A veteran of four World Cups as a player, Diana Matheson knows the platform presented by the women’s soccer showcase.
Matheson hopes the focus on the 2023 tournament will help launch the Canadian professional women’s soccer league her group, Project 8, is building, with a slated kickoff in 2025.
“For us, it’s a big part of the equation just in terms of raising awareness of women’s soccer, the growth of women’s professional soccer and what we’re doing,” Matheson said of the 32-country tournament, which takes place from July 20 to August 20 in nine host cities in Australia and New Zealand.
“So we will try to be visible during the Women’s World Cup while that extra attention is directed there. Every time we’ve been able to make a big announcement, we’ve had really good feedback. The Women’s World Cup is another platform where more eyes will be on women’s soccer, and that’s always good for us. »
In April, AFC Toronto City became the new league’s third founding team, joining the Vancouver Whitecaps and Calgary Foothills. Matheson’s plan is to launch a league in 2025 with eight teams split into two associations.
Partners already on board are Air Canada, Canadian Tire, CIBC and DoorDash Canada. Project 8 has already received official league recognition from Soccer Canada.
One need only look to the United States to see the importance of a national professional league: 22 of the 23 players in the United States World Cup roster play domestically in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). Lindsey Horan, who plays with French champion Olympique Lyonnais, is the only exception.
“I think it’s a testament to the growth of the NWSL, especially over the last 18 to 24 months,” said Matheson, who has played for four NWSL teams during his career.
Matheson points to the Women’s Players’ Collective Bargaining Agreement, which has improved American League standards, as well as the entry of women-led teams like Los Angeles-based Angel City FC.
Nine of the 12 NWSL clubs are represented on Team USA.
On the other hand, 13 of the 23 Canadians at the World Cup play in Europe, including 9 in England. Captain Christine Sinclair, who holds the same role with the Portland Thorns, is one of eight players in the NWSL. The other two players play for an American university.
“That’s been the case for many World Cups now. When you go through the list of players and see what club they play for, it’s really only on the Canadian team that the majority of them don’t play in their country,” noted Matheson.
Matheson recently earned his MBA from the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University. She has also completed her UEFA Executive Masters for International Players, a 20-month program designed to equip top international players with the tools to transfer their playing strengths into effective management skills off the pitch.
The fee for obtaining a new women’s league team is set at 1 million with an estimated need of 8 to 10 million in total capital invested over the first five seasons, in addition to the necessary infrastructure expenditure. The owners buy part of the league as well as their own team.
Project 8 Sports Inc. was founded by Matheson and Thomas Gilbert.
Matheson’s stellar playing career includes the stoppage time goal that won Canada a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics. She appeared in 206 games for Canada, including 193 starts, from 2003 to 2020 .