ORLANDO, Fla. — With a few weeks left in her tenure as National Women’s Soccer League CEO, soon-to-be Orlando Pride vice president Amanda Duffy is itching to get back into the front office of a soccer club.
Duffy got her start in management at the club level, spending seven years with the USL W-League before becoming the president of Louisville FC, the former USL affiliate of Orlando City. In Louisville, she met Orlando City CEO Leitão and senior vice president Caesar Lopez, forming a connection she maintained after moving to the NWSL.
So when Leitão and Lopez initially approached Duffy about the new position — which will support both the soccer and business sides of the Pride — she was immediately interested.
With three weeks left until she formally vacates her NWSL position, there hasn’t been time for Duffy to turn her focus to the Pride. She’s met with coach Marc Skinner a handful of times, keeping her distance from Orlando throughout the 2020 NWSL Draft to avoid a conflict of interest. Duffy said she hasn’t had enough time on the ground to develop concrete plans about anything — roster moves, ticket sales, branding.
But Duffy is certain of one thing — she’s excited to return to the club side of the sport.
“There’s just that immediate gratification,” Duffy said. “You get to be close to the game again. When you’re at the league office, you’re a little bit further from it and not necessarily tied to or associated to one club in particular. … I’m excited to feel the energy of the fans, the players, the community at large.”
Off the field, perhaps the greatest challenge for Duffy will be in an area where she is greatly experienced — growing attendance.
While NWSL as a whole saw a dramatic surge in attendance following the 2019 World Cup, the Pride has seen a steady dwindling in the stands since the team’s first season in 2016. During that first year, the Pride set NWSL records when a crowd of 23,403 turned out for the team’s home opener.
But in 2018, attendance tumbled to a low of 3,104 for one midweek game. Defender Ali Krieger bought beers for fans to entice them to the stadium as the the club averaged a crowd of 4,837 fans per game.
The Pride bounced back along with the rest of the league, seeing a spike in attendance with an average crowd of 5,565, a 15% increase. But that still lagged behind the rest of the league, which saw an overall boost of almost 22%.
Part of that lagging attendance could be attributed to poor results on the pitch, as the Pride went 12-26-10 during the past two seasons. But as the league and the sport both continue to grow, the club is focused on not falling behind its competitors.
That’s where Duffy comes in. At Louisville City FC, Duffy built a fanbase from the ground up, pulling an average announced attendance of more than 7,000 fans and drawing a crowd of 10,000 for the River Cities Cup in 2016.
To Duffy, the key to returning high attendance numbers to Exploria Stadium for the Pride will come from immersing the team into the local culture.
“I think similar to Orlando, it was a market that supported the sport,” Duffy said. “In Louisville, there was a thirst for the sport, a thirst for a professional high level team. I think what the Pride brings are household names and globally recognized players into the community of Orlando, so I’m hoping to build on that and allow the Pride to be more integrated into the community.”
Although the Pride have struggled to match the attendance numbers from their first year, Duffy said she isn’t concerned about the team’s connection with its fans. Her time with NWSL bolstered her confidence in the league as she watched support for the sport — from fans and sponsors alike — continue to soar.
To Duffy, 2019 marked a turning point for the league — and the Pride along with it.
“I’ve been with the NWSL for a little more than three years now, and seeing that interest and support behind the league and individual teams and the players was remarkable and certainly tremendous,” Duffy said. “Last year, it felt like it was an enormous step forward. It just felt big because it felt like it had staying power.”
As Duffy transitions into the Pride’s front office, the club will also adapt to the new role. The role of general manager Erik Ustruck — who assumed the position ahead of the 2019 season — will be dissolved when Duffy arrives, creating a new structure for the club’s front office.
Skinner and Ustruck spent this offseason focused on improving the team’s performance. But Duffy will be focused on striking a balance, aiding Skinner with trades and transactions while also managing the business.
“I think over time, everything with the Pride needs to elevate,” Duffy said. “That’s on the field and off the field field. As I spend more time with everyone here, and once I come later in February, permanently … it’ll all be focused on elevating the Pride’s relevance and to be that internal leadership voice now that can help guide and lead the direction of it all.”