soccer in that town. I definitely think that is changing. I think the two World Cups that we've had in my tenure here have helped. I think this one, this World Cup this year has put women's soccer on the map even more so. And it's only going to grow from here.
SIMONSAbsolutely. Let's take a quick call, here. David's been waiting so patiently, from Poolesville, Maryland. Hi, David.
DAVIDHello, how are you today?
BALDWINGood. How are you?
DAVIDI'm great. I just wanted to call and express my appreciation for -- I took my daughter to a game at the SoccerPlex this year. Her team won the Sportsmanship Award and all got tickets to the game, which I think was a great thing. And just being able to be that close and the time that was taken by the players to come and, you know, say hi and introduce and take photos and just really inspire, you know, the girls at the end of the game was really amazing. It really felt like you were a part of something that was growing and getting stronger. And it really made a big impact on our family. And I could tell by the rest of the girls on our team, as well.
SIMONSThank you, David. Ladies, why is it so important to you to connect with the fans, the taking the pictures, taking that time afterwards? You talked earlier, Andi, about your childhood and growing up being that kid that was coming to the games. Does it bring you back there? Is that what it is?
SULLIVANIt absolutely does. I think the most meaningful interaction I'll have with a fan is usually, you know, a young girl who I've had someone say to me, I want to be like you when I grow up. And I am blown away by that response. But I just think for them to be able to see that product and then aspire to be like that, that's why we're, you know, doing what we do and why we love doing what we do.
SIMONSTori, your fans appear to be getting into the habit of chanting equal pay, equal pay at the end of your games. Now, that's a direct reference to the equal pay lawsuit at the Women's National Team Level. You're not personally involved with that, but do you think that there are equal pay issues that could be scrutinized at the league level? I mean, your salaries are capped under $50,000 on the league level. So, your thoughts?
HUSTERYeah, I mean, I think -- I'm actually the vice president of the Players Association, the Players Union for the league. I think that's something we want to work towards. We want to work with the league. We've maintained that for the entire time that we have been a union. We want to work with the league. We want it to be stable. We want to work with all of the owners on making this league a better place, or a better thing to be a part of. And that is definitely one of the things.
BALDWINCan I jump in on that one?
SIMONSI was just going to -- I was looking right at you, Steve. You felt my (laugh) the connection there. I know that you've said unequal pay. You're an advocate for that. Tell us what you mean.
BALDWINSo, yes, I am an advocate for unequal pay. And what I mean by that is I think the women in our league should make more than their male counterparts in this country. I think we can achieve it through the market. And what it really needs for us to do, well, at the league level and the club level is to think differently. We have to bring in corporate partners into the league that we don't have today.
BALDWINIf we were simply to achieve somewhere between 20 and $30 million of national sponsorships in this league, the minimum salary of players in our league would be to or greater than their MOS counterparts. And if you look at the credentials of our league being the best in the world, if you look at the players in this league, collectively -- in a women's league, it's the best women's league in the world, and it's the most superior league in this country. And so I believe we can achieve that type of success through the market if we sell differently, market differently, bring more fans to the game and bring more corporate partners. And that's what we're spending a lot of time trying to do.
SIMONSSo, women making more than men.
BALDWINWouldn't that be nice?
SIMONSIt would be lovely. You're preaching to the choir, here. (laugh) Now, you mentioned about your other goal of increasing the Spirit's corporate sponsorship revenue. Tell us how that's actually gone so far this year, and do you have ambitions on the table for next year?
BALDWINYes. So, as I came into it this year, if you look back historically, the club wasn't doing anything in terms of bringing corporate partners to the table with us. I believe we have a little more than 20 companies right now that have become partners with us at various levels. So, we've had exponential growth in our partnerships at a local level. We're going to raise that bar going into next year. I have a spreadsheet that has about 60 companies on it that we're working with right now at both a local level and national level at various stages of discussion to bring these companies into the mix with us. And we're going to continue to add to that list. Those are the things that will make a difference specifically for the players, and that's what we're trying to do.
SIMONSThe D.C. government, Steve, they tend to jump into the excitement over different local teams, like the Caps or the Nats. We're seeing that right now. And it certainly has a vested interest in working with area sports teams, which can be a big economic driver. Now, as you work to build the club's profile, are you getting the support you need from the city itself?
BALDWINTo be honest with you, I haven't spent a lot of time trying to pursue the local officials in D.C. yet. I've spend a great deal of time in Montgomery County. We have some interactions. I just had my first interaction with someone in D.C. this past Friday. There's absolute interest from their group to get involved and support some of the things that we're looking to do.
BALDWINYou know, if you kind of think of our club right now, where we are in the development of our fan base, we need to have relationships throughout the area. And so we're building that. It's probably most mature in Montgomery County right now, but we're building it both in D.C. and Northern Virginia jurisdictions, as well.
SIMONSYou've got to get them on that spreadsheet. (laugh) Got to add them to the spreadsheet.
BALDWINGot get all those companies on the spreadsheet
SIMONSYeah, exactly. Let's take another call. We have Joe on the line. He's in Arlington. Hi, Joe.
