When she was a girl, Joanna Lohman aspired to be a pro soccer player. And although others laughed at the idea, she has realized the dream and at age 28 plays for the Philadelphia Independence, one of seven teams in Women's Professional Soccer. WPS is trying to avoid the fate of its predecessor, the Women's United Soccer Association, which folded in 2003 after three seasons.
Lohmann earns $25,000 a year, less than the WPS average of $32,000. Despite the fact that two WPS teams have folded since its 2009 launch, two were added. All the teams are losing money, but Lohmann and WPS are optimistic. "We're a family, and we're all working toward a common cause," she said. "When we saw the first team fold, I think everybody realized that we have to do anything we can to help the league survive."
WPS lost $15 million in its first season, according to WPS spokesman Robert Penner, but WUSA lost $40 million in its first year and $100 million during the three-year run. WPS sponsorship is up 50 percent for the league and about 150 percent at the team level from 2009. The league has an attendance average of 3,800.
Atlanta owner T. Fitz Johnson says he pays out $1 million for a roster of 24 players and his payroll for 14 staff members is more than $800,000. "A league is hard enough to sustain, but a women's league is that much more difficult," Johnson said. "Teams will come and go. Once you get sustainable, you won't see that kind of movement. ... We've got to get more butts in the seats. We have to get our brand to the public, and the difficulty is that it's expensive. ... [With the next five years] we hope to be cash-flow positive. We need to be making money instead of losing it. We look at our numbers, and it is absolutely possible."