NWSL hires Lisa Baird, former US Olympic marketing chief, as commissioner

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Former U.S. Olympic Committee CMO Lisa Baird was named the new NWSL commissioner. (Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for USOC)
Former U.S. Olympic Committee CMO Lisa Baird was named the new NWSL commissioner. (Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for USOC)

Lisa Baird, a former marketing executive with IBM, NFL and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC), will be the first NWSL commissioner in three years, the league announced Thursday.

The position has been vacant since Jeff Plush stepped down in 2017. Baird will be tasked with continuing to grow the league after last year’s Women’s World Cup bump and amid the fervor entering this summer’s Tokyo Olympics.

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Baird comes with decades of marketing experience

Baird will leave as the chief marketing officer of New York’s WNYC radio and begin with the NWSL on March 10.

She spent a decade in the same position at the USOPC and launched the “Team USA” brand that has become iconic. Per the Associated Press, she cut approximately $1 billion worth of deals in her time there. Baird told the AP she’s confident the NWSL can bring “deeper, more profound platforms” to players and shine a spotlight on them.

“This league has an incredible ability to have players stand for a purpose and passion because of who they are and who they represent, and how exciting women’s sports are in the U.S. right now,” Baird said, via the AP.

She also served as senior vice president of marketing communications at IBM in the mid-2000s and held the same role at the NFL, where she directed consumer products, entertainment marketing and advertising programs for three years. She helped launch NFL Play60 and expanded licensing deals to include Nike, Under Armour and Fanatics.

Mike Golub, president of the Portland Thorns and a member of the search committee, said in a statement:

“Lisa’s stellar accomplishments with some of the most successful properties in our industry and her well established reputation as a leading global marketer make her the best person to steward the league’s next phase of growth.”

NWSL working on broadcasts, sponsors

Fans flocked to stadiums last summer after the USWNT won the World Cup. On television, the championship game viewership on ESPN2 was up 43 percent from the previous year, and the league wants to continue to provide easy opportunities to watch its product.

The NWSL has yet to announce its new broadcasting rights deal, even as the season is set to begin on April 18. A&E abruptly cut its TV deal short before last season, and ESPN picked up 14 games.

Sports Illustrated reports that CBS will be getting the rights, with plans to air three games on its regular station, 14 on CBS Sports Network and all out-of-market games on CBS All Access, a pay-to-stream channel.

“I think we have a meeting of the minds between myself and ownership: I’m going to spend my time on the commercial side of it and media sponsorship,” Baird said. “That’s an area where I have a lot of experience and good relationships with major companies that are not only strong longtime sports sponsors, but really interested in advancing women’s sports.”

The NWSL also gained Budweiser as a sponsor in 2019 and the company signed a multi-year deal. Its initial marketing campaigns push for other companies to sign on. Budweiser said it will ramp up the partnership in 2020.

Baird’s US Soccer connection

The NWSL was facing a pivotal point when U.S. Soccer’s management agreement with the league was set to expire. It has stayed on to keep supporting the league for another year.

Baird told Sports Illustrated she has a “comfort level” dealing with the national organizing body since she did so while at the USOPC. Via SI:

“With the year agreement in place, that gives me stability and security, and I have a good level of trust with them to build what is going to be the right partnership for the future.”

Baird also takes over as the NWSL announced it would add allocation money, increased salaries and other benefits. Some of the players are also involved in the USWNT’s lawsuit against U.S. Soccer, and the league is tangentially involved since those players are required to play in the domestic league.

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