Jessica Berman appointed new NWSL commissioner
Jessica Berman looks to rebuild trust with National Women’s Soccer League players and fans after a series of scandals rocked the league last year.
Berman, a former executive for the NHL and the National Lacrosse League, was named the NWSL’s new commissioner Wednesday.
“I believe that by working together with all the stakeholders we can combat almost anything and that the opportunity is ours for the taking, that this is the time for the NWSL,” Berman said. “The cultural elements and signals are there for this league to reach its potential and by listening and learning we’ll be able to figure out our path forward.”
Berman replaces Lisa Baird, who stepped down in October after allegations of sexual harassment and coercion were brought against one of the league’s most prominent coaches.
Berman’s four-year term will start April 20. Interim CEO Marla Messing, who was hired to oversee the league following Baird’s departure, will continue in her role and advise Berman during the transition until May 31.
“Really, what I see is opportunity,” Berman said. “I see opportunity for growth. I see a ton of momentum, the viewership numbers coming out of COVID and the bubble. I see engagement with new sponsors. I see a very enthusiastic media partner in CBS who wants to do more to help promote the league. I really see lots of opportunities.”
Berman takes over the league after a turbulent year during which five league coaches either resigned or were dismissed. Among them was North Carolina coach Paul Riley, who was fired after The Athletic detailed claims of sexual misconduct. He denied the allegations.
Baird stepped down amid the fallout, and both U.S. Soccer and the NWSL opened independent investigations.
Recently, the league appears more stable. A new collective bargaining agreement was struck with the NWSL Players Association in January, and two expansion teams — Angel City FC and the San Diego Wave — mean the league will field 12 teams this season.
“I view the CBA being done as really just the first step. For those who have worked in collective bargaining, we all know that the time to build trust and credibility in that relationship is during the term of the agreement,” Berman told reporters.
Players had asked for a say in the hiring of the league’s new commissioner and several were subsequently involved in the process, including Crystal Dunn, Kaylie Collins, Jane Campbell, Bri Visalli, Nicole Barnhart, Emily Menges and Tori Huster. Berman said she has a standing call with NWSLPA executive director Meghann Burke.
Berman has served as deputy commissioner and executive vice president of business affairs at the National Lacrosse League for more than two years. Before that, she was a vice president and deputy general counsel for the NHL for 13 years.
The NWSL’s preseason Challenge Cup opens March 18. The regular-season schedule for the league’s 10th season has not been announced.
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