Teaching Resources Library



The National Women's Soccer League (A): Navigating Uncertainty, Building for the Future



Lisa Baird became the commissioner of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) on Tuesday, March 10, 2020. Then, COVID-19 upended the sports world. On Thursday, March 12, as sports leagues around the country canceled or postponed their seasons, she announced the NWSL was cancelling pre-season matches and developing contingency plans for the regular season. Baird and other league leaders knew that the NWSL stood in a precarious position. For financial, competitive and cultural reasons, it needed to get back on the field in 2020.

This case study and companion podcast describe how Baird successfully created opportunities for the 8-year old league during her first year as commissioner, despite the financial and medical chaos that accompanied the pandemic. Notably, the NWSL was the first sports league to return to play and complete a modified season, an accomplishment that was under-appreciated by the mainstream sports media. The league also gained big-name sponsors and set television viewership records.

As she began her second year, Baird was focused on making the right strategic decisions in order to bring financial sustainability and greater cultural relevance to the best professional women’s soccer league in the world.

Learning Objectives

  • Showcase a leader leading in a time of crisis.
  • Identify the leadership skills and strategies to turn a crisis situation into an opportunity for growth and innovation
  • Assess the short- and long-term implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on a specific business.
  • Learn how to develop strategies to grow and sustain a business in the sports, media, and entertainment industries
  • Explore and appreciate the challenges faced by women’s sports and what it takes to change cultural perceptions.

Appropriate for the Following Course(s) 

strategy, leadership, sports management, business of sports, sports analytics

The National Women's Soccer League (A): Navigating Uncertainty, Building for the Future

Educator Copy*

*An educator (non-watermarked) copy of this case is available only to individuals who hold teaching positions at academic institutions and want to use the case in a course.

Supplemental Material

The National Women's Soccer League (B): Navigating a Crisis, Repairing a Culture