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History isn't on WPS's side
by Paul Kennedy, November 29th, 2011 1:10AM
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[MY VIEW] New Women's Professional Soccer CEO Jennifer O'Sullivan reiterated the women's pro league's commitment to be the best women's league in the world and her hope that the league will again receive the sanctioning it needs from U.S. Soccer to operate in 2012.

WPS has again applied for a waiver to continue with its current field of five teams -- Atlanta, Boston, Blue Sky FC out of New Jersey, Philadelphia, Western New York -- though U.S. Soccer has given the league until Dec. 5 to find a sixth team.

There has been interest from several markets for 2012 or 2013 -- the area most often mentioned for 2012 being Connecticut -- but that begs some more fundamental questions ...

What is the bottom-line commitment level of the five remaining owners? WPS has experienced three turbulent seasons and lost more clubs -- six -- than it has left.

How much longer will its current owners go on? As it is, the Boston Breakers began the search for a new majority investor in August, and no successor has been named.

Sure, MLS survived with a handful of owners in its early years, but they all had deep ties to professional sports. And as soon as the Hunt Sports Group and AEG entered the stadium business, MLS roots took hold.

WPS has nothing like that bench of investors.

Would U.S. Soccer really bury WPS? There's talk of the possibility of playing as a non-sanctioned league -- without U.S. Soccer and therefore FIFA approval -- but as a practical matter it'll never happen.

So will the U.S. board of directors be known as the body that killed women's pro soccer in this country? Or is a continued waiver from the minimum eight teams needed for a Division I women's pro team just postponing the inevitable.

(A Division I league wouldn't come back any time soon if WPS folds, though both the W-League and WPSL are actively considering adding a structure, at a Division II level for women, greater than their current amateur programs offer.)

What will 2012 bring? Closer to end of the 2011 WPS season? Or more like the beginning of season? To be sure, WPS rode the coattails of the 2011 Women's World Cup excitement until the end of the season and attendances at recent U.S. women's matches have been encouraging.

Indeed, the last two months of the 2011 season were the best run WPS enjoyed in its three years. And they erased -- temporarily --  the memory of the horrendous start to the 2011 campaign with the magicJack chaos and crowds slipping below 1,000 at some venues.

The fear, of course, is that when the excitement wears off, as it will inevitably, WPS will return to the unsustainable levels of early 2011.

History is not on WPS's side.

The 1999 Women's World Cup sparked a women's soccer frenzy far greater than what we experienced in 2011. At post-USA '99 matches, stadiums boasted large crowds of fans ready to see Mia Hamm and the rest of their U.S. idols, but by the next year the national team crowds slumped. And by 2001 and the launch of WUSA, the fuss was largely over.

Millions more were thrown at WUSA and it collapsed after three seasons.

  1. David Sirias
    commented on: November 29, 2011 at 12:05 p.m.
    Stand alone Women's soccer in the USA is doomed. The intended market from the beginning--soccer moms and young girls/women has been wrong. All models have failed so far except one--partnering with MLS. The original sin was WUSA's refusal to accept technical assistance from MLS many years ago. What needs to happen is for WPS to go on hiatus for two or three years, during which time it can work with with 8 ( they only need 8 but might get more) MLS teams to form a branded women's division. What it's called is irrelevant--WPS2 or WMLS etc Leave it semi-pro for two years and then inaugurate a full pro competition five years from now. There are probably 8 teams right now who can afford the nearly $1 million a year to run a women's team. It will be sad to never see come of the older professionals compete again, as some will retire and some will go to Europe never to return. But if WPS wants to succeed it needs to think the long game--something MLS, despite all its other flaws, has implemented very well. Teams like KC who are sporting clubs and see the incredible upside of "total" branding in their market are ideal candidates to have a women's team. Tor, LA, SEA, VAN, POR, NYRB. and DAL could probably start semi- pro tomorrow if they wanted to. They are professional soccer clubs with professional soccer management and infrastructure--something that can't be said with conviction about WPS.
  1. Jack Aldridge
    commented on: November 29, 2011 at 12:33 p.m.
    Excellent points David and well researched. I have not paid much attention to the Women's Soccer scene especially since I am out here on the West Coast. It seems common sense to me to tie into the MLS league with the aforementioned teams.All have strong fan bases and could provide the much needed marketing/money and create a platform for young women to strive to join.
  1. Kevin Parker
    commented on: November 29, 2011 at 12:47 p.m.
    "WPS has nothing like that bench of investors." This is the fundamental reason why MLS is succeeding and WPS is failing. If WPS could convince people to invest millions in women's soccer the way MLS has gotten people to invest tens of millions in men's soccer, the league would be fine. As for partnering with MLS, that's a crock. The WPS Washington Freedom held several doubleheaders with DC United. If the women's game was first, the DCU fans were out in their tailgate parties, not in the stands. When the women's game was second, most of the DCU fans left before it started, and the rest left at halftime. There's no practical reason for MLS owners to support women's soccer, and only a few of them have the money to do so.
  1. Glenn Maddock
    commented on: November 29, 2011 at 1:27 p.m.
    You all have good ideas, but I agree that MLS has no interest in womens soccer. There is no incentive for them to partner with a failing league. They wont even parnter with USL or NASL, which are more successful than WPS. At best its a niche sports product that might succeed in 2nd tier markets with no other soccer products. St. Louis should have been a good example of that, but had bad ownership. You have to get all the soccer fans in the market to support it, not just soccer moms and their daughters. That's not a reliable fan base. They are simply "big event" fans. If you are going to try to partner with any league, try NASL or USL, who have some decent size stadium for women, and can make it more of an affordable, family event, to have broader appeal.

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