Mark Wise didn’t always have the vision to start a women’s soccer team. In fact, the founder and CEO of the Columbus Eagles didn’t know much about soccer or women’s sports until he was well into his career. However, after watching his daughter play soccer and attending the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 1999, Wise fell in love with the sport.
One year later in 2000, the first women’s professional soccer league — the Women’s United Soccer Association — was founded. Wise thought for sure the WUSA would bring a team to Columbus. But, it didn’t, and just three years later, the league folded. A similar situation happened in 2007 with the start (and end) of the Women’s Professional Soccer League.
Wise was tired of seeing league after league fail, and with no mention of a team starting in Columbus, he decided to take matters into his own hands.
In 2014, the Columbus Eagles Football Club was born.
Since then, the Eagles have been breaking barriers for women in sports. In 2016, they became the first Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL) team to host and win a match in a Major League Soccer stadium (Columbus Crew’s former home, Historic Crew Stadium).
The Eagles also helped to set the standard for the way games in the WPSL are played. When they joined the league in 2014, it was not much more than two upper-level teams playing in a field with almost no fans, concessions or a livestream.
So, when Wise started the Eagles, he wanted the players and fans to have a real gameday experience. He decked out the Eagles’ stadium, brought in sponsors and added concessions. Other teams started to take notice of the work Wise was doing and created similar experiences as well.
Growing the game of soccer — especially for women — is an important part of the Eagles’ program. After watching and coaching multiple women’s teams, Wise understands the divide between men and women in sports and knows the importance of creating equal opportunities for everyone.
“Sports should be sports,” Wise said. “It doesn't matter who plays them. It shouldn't be men's sports and women's sports. It’s just sport, and a woman just happens to be playing it.”
In addition to creating more opportunities for women on the field, the Eagles help women off the field as well. They partner with multiple charitable organizations, such as Moms2B, to take care of women in the Columbus metropolitan area. In the past, the Eagles have allowed fans to enjoy a game for free if they bring diapers or baby wipes, some of Moms2B’s greatest needs.
For Wise and the Eagles, the only way to go is up. They are committed to making more strides for women in sports, especially in Columbus.
“Columbus has a lot of firsts,” Wise said. “(One of) the first MLS teams, the first soccer specific stadium. We need to step up on the women's side and start innovating here as well.”
To learn more about what the Greater Columbus Sports Commission does, visit the About Us page.