Three years later, the NWSL has a new commissioner. The league announced the hiring of Lisa Baird on Thursday, filling a position that had sat empty since Jeff Pugh stepped down in 2017.
Baird most recently served as the CMO of New York’s WNYC radio, the public radio affiliate of NPR in New York. Previously, she spent over a decade as the CMO of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.
During her decade with the USOPC, Baird worked closely with U.S. Soccer, which earlier this year agreed to continue its management of the NWSL for at least the next season.
“I’m excited that [the deal] has been extended for another year,” Baird said. “I worked with U.S. Soccer as a critically important [national governing body] for 10 years, so I have a comfort level dealing with management there. 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’s background in both sports marketing and media should immediately come into use as she works to secure additional sponsorships for the NWSL, which now counts Budweiser as its official beer of choice. With CBS set to announce that it will be the broadcast rights holder for the NWSL starting this year, Baird’s reputation for building and sustaining brands will be put to the test as she looks to guide the league toward eventual independence.
“I’m very excited about the potential of media,” Baird said. “When I talk to people about professional sports, the most common complaint I hear from people who are avidly following the game is how are we going to engage with it? I have a lot of experience building brands, building digital extensions of brands, building social communities around the game and rivalries. And that’s an area that I hope I can put my imprint on.”
The NWSL season will start on April 18th when the Washington Spirit hosts Reign FC at Audi Field. With a tremendous amount of momentum following last summer’s World Cup, hopes are high that Baird’s vision and expertise are exactly what’s needed to translate the current energy around women’s soccer into long-term sustainability.
“The game and the athletes are elite, so that feels exciting in and of itself,” Baird said of the league. “I’ve been a long advocate for women’s sports in the United States through my time at the Olympic Committee. I feel like not only do we have a clear path for growth, but we have momentum. And I think the experience I bring will help take us to the next level.”