'Negative issues' consume women's league

[WPS SPOTLIGHT] WPS isn't the first business to have a legal dispute between partners. And WPS isn't the first league to have a maverick owner. Indeed, maverick owners are part and parcel with what sells sports. But the year-long dispute between MagicJack owner Dan Borislow and WPS and its owners consumed the fragile league. Could the owners afford the legal fees to fight Borislow? Sure. What WPS could not overcome was the time the fight was taking away from the business of saving the league.

“I’ve only been on board for four months, and the bulk of my time has been spent on addressing a lot of these other negative issues regarding termination of MagicJack and the sanctioning issue with U.S. Soccer and resulting issues with sponsors and such,” WPS chief executive Jennifer O’Sullivan said during a media conference call Monday afternoon. “It is unfortunate that the attention and focus that needed to be on the business, growing the business and developing the game and the sport just hasn’t been able to be there. Until this [MagicJack] situation is resolved, I don’t believe we can fully put our attention to it. It would’ve been unfair to put together a season while we would’ve still had this hanging over our heads.”

While Borislow announced a settlement of his lawsuit in a Florida court against WPS for improperly kicking MagicJack out of the league, O'Sullivan said "stumbling blocks" remained, making it impossible for all parties to come to an agreement. She said another hearing in the matter on Borislow's request for injunctive relief was set for Wednesday.

No doubt the 2012 season was going to be difficult.

There was a we'll-believe-it-when-we-see-it attitude about Year 4 even as recently as two weeks ago when WPS conducted its college draft (New York Times headline: W.P.S. Holds Its Draft, Just in Case)

The league was down to five teams from seven in 2009 and 2010 and six in 2011.

It had lost its biggest sponsor, Puma, whose three-year deal had expired, and no apparel deal had been announced for 2012.

The post-2011 Women's World Cup bounce that had everyone so excited was no more.

Ten of the 18 players on the U.S. team that just finished up in Olympic qualifying had not yet reupped for the 2012 WPS season. Star Abby Wambach was siding with Borislow ("I'm always going to back that guy," she said after beating Costa Rica Friday night).

The 2012 Olympic year was going to be tough for the league, taking away players for a good portion of the season. Unlike the 2011 Women's World Cup, the 2012 Olympics was not going to give the league a post-event bounce because the regular season would be over by the time the players returned.

O'Sullivan said a bounce was not what WPS needed.

"We can't build or sustain a business based on large-scale events," she said.

13 comments about "'Negative issues' consume women's league".
  1. David Sirias, January 31, 2012 at 11:04 a.m.

    Wusa and WPS failed because they either rejected or failed up ask for technical expertise from MLS . I and many others have said for a long time that women's soccer is not viable without an MLS partnership or outright MLS control. There are only a few people in this country that know how to successfully manage top tier professional soccer teams/league and have the necessary resources at their disposal They are in MLS. I have predicted for years now that WMLS is inevitable. Probably not until late in this decade MLS is not going up leave half the demographic untapped. Until then I hope the ladies remain patient and keep eye on prize

  2. Jack Niner, January 31, 2012 at 11:36 a.m.

    The emphasis on women's soccer is overdone and is a distraction from development of the mens game and league. T9 has already significantly retarded mens college soccer development. MLS should have nothing to do with a womens league.

  3. David Huff, January 31, 2012 at 11:50 a.m.

    I agree with David, a partnership with MLS is the most viable long-term solution to being able to maintain a women's league. WPS began to fail after the very first season when they lost the LA Sol and the SoCal market. A year later when they lost the rest of the West Coast with the folding of the SF Bay area team, WPS then became a dead woman walking.

  4. David Sirias, January 31, 2012 at 12:07 p.m.

    With all due respect up jack. Euro men's Euro Teams often subsidize women's sides because the relative small cost is outweighed long term by market branding accross the demographics. The MLS teams NOT spending a million a year on its academies is a problem. Half a million to subsidize a ladies side is just a long term ad buy for MLS Owners. It's not going to hurt the men's game

  5. John Soares, January 31, 2012 at 1:41 p.m.

    Jack, you make good points... for someone living in the 18th century.

