The newest member of the Kansas City NWSL brain trust is Amber Cox, an executive with a pedigree of success across women’s sports dating back two decades. That the team was able to lure her from her post as Vice President for the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun, along with the co-owned New England Black Wolves, reflects a broadening array of opportunities for those who are working hardest to grow women’s sports.
That said, she wasn’t quite ready to lay down any definitive markers of success.
“Well it is day four, Howard, so I’m going to take a pass on specifics around those expectations,” she said with a smile. “But what I love about this new ownership group is it’s about setting a new standard.”
This is the way Cox has approached every one of her jobs, from a long-time role with the Phoenix Mercury during a time the team saw significant success on and off the court, to helping the Big East navigate some choppy waters as programs left and the conference realigned around basketball alone, even time as an executive with the Houston Dash, to her time with the Connecticut Sun. It’s a resume designed for the challenge of the moment, and one that wouldn’t have been possible, with her successes in the women’s game, in any professional sports era prior to this one.
The numbers in Connecticut tell only part of the story. She joined the Sun in October 2016, at the end of a season in which the Sun drew 5,837 fans per game, tenth in the WNBA. By 2019, that number climbed to 6,841, fifth in the league, with an upward trajectory only interrupted by the Covid-19 reality of 2020.
But Cox’s story itself reflects a landscape where those with ambitions and talent for building have multiple suitors in the world of women’s sports. Cox made the move in part because she has an opportunity to return to her Missouri roots — her long-time love of the Kansas City Chiefs can be indulged more fully, with season tickets — but there’s also a chance to be part of something that is clearly growing in scope.
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“As a fan, you can’t not watch and be excited for the league, for women’s sports, and what it means for women’s sports in general,” Cox said of the new ownership groups joining the National Women’s Soccer League. “[It] certainly played a part in my decision, for sure, to to join the club.”
Seemingly every week now, there’s a new, big name. The Longs in Kansas City, sure, but Naomi Osaka in North Carolina, Serena Williams in Los Angeles, and just last week, Chelsea Clinton in Washington, with the Spirit. That matters, no question. But having people like Amber Cox to mix expertise and passion is what will turn that initial investment into long-term, sustainable success.
It’s hard to believe, just a few short years ago, the NWSL’s own commissioner, Jeff Plush, was saying he didn’t think the league “[had] a brand yet”. This was a thing he was saying in public, in lieu of, for instance, attempting to brand the league.
No one is saying that about the NWSL under Lisa Baird’s leadership in 2021. And that filters down, too, with Cox in position to do things like build that brand in Kansas City, in many ways, from scratch. Just among these new tasks ahead: the logo and name is of the placeholder variety. Whatever takes root in Kansas City, Cox will be a primary part of making those decisions, carving cornerstones.
That marriage of optimism and opportunity is what women’s sports looks like now, and Cox is a details person. That she’s left Connecticut filled some with despair over what it means for the WNBA, but this is not some warning sign for women’s basketball, anymore than players leaving NWSL to go overseas reflects some zero-sum reality in the international soccer landscape.
“I think the coolest opportunity about NWSL is now creating that that experience that really starts in the parking lot and goes in and includes the food, and the game and maybe you stay in the parking lot for a little longer, too.” Cox smiled at the thought of what is to come, fans coming together to enjoy the women’s soccer franchise she gets to help build. “After the game.”