Many rooms were occupied at the Baltimore Convention Center last week. Different talks, sessions, and presentations took place all revolving around football coaching. One room in particular held a special event, the NWSL College Draft.
The concept of the draft is not completely alien to those who come from the European football landscape. In its simplest form, NWSL teams pick college players in order to strengthen their team. The moment the clock started to tick for the first pick, one grasps how complex the draft is. Here are 5 things we learned from the 2020 NWSL Draft:
- Picks and tricks- the draft system and process can be tricky to understand, certainly for a first time experience. Draft picks sometimes include more than just a player. Teams can switch picks among themselves and include certain add-ons in order to get a higher-ranked pick from a different team. This year “Allocation Money” was introduced. As defined by the NWSL: Allocation money enables team operators to invest funds in current or future players in excess of the current season’s team salary cap”. When trading draft picks, teams also exchanged part of their allocation money with the team they took the pick from.
- Expansion draft– the NWSL will expand in 2021 as Louisville City FC joins the league. As mentioned above, teams can trade draft picks, but not only for the current draft, also for future drafts. Next season’s draft will be an expansion one. Existing NWSL teams will have to prioritize a list of players they would like to protect, meaning, cannot be drafted by the expansion team. When teams built their squads this season they had one eye open on next year’s draft picks as well.
- Draft time– the draft went on for 4 hours and had 4 rounds of picks. Each team gets 5 minutes per pick with the option to call a time out. A time out grants an additional 5 minutes to make a decision.
- Sponsors presence– the NWSL website lists 4 official sponsors: Nike, Thorne, Lifetime, and Budweiser. On the ground, the only visible sponsor was Nike on the stage backdrops. It might be a sponsorship rights matter though. Perhaps if it wasn’t held as part of a convention there would have been room for any activations?
- Media & how to follow– Although the draft was part of the United Soccer Coaches Convention it was open for the general public and media to attend. In addition, people interested in the draft could watch the live stream on 4 different platforms: NWSL YouTube channel, NWSL Facebook Live, NWSL Website, and the NWSL app.
Since the NWSL was established in late 2012 followed by the first draft in 2013, all NWSL College drafts took place at the United Soccer Coaches Convention (previously known as the NSCAA Convention).
With the growth of Women’s soccer, it is a question of time whether the draft will shift from the convention in favour of a festival type event. I wouldn’t rule out that the NWSL and the franchises executives aren’t already thinking about it.
The 2020 NWSL College draft had close to 48,000 views both on YouTube and Facebook Live each. 2019’s edition drew 32,000 views on YouTube and 29,000 on Facebook. The draft took place on a Thursday during work hours so it is reasonable to assume that if held on a weekend, viewership numbers will increase.
Whatever the future structure of the draft may be the openness element of it must be maintained. Player agents were able to interact with players, so did fans. Media professionals had access to team owners and decision-makers.
The NWSL College Draft is here to grow.