Pro sports' worst-run franchise

[WPS] How badly run is Women’s Professional Soccer's magicJack? The league has taken the extraordinary step of docking the South Florida club a point in the standings and taking away a future draft pick -- if the club is around -- for not meeting league standards. The news that magicJack -- with seven U.S. Women's World Cup players -- lost its perfect record followed reports that it also lost its coach, who departed with three wins in three games.

The club has been a mystery since its launch. It has not maintained a web site and did nothing to market itself in preseason. It has drawn crowds of 1,224, 1,008 and 952 for its first three home games at the tiny soccer stadium on the campus of Florida Atlantic University.

At the opener, fans had to sit on the grass because bleachers had been taken away to be used at FAU's spring football game. The FAU stadium has a capacity of only 1,500 -- less than the U.S. Soccer-mandated minimum of 5,000.

MagicJack has yet to put up proper sign boards -- not an insignificant thing if WPS wants to keep its sponsors happy. The club also got in hot water with WPS for failing to allow players and staff to talk with the media after its second home game, on May 1.

MagicJack had been fined and docked a fourth-round selection in the 2012 WPS draft for not meeting league standards, but when it continued it ignore the requirements -- which included providing game footage to the league for other teams to scout -- WPS took the next step and took away a point, leaving magicJack with eight points.

The next step might be stripping magicJack of its right to host playoff games -- a step the league will be more than happy to do if magicJack wins the regular-season title. It will want to avoid at all costs the embarrassment of playing its championship game at FAU.

Dan Borislow, founder of broadband telephone company magicJack, bought the Washington Freedom and moved it to South Florida.

Borislow has taken a hands-on approach to running magicJack. That role expanded this week when he confirmed that Coach Mike Lyons was no longer in charge -- despite those three wins in three games.

“Right now, we are collectively managing the team between the coaches and a few senior players," he told the women's soccer blog All White Kit. "We will leave it in the family throughout the season. We have that type of character within our players that we will not miss a beat.”

For all the problems WPS has had with Borislow, there is this truth. If he had not bought the club, WPS, which has lost four clubs in its first two seasons, would have likely folded.

With increasingly small crowds around the league -- 1,879, 1,704 and 952 for the three games on Mother's Day -- WPS's future indeed looks grim.

After three full seasons, WUSA folded on the eve of the 2003 Women's World Cup. Whether WPS lasts until the start of the 2011 Women's World Cup is a matter of conjecture.

16 comments about "Pro sports' worst-run franchise".
  1. Eric Shinn, May 13, 2011 at 8:36 a.m.

    In order for women's soccer to succeed, they need to affiliate with the MLS clubs around the country. That will give them stadiums in which to play, a certain amount of name recognition, and an existing administrative structure with which to work. This magicjack situation is embarrassing, and it doesn't have to be this way. I believe a professional league can work, but it's going to TAKE a lot of work for that to happen. Just plopping a team down without bothering to advertise their presence or attempting to drum up's just idiotic.

  2. David Sirias, May 13, 2011 at 8:52 a.m.

    Sad but not unexpected WPS is DOA The relatively big money pro women's soccer model doesn't work in the USA..... without MLS involvement. And even if MLS clubs took over tomorrow it would be more semi pro than anything but the big money won't come to the players for decades Whats pretty clear is that some MLS teams will do women's development in the w league etc and eventually the league itself might take over completely and run WMLS with proper cost controls and economies of scale. But we will lose another generation The next Mia Hamm is only six years old. Until then things look bleak for the national team which desperately needs a place for people up play. Bottom line, MLS is the where the venn diagram convergence of soccer fans and soccer junkies (not just the target soccer moms) takes place in this some point, even for eurosnobs. That's where the soccer market is. That is where the young guys who have not even had daughters yet ( and soccer dads ) are located. WUSA and WPS ignored this at their peril

  3. Scott Olson, May 13, 2011 at 9:48 a.m.

    Problem is, MLS isn't doing all that awesome either when looking at comparison to the rest of the world. We americans have, I believe, put too much restriction on this league, putting very tight reins on owners and managers which these leagues have to compete and abide by. MLS does not have the draw right now that the MLB, NBA and NFL have. Putting all these pay restrictions and red tape, is not helping us pull in the people that will bring notariety to this sport.

    Yeah, we have the diehards that would go out to games because they love the sport and are looking for more and more games to go to. But we are not going to pull in more new fans without the capability to get big name players, advertise names people know, and get some local involvement.

    Problem is, a lot of the MLS teams can barely afford to put focus on academy teams and get their own players names known out there, because they are keeping such a tight rein on the little money they are making.

  4. Scott Olson, May 13, 2011 at 9:51 a.m.

    The big businesses with the money are looking at buying foreign teams because they have more freedom on buying good players and getting more bang for their advertising buck because they are pulling bigger crowds.

  5. Kevin Parker, May 13, 2011 at 10:47 a.m.

    "Whether WPS lasts until the start of the 2011 Women's World Cup is a matter of conjecture."

    This is a ridiculous exaggeration. Yes, there are issues, but each of the six WPS owners has put up enough money to get their team through the 2011 season. I think they can make it through June.

