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OL Reign, NWSL keep women’s soccer going with PPP loans

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Reign preserved 29 jobs with the funding.

OL Reign v Houston Dash

There has been plenty of chatter this week about billionaires who received loans through the Paycheck Protection Program, money that was supposed to be used to replace the incomes of employees suddenly unable to work during government shutdown orders.

Hiding in the shadows of these conversations, however, are a few scrappy organizations that helped keep women’s soccer afloat in America.

Last Thursday, the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) confirmed to The New York Times that it received a PPP loan through the program, and data unveiled this week reveal the league received funding in the $1-2 million range. As reported by The Times, the NWSL used the money as a bridge to pay players for two months.

The NWSL handles the salaries of all non-allocated players, with the Canadian and U.S. federations managing the salaries for their allocated players in the league. More than 85% of the league’s monthly expenses go toward paying its players, and as NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird said to the Times, “Our sole intent in applying for the P.P.P. loan was to continue player compensation. With ours, the calculus was pretty simple. Either you’re going to pay your players or you’re going to furlough them. What could we do?”

Talk about some swift action for a commissioner that only started the job on March 10. The short-term funding was just what the league needed to figure out the details for the NWSL Challenge Cup, which kicked off June 27.

Baird expected the loan would qualify for forgiveness because 100% of the money was used for payroll (the government requires at least 60%) and because the league did not lay off any employees, which was another condition of the program.

The NWSL wasn’t the only women’s soccer group to utilize the program. While the players’ salaries were covered thanks to the league’s actions, OL Reign was able to secure a PPP loan to help cover the salaries for its administrative and technical staff as well.

OL Reign CEO Bill Predmore confirmed to Ride of the Valkyries that the club received a PPP loan in the $150,000 - $350,000 range. The club’s finance team managed to pull together an application for the first round of PPP loans, which was approved quickly. While not confirmed, it appears from this week’s data release that the Reign are the only independent NWSL club to receive a loan.

The PPP money provided a lifeline during an uncertain time for the club, who at the time still weren’t sure whether the league would be playing any matches this year.

“A significant portion of the team’s revenue comes from ticket sales,” Predmore said, and it was looking more and more likely every day that OL Reign couldn’t rely on welcoming fans any time soon. On top of that, merchandise delays connected to the pandemic, a name change and brand re-haul meant the team had virtually no additional revenue from merch sales to fall back on.

The loan did exactly what the program intended. In total, the Reign preserved 29 jobs through the program, which represents their entire administrative, technical and academy staff. No employees were laid off, although like the Sounders the club did have to implement some temporary furloughs. The 29 staff members represents a similar headcount for the club compared to the year prior, although OL Reign had ambitious plans to increase its staff after OL Groupe bought the club back in December.

Predmore told Ride of the Valkyries that the team had a “significant number of hires” they intended to make in the first week of March, but those plans were put on hold as the severity of the coronavirus pandemic began to unfold in the United States. The OL Reign CEO said the team still plans to move forward with those hires, but they probably won’t occur until December of this year or early into 2021.

For now, the club is able to stay fully staffed as the team works to make an impact in the NWSL Challenge Cup. OL Reign earned its first win of the tournament on Wednesday and hopes to continue that momentum next Monday against rivals Portland Thorns FC.