Sunday, November 25, 2012

Women's Soccer League

A New Women’s Soccer League Is Announced, Brings A Team To The DC Area.  Yeah!

(By Richard Goodman, 25 November 2012)

My friend, Elizabeth, just twigged me to the fact that a women’s professional soccer league was being started and that there would be a team in DC.  That was great news because I like soccer, I like women and I like watching women play soccer but I was a little confused about a couple of things.  First of all, there was already a professional women’s soccer league in existence wasn’t there?  I was pretty sure there was because I have souvenirs from the inaugural league game when Mia Hamm of the Washington Freedom faced off against Brandi Chastain’s San Francisco Devil Rays. 

Well, that was actually the first league.  The Women’s United Soccer Association (W-USA!  W-USA!) folded after three seasons because the league ran out of money.  The live games were moderately attended and broadcast audiences were negligible so sustaining operations chewed up all the cash reserves.  Still, those three seasons, during which I was a season ticket holder, provided me some great memories.  I got ecstatic watching Mia Hamm weave through opposing defenders like a shark moving through a school of fish, the focus and determination to win plainly visible on her face.  Then when Abby Wambach joined the team, the competition just withered.  Mia knifed through the defenders and Abby trampled down those still standing after Mia’s attack.  For balance, there was Skylar playing her little heart out for the Freedom’s backfield.  Even off the field there was fun to be had.  The stadium music was sometimes wildly inappropriate, with the best example being Motley Crue’s strip club anthem “Girls, Girls Girls” getting heavy rotation and one game featured an appearance and autograph session by the stars of the movie “Bend It Like Beckham”.  Yeah, I saw Keira Knightley, back in the day.  In the third and final year, Washington won it all- tearing through the regular season and then capturing the championship.  That was an exhilarating season for me.  It provided many of my fondest soccer memories- I loved it as much as I hated last year’s crushing Women’s World Cup defeat.
The second league came about two years after the first one ended.  Again, Abby Wambach was back with the Washington Freedom, which was thrilling.  My only problem with the Women’s Professional Soccer league, aside from the fact that the league name sounded more like a description than an organization, was that they played at the spiffy new SoccerPlex.  In Maryland.  How can it be a Washington team if they play in Maryland.  Worse than that, it wasn’t a venue anywhere near Metro.  I had really enjoyed taking Metro in to RFK and watching games there.  I didn’t see many WPS games as a result because I hate driving so go to the Maryland suