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Women's opener only four days away
by Paul Kennedy, March 25th, 2009 7AM



[WPS] Amid a severe economic slowdown that has hit Americans sports leagues hard, Women's Professional Soccer is set to begin its first season on Sunday when the Los Angeles Sol featuring Brazilian star Marta hosts the Washington Freedom (TV: Fox Soccer Channel, live, 6 pm ET/3 pm PT). While WPS Commissioner Tanya Antonucci says the league goal for average attendance remains 4,000-6,000 a game, the push to opening day has not been without some upheaval, the replacement of one team's president and general manager.

On Monday, the Washington announced that former Chicago Fire executive Mark Washo had been hired as president and general manager, replacing Joe Quinn.

Both Washington and FC Sky Blue had fallen behind the league's other five leagues, but Antonucci says there has been a turnaround.

"They are more focused on grassroots programs," she said in a teleconference call on Tuesday. "They have the right executives in place and right advertising campaigns."

She said several clubs had sold season tickets in the range of 1,000-1,400.

"If that number is times three with group sales, individual sales and walk ups," she added, "we'll be close to our goal of 6000 fans per game."

She gave high marks to Boston and Chicago -- both clubs headed by former MLS executives (Joe Cummings with the Breakers and Peter Wilt with the Red Stars).

Ticket sales for Sunday's opener at the Home Depot Center exceeded 6,000. The marks to keep in mind -- last weekend's MLS attendance for the Galaxy (18,013) and Chivas USA (16,453) in Carson.

On the sponsorship side, WPS has one major sponsor, Puma. Antonucci announced an agreement with a water company -- San Francisco-based (like WPS) Hint Water -- on Tuesday. At the team level, the only deal of note is the Sol's jersey agreement with Amway, though Antonucci said Sky Blue FC was on the cusp of announcing an agreement of its own.

The poor marketing environment has hurt, though Antonucci acknowledged WPS teams were operating on a very conservative basis to begin with.

"There have been cuts at the team and league level," she said, "to be mindful of the temporary -- the way we look at it -- softening in sponsorship market."

She was also optimistic that sponsorship agreements would be forthcoming as marketing budgets were opened up for 2009, albeit in the second quarter.

"We are affordable and efficient in how we reach [fans]," she said.


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