JOEHi, there. Thanks for taking my call. I used to coach women's club soccer in NCAA 30 years ago. And I was just interested in where you folks think the game is now. I'd say back then -- I mean, the level of athleticism has increased so much now that, you know, the individual capabilities are off the charts, and there's always sort of a tension in U.S. soccer between the European style of getting control to set up opportunities and sort of the South American individual style of creating opportunities. I'm wondering how you see U.S. women's soccer and Spirit, you know, sort of dealing with the tension of those two approaches.
SULLIVANI think I'll speak on that. You know, I've played with the Spirit and I've played with the national team, and I think that's the kind of cool thing about the United States, is we have that blend. We have, like you said, the incredible athleticism, and then we can also take approaches from other countries. And we're kind of building our own style, especially on the women's side. And you see it in individual players, but also as a tactical collective. I think that's somewhere where the U.S. really strives, and that's why they were successful in the tournament is their unity and their discipline and their organization. And I think that really stems from the American spirit.
SULLIVANAnd then I think, yeah, the flare on the ball is just from the watching, the playing, like the pickup culture and everything. I think we have -- especially on the U.S. and on the Spirit -- we have a little bit of everything. And I think that's what makes it so fun to watch and why the level is so high. It's not as one dimensional as it used to be.
SIMONSNow, Steve eluded to this earlier, Tori, but you've gotten involved in community outreach personally as an ambassador for St. Jude's Hospital. Tell us briefly about that work and why you're so passionate about it.
HUSTERYeah, it's been hugely important for me to remain in the community. I've been here for a while, and I really do want to take part any way that I can. It kind of fell into my lap. I mentioned to our CMO that I wanted to do something along the lines of hospital visits, or of the like. And I think the very next day St. Jude came to the Washington Spirit or the interaction was made. And St. Jude was looking to partner with us. So, it was perfect. It was a match made in heaven, I've said before. And I am extremely excited to see where the partnership goes.
HUSTERI have a few -- I've had one event that I've done with them already, and then there's a few in this off season, I'm very focused on. In the off-season, I'd like to, you know, meet with the patients that are undergoing treatment and their families and, you know, just provide a little bit of hope for them if they are feeling down. And I think that's really important. And, you know, soccer can bring a lot of people together and I think I'm happy to do that any way that it seems fit.
SIMONSThat's incredible. This year, Steve, you had a boost in excitement around the sport and your team after the World Cup. Next year, that's an Olympic year, are you thinking about how the Spirit can position itself to capitalize on the momentum from yet another high-profile global soccer event?
BALDWINAbsolutely. So, as we enter the off-season now, in my view, our front office staff has to work even harder. You know, we have to take the lessons that we learned this past season and fix the things that we need to do better. But next year is going to be a very big year. You know, we absolutely will see significant growth in our attendance across the venues that we play. We will see significant growth in sponsorships at both the local level and national level with the league.
BALDWINI've viewed it, coming into it, as we had this window of opportunity between the beginning of this year and the end of the Olympics to really capture that opportunity to where this league gets to a different level. And, you know, I've publically stated, our club will not rest until we accomplish these things. You know, as I said earlier, we have the best league in the world. We have the best players in the world here. And any fan of soccer can come see the absolute best in this area whenever they come to our matches. And so there will be continued growth in the marketing that we do, continued growth in the community outreach that we do to really create a significantly greater awareness of our brand in this area.
SIMONSI want you all to weigh in on this here, before we go. What are you watching for in the championship game between the Courage and the Red Stars this weekend? Steve, you first.
BALDWINI will look to see if Sam Kerr scores another goal (laugh) and lead Chicago to a victory. I think it will be a very interesting match. There is some contrast of styles. They were the two best clubs in the league this year, and so it should be a great competition between two great coaches, two great clubs. And fans should tune into ESPN next Sunday and watch it.
HUSTERIf Sam Kerr does score, look out for her backflip, for sure, (laugh) because I'm sure she'll do that. Andi and I were talking before we drove in about who we wanted to win. I probably want North Carolina to win, just because I'd rather them have it. And then we'll take it from them next year.
SIMONSOh, interesting. Oh. Andi? (laugh) She's laughing.
SULLIVANI think it's going to be an incredible game and, like Steve said, I think they're, you know, the two top teams in our league this year. It will be a true final, I think. The battle of the midfield, me being a midfielder, I think that will be fun to watch, and both teams are incredible stacked. So, I think it's going to be a crazy, great game.
SIMONSWell, thank you so much for joining us. Steve Baldwin is the majority owner of the Washington Spirit, Andi Sullivan and Tori Huster are co-captains and midfielders for the Spirit, as well. We appreciate having you on the program.
BALDWINThank you very much.
SULLIVANThanks for having us.
HUSTERThanks for having us.
SIMONSOur conversation about women's professional soccer was produced by Margaret Barthel, and our update on school redistricting in Howard County was produced by Laura Spitalniak. Thank you for listening. I'm Sasha-Ann Simons.
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