  6. David Huff, January 31, 2012 at 2:34 p.m.

    @David and Jack, Title IX and women's pro league are two different issues. As David indicates, teams such as Arsenal sponsor a lady's Arsenal team that participates in a English women's pro league. This makes a lot of sense to ensure a long-term viability for women's professional sports. Title IX does tend to hurt men's soccer and other men's so-called "Olympic" sports (track, swimming, basketball etc.) because there are fewer scholarships and playing opportunities available to men due to the presence of the male-dominated primary revenue sport, American Football, which is used to fund the entire university athletic department budget for both men and women. Collegiate American Football teams take up a large amount of players and related scholarships that could otherwise go to other men's sports, thereby causing the inbalance that leads to men's soccer teams not being offered by many institutions that cannot afford to offer additional balancing spots to women in another sport activity. Of course American Football could be shut down so that opportunities could be provided to men in other sports but as a practical matter then both men's and women's sports programs would be shut down due to a lack of financial support previously provided by the football program. Some really tough choices here under the existing Title IX. There really should be a look taken at amending Title IX to exclude a school's primary revenue sport (most schools this would be football, some men's basketball) from counting against player gender and scholarship counts.

  7. Kevin Johnson, January 31, 2012 at 5:06 p.m.

    Yes, the women's pro league and Title IX are completely separate issues. Ultimately I think that the MLS club system needs to take women's soccer more seriously and build it into the club system. After all, U.S. women's soccer is FAR more competitive and successful internationally than U.S. men's soccer. This is not supported and integrated to the extent that it should be by the MLS and the U.S. national soccer program. The problem is certainly not Title IX. Thank goodness for Title IX, especially in this bloated age of men's quasi-professional college sports programs. Women's sports still provides a top-level amateur development program in the spirit of athletic growth and competition. The U.S. is unique in the world in the degree to which college sports is an important developmental stage in the path to professional participation. This has, predictably, become perverted in many men's sports due to the overwhelming power of money; all too often men's major college sports are corrupt and grotesque caricatures of the purpose for which athletics should be part of college life - character-building, teamwork, competition. At least women's sports has not graduated to this bloated monetary excess that typifies men's college sports. Women's soccer deserves to be supported in the U.S. club system as well as college at least to the level of the men's programs - why think otherwise? Why should men's leagues and programs be preferentially supported. Watching the women's national team, our local university women's team, and my daughter's high school and club teams display their skills in the beautiful game is every bit as enjoyable to a fan as watching a men's game, in fact more so in my opinion.

  8. David Sirias, January 31, 2012 at 5:42 p.m.

    I'll close this out by saying that having a pro league here is necessary to keep up with the rest of the female footballing world, which is very competitive. We are NOT the world champs right now. Without a top notch league we might not be again for a long time. That's why it is essential that the Federation work with MLS to commence integration. A few MLS teams already run female semi-pro squads. These numbers need to go up. When critical mass is reached, go for it--full blown WMLS. Whichever MLS team develops the next Alex Morgan will recoup their investment in jersey sales alone.

  9. Ronnie j Salvador, January 31, 2012 at 9:52 p.m.

    Is "Jack Niner" being real?
    Womens soccer in the early 20th century was getting tens of thousands of fans per game in England. It took an act by the English FA, to ban women from the game for 50 years, to cripple womens soccer. English FA saw the popularity of the womens game as a threat to the mens game.
    Personally, the Womens FIFA World Cup games were on the whole much more interesting than any MLS game we've seen.
    I've coached both boys and girls. Girls games can be just as interesting to watch [and coach] as boys games.

  10. R2 Dad, February 1, 2012 at 12:51 a.m.

    When will the investors running the womens league start to understand the value of a derby? Just look at Portland/Seattle/Vancouver and the Texas clubs to see how embracing that one small concept has reinforced and sustained MLS.

  11. Kenneth Barr, February 1, 2012 at 6:28 a.m.

    I agree with David and others who say there needs to integrate a womens' league into the MLS corporate structure. The success of the WNBA shows that when the established league is the basis of the womens league, everybody wins. This is not men running women, this is using an established corporate structure to nurture an emerging one. As far as derbies are concerned, I am very surprised at the lack of presence in the Pacific Northwest. The interest in both Portland and Seattle is there. It needs to be tapped. Finally, the Washington Freedom club needs to be re-established. There is a prod history there that never should have been ignored by moving them to Florida.

  12. Jack Niner, February 1, 2012 at 9:05 p.m.

    To all those getting their panties in a bunch about WPS being on the verge of collapse - make the economic case for it. Don't cripple a fragile MLS with the added cost of carrying the WPS, because it feels good. And for Gods's sake, don't compare WPS to anything in Europe that's underwritten by the EPL.

  13. Paul Bryant, February 4, 2012 at 3:24 p.m.

    I'm a supporter of women's professional soccer. I was set to attend several games this summer. I live between NJ Sky Blue and the Philadelphia team. Five teams is not enough to have a league. Eight to 10 teams should be the minimum for a WPS league. Until the league can put together a business plan to support a proper league, they should "banrstorm" around the country so the women can display their talent. A partnership with MLS would appear to be a viable solution.

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