New women's league model: less hype, better performance

[U.S. SOCCER] U.S. Soccer has taken the plunge and announced plans to operate an eight-team women's league: four former WPS teams -- Western New York Flash, Boston Breakers, Chicago Red Stars, and Sky Blue FC -- and four teams in Washington D.C., Kansas City, Seattle, and Portland, the latter operated by Portland Timbers owner Merritt Poulson. For more on the new league's business model and its eight teams ...

“Over the last several months we have been doing a number of things, talking with some important constituencies and stakeholders in the sport, not just in the United States but internationally,” U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati said. “And I’m really very pleased with the model that we have put together.”

U.S. Soccer, the Canadian Soccer Association and Mexican soccer federation will fund the salaries of about 50 national team players. It allows the respective national teams to keep their players playing full-time and reduces the salary expenses of the eight clubs.

The new league is expected to rely less on foreign imports than the other two women's leagues did. With the salaries of U.S., Canadian and Mexican national team players paid for and without the salaries of foreign imports to take on, clubs will substantially reduce their player costs. (Most of the remaining players on their rosters are expected to earn part-time salaries.)

“What we need is a sustainable model: less hype, better performance," said Gulati. "The hype will come if we have the performance. I think immediately you’re going to see one of the best leagues in world in the sense that you’ve got three teams that have qualified for World Cups, have qualified in the last World Cup, and in the case of the U.S. obviously a multi-time medalist. I don’t think anyone who watched the [Olympic] semifinal or the fact that Canada is hosting [the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup] would argue that Canada is now one of top five teams in the world. Mexico obviously beat us in the last qualifying for the World Cup."

The yet to be named league will play 22 games in a season that will run from March-April to September-October. There are a lot unanswered questions about the league and less than five months before its launch.

"There are going to be a number of things today that we’re not prepared to finalize or confirm in terms of stadium names, or in terms of specifics of rosters," Gulati admitted. "Those things will be outlined over the days and weeks to come, but we wanted to get this news out there."

Boston. The Breakers played in WPS for three years and in the WPSL Elite last summer. After playing at Harvard Stadium for their three years in WPS, they moved to 2,500-seat Dilboy Stadium in suburban Somerville, where they sold out all seven games. Breakers managing partner Michael Stoller was one of the catalysts for the new league.

Chicago. The Red Stars played two seasons in WPS before pulling out. They played in the WPSL in 2011 and the WPSL Elite in 2012. Their WPSL home field was 3,000-seat Benedictine University Sports Complex in suburban Lisle.

Kansas City. The KC ownership group is being led by Chris Likens, his two sons Brad and Greg Likens along with Brian Budzinski.  They also operated the MISL Missouri Comets. The team name will be FC Kansas City.

Portland. Portland will play a pivotal role in the league. Poulson, whoheads the Portland ownership group, gives the league a high-profile soccer owner. "The Timbers are, and always will be, steadfastly committed to growing the sport of soccer in our region at all levels," he said, "and championing a new women’s league and operating a team here in Soccer City, USA, will be an important part of that growth." The Portland area is home to the two biggest soccer manufacturers, Nike and adidas, a not unimportant consideration for a league in need of a uniform deal. Finally, the University of Portland was home to such U.S. and Canadian stars as Megan Rapinoe, Christine Sinclair and Sophie Schmidt.

Seattle. A group led by Bill Predmore, president of the Seattle-based digital marketing agency POP, will own the Seattle team, having beaten out the Seattle Sounders Women (which featured Hope Solo, Alex Morgan, Sydney Leroux and Rapinoe on their team in the 2012 W-League). Amy Carnell, the former general manager of the Sounders Women, has joined the new Seattle team.
Sky Blue FC. The New Jersey club spent three seasons in WPS but sat out 2012. (It did take a team on tour of Japan.)

Washington, D.C. The group that operated the W-League's D.C. United Women will run the new Washington women's team. Like the Seattle Sounders Women, D.C. United Women had no ownership ties to the MLS club of the same name. The new Washington team will have a different name.