  6. Kevin Yost, May 13, 2011 at 2:40 p.m.

    Maybe, we don't need big money women's sports, but small money and/or amateur women's sports. If the WPS is to survive, it must be affiliated with MLS, just as the WNBA is with the NBA and the National Pro Fastpitch women's pro softball league has a partnership with MLB. The Freedom, after John Hendricks ran out of money, should have been sold to someone who would keep it in the DC area, as they had great crowds there in all the years they played there. Besides, who likes a cookie-cutter corporate name like "majicJacks" anyway.

  7. Glenn Maddock, May 13, 2011 at 6:25 p.m.

    Look at you guys! A man wrote this article and only guys have responded. Do you need anything more why womens pro soccer cant succeed here? Women dont care about it. Women like big events, not regular season games in any sport. Yes, an MLS partnership would help them survive, but whats in it for MLS? MLS has a smart business model. Focus on your core business and breaking even, and dont get crazy. Egotistical owners who went crazy, have ruined many leagues. MLS is mildly successful because they avoided that.

  8. Robin Embry, May 13, 2011 at 7:06 p.m.

    Glenn: Extremely well said, neither I, my daughter (a U-13 player) or my wife would watch an WPS game when we all watched the men's world cup games last summer. Most women do not care about the WPS.

    Nothing else needs to be said on the subject.

  9. David Sirias, May 13, 2011 at 7:47 p.m.

    What's in it for MLS? Are you serious?
    Whoever develops the next Marta will will recoup their investment in merchandise alone. But the more ubiquitous long term benefit is in goodwill, branding, and TV eyeballs. First MLS will be involved in semi-pro only. But eventually I can see it going full time pro with regular before- game WMLS matches. The million dollars it takes to run an WMLS side will eventually become break even. It might take a decade or two but, if nothing else MLS has demonstrated a keen skill for long term planning. MLS is not turning their back on half the demographic. This is pretty clear now, with what DCU, Dallas, and Vancouver are doing. That's just the beginning.

  10. Ken Jamieson, May 14, 2011 at 9:37 a.m.

    There is an old addage that you walk before you run. WPS has tried to run a marathon before it even took its first steps.
    Women's soccer is not a big league sport, so quite trying to treat it like one. Then again, for that matter, MLS really isn't big league by North American standards.

  11. John Bolger, May 14, 2011 at 11:48 a.m.

    David Sirias makes some good points, although incorrectly identified the next Mia Hamm as six years old. My granddaughter Nicole is four years old, not six.

  12. Dave Kellos, May 14, 2011 at 11:58 a.m.

    Scott Olson - MLS is doing pretty damn good for a 16 year old league and actually beats many top European leagues in attendance. Your idea to spend wildly on foreign talent killed the NASL. And those American businessmen are buying 100 year old foreign teams. All of which have major debt. They actually want to run them more like MLS teams rather than spend wildly like you want.

    I think MLS is just waiting for WPS to go out of business which should be soon. Then they will form a WMLS, but with much smarter owners and people running it. They won't have that clown in Florida or hot dog guy.

  13. Eric R., May 15, 2011 at 11:22 a.m.

    John Bolger: Nice! :-)

    Dave Kellos: Here, here! Totally agree! Alot of people are forgetting that the best American players today, were inspired by the 94 World Cup and didn't start playing the game seriously until the teenage years. In just the last few years, we've started developing players that are good enough that they are starting in clubs abroad. That's quite the change from recent years when we played almost exclusively off-the-bench (or not at all). Even with salary restrictions, we're attracting good players, but teams with lesser financial assets are still able to compete. I think this makes the MLS far more interesting than other leagues where before the season starts, you know there are only 2-4 teams with a legitimate chance to win it all.

    On women's soccer: MLS teams are able to participate in the USL-W league. It is still on the rise, but I think sooner or later it will grow to have a still-small, but more respectable fanbase.

  14. J Ferris, June 14, 2011 at 8:44 p.m.

    What a joke. I thought this new owner was supposed to be some genius business-man. The problem with the Freedom was that they should have done more to keep their overhead down and kept their ticket prices low. $20+ for general admission tickets was just too much for a fledgling league to be charging when you need more fannies in the seats. Girls soccer teams and families are not going to pay more than $5-$8 per person. A single year of building a following was just not enough. 3-5 years of doing everything possible to entice folks to come out and develop an allegiance to their team was needed. As it is, a core group of fans in the DC area is now lost. I seriously doubt any meaningful following will develop in Florida.

  15. Holly Bauer, July 3, 2011 at 3:59 p.m.

    I live in South Florida. So I can tell you that there are plenty of soccer fans from all over the world that would come out to watch if 1) it wasn't so far north--closer to Miami would be better 2)the prices were as JFerris suggested, in the $5-$8 range and 3) if there was publicity and a regular team name. (Something with a South Florida connection--MagicJack should just be branded everywhere.) The idea that the team needs a bigger stadium is only true in so far as it needs to be at mandated capacity. Baby steps but I believe we can walk.

  16. Erin Martin, July 14, 2011 at 10:26 a.m.

    I don't believe the statement women aren't interested in sports. Look at the WNBA, LPGA, . They have survived because they have talent. We have the talent, we just need to drum up the interest. I live in Columbus and our MLS team (Crew) is very successful. I do agree the WPS should partner with the MLS. It makes more sense logistically and financially.. Since Title IX I think many more women enjoy sports because they aren't dominated by men. It may take a while to develop but U.S. soccer is definitely rising in popularity and I think with time, a women's league would be successful.

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