Western New York. The Flash won three titles in three consecutive years playing in three different leagues: W-League in 2009, WPSL in 2010 and WPSL Elite in 2011. Why not four titles in a row in four different leagues? The Flash's roots are in Buffalo, where the Sahlen family that owns the team runs a meat packing company, but it now plays in Rochester.

17 comments about "New women's league model: less hype, better performance".
  1. Ivan Mark Radhakrishnan, November 23, 2012 at 8:47 a.m.

    The new league is expected to rely less on foreign imports than the other two women's leagues did - Extract


  2. Walt Pericciuoli, November 23, 2012 at 9:41 a.m.

    And what will make this league succeed that the failed women's league did not already try?Until soccer minded young men show support by showing up at women's games,the league will do no better than the past.This is true in all sports.Its' been proven that the typical ticket buying sports fan is male,and usually young under age 45.In general,women simply do not support professional sports.Of course,if US Soccer decides to sponsor the league,it will last as long as they want to keep pouring money down a hole.By the way folks,that's our money they'll be spending;that is for those of you who are members of any soccer association affiliated with US Soccer.

  3. Doug Martin, November 23, 2012 at 10:32 a.m.

    22 Games... i.e. 11 home dates to generate income, with a 5,000 attendance average @ 12.00 ticke average ( the price of a movie ) maximum revenue per team $660,000 over year, with a player pool of 25 per team, just what is the expected salary kick in by the National Association ?

    A pro coach paid full time has to be in the range of 50 to 100k per team ?

    25 players at a minimum wage of 20k per year is 625k.

    Gulati, and the others are deluded to think the clubs will be viable just because of salary subsidy that might total 15K per sponsored player X 10 per team or reduction of 150k on above salary number.

    Add on office and adminstrative costs and you have a business that will need subsidy till the fan base expands and as Walt Perciuoli has stated above you get young males out to watch the game. That means the marketing has to change from selling to soccer moms and nine year olds to selling an event to people who will come 11 times a summer not once or twice.

    The schedule of course should longer with at least 16 home games to be viable.

  4. Steven McDonald, November 23, 2012 at 10:43 a.m.

    I am happy that they are getting it put together. I will take my daughters but I'm a bit disappointed that the SOUTH has been totally left out the mix. Near where I live has had Sky Blue but the venue wasn't close enough to NYC . And scheduling weekday or Sunday games seemed a bit awkward since all youth club matches for girls are 90% on Sundays. I hope they think about their target fan instead of previous do whatever they want attitude. As long as men with a gender biased negative perception(like Walt)are running soccer in the U.S. there will be struggles.

    Hopefully they have learned from the past. Paying reasonable salaries and staying with U.S. and North American players always seemed a better solution. Also, besides the EPL and Budesliga who get tons of tv money, most men's leagues are struggling financially so don't compare. MLS after
    all these years is finally showing stability and growth but not until after millions and millions of losses.

  5. Walt Pericciuoli, November 23, 2012 at 10:59 a.m.

    Steve,I am not gender biased.Just stating a truth.(2 daughters and 3 granddaughters that played or are playing)I would love to see women's soccer be successful,however unless you get a ticket buying following,the league will not survive.Ticket buying customers for ALL sports are young men.As of yet,there has been no women's professional sports leagues that have been successful in the USA.What will this league do to attract those young male fans that the past failed leagues did not do?Now,however they are gambling with our money.If US Soccer wants to subsidize women's professional soccer so that our national team players will have a place to play,fine.Just say so.Don't you think its' something that we all should be able to weigh in on?

  6. Tom Maegerle, November 23, 2012 at 11:40 a.m.

    This is why I hate comments...

    Agree to disagree, and step up for your local team if you have one. Volunteer, organize, spread the word. We have to all be pulling toward the goal, not sniping at each other. I'm disappointed Philly didn't get a team, but will volunteer for the next closest team. Third time's gotta be the charm...

  7. Steven McDonald, November 23, 2012 at 11:53 a.m.

    Yes, Walt everyone should be able to weigh in , I agree. Maybe the changes should start here with us old guys who cherish the time we spend out on the pitch with our daughters and grandaugthers . I think we should all look for solutions and not focus on problems. Maybe we should stop targeting young males, how about families and women. As far as the "Our money" argument goes, millions of girls have been playing youth soccer for decades and maybe it's time they get something back. Don't you think these girls may have been playing due the success of our WNT the last 20 years? And everytime I see WNT exhibition match, there is lots of interest. US soccer doesn't get rewards from that ?

  8. Steven McDonald, November 23, 2012 at 12:11 p.m.

    Did't mean to sound negative Tom. Just get tired of the same old excuses. As a youth coach I've seen the same issues too many times. One club wouldn't let us use SkyBlue trainers for the girls, didn't want two different training organizations.

  9. Tyler Dennis, November 23, 2012 at 12:44 p.m.

    Sorry, same old same old.

    They should create 3 or 4 regions with 4-6 and later up to 8 or 10 teams that play in those regions only. The top 2 teams in each region qualify for a Champions type league that plays nationally. Save on travel costs create more opportunity for players, coaches and playing styles... fosters more rivalry and community. Then you also get a type of promotion/relegation to play for. Gives the local clubs an opportunity to develop a higher level athlete to play for the "pro team."

    No imagination, no recipe for making it more interesting and giving people a reason to support the women's game.

  10. Steven McDonald, November 23, 2012 at 3:03 p.m.

    Agreed Ric. So Cal, DFW, North Carolina among several areas left out. Looks like the same old cities that have failed before.

  11. Allan Lindh, November 23, 2012 at 4:36 p.m.

    Cummon guys, the reason California and the South got left out is because no body of substance with real money stepped up. California is the richest state in the US, LA and Bay area have more Billionaires than soccer pitches. Find some locals with real money. For God's sake why doesn't Apple sponsor a team?

  12. Steven McDonald, November 23, 2012 at 5:36 p.m.

    yeah, one guy with "real" money turned out to be the reason why the last league went under.

  13. Eric R., November 24, 2012 at 10:51 a.m.

    I find it real interesting that so many people are so quick to say it isn't sustainable. I'll just wish them well and try to take my kids to a couple matches...

  14. Shaffie Pillay, November 24, 2012 at 1:50 p.m.

    how about trying double-header with mls games?

  15. Steven McDonald, November 24, 2012 at 9:13 p.m.

    Shaffie, Always been a good idea to me. Went to Mutiny match years ago and WNT played Australia. Very enjoyable friendly. Michelle Akers, Mia Hamm, etc. Should be an automatic idea.

  16. F. Kirk Malloy, November 25, 2012 at 8:37 a.m.

    To be viable in the long run (i.e., competitive with other sports for precious viewer dollars), women's soccer needs a new direction. Away from those periodic events like World Cup and Olympics, the women's game needs to retain fan interest. How? Change the product. Emphasize technique, speed and skill over athleticism and size. Women never will be as athletic or strong as their male counterparts. Not a judgment, just a genetic reality. So don't try to compete on athleticism or strength. However, top flight women athletes can compete on skill and technique, and produce a very interesting product. See the Japanese women's national team whose overall skill level is comparatively at the same level as the Spanish men's national team and is causing fits (see World Cup Gold Medal). In fact the Spanish men's team should set the model for all women's teams. Built around skill, stamina, team play, and quickness - and certainly not size - the Spanish men's team has dominated for the past several years and revolutionized soccer at its highest level. That style can be played by women (see Marta, all 5'4" of her), and once accepted as the model we'll see much more entertaining players and teams emerge, ones that can compete for fan interest and lead to a sustainable business model. However, it starts very young, certainly at age 10-12 when selection process begins to identify the future top flight players. Keep the quick footed, quick minded players in the game - regardless of size - and the women's game will compete in the long run. Go USA!

  17. John Pepple, November 26, 2012 at 11:38 p.m.

    The problem with the other two leagues wasn't so much expenses as getting fans into the stadium. I don't see this being addressed with this new league. It shouldn't be that hard, in a big metropolitan area, to get 10,000 young girls plus one parent into the stadium for each game, but that never seems to happen. Until that is dealt with, these leagues will never thrive.

    I would suggest starting with cheap ticket prices to see if that helps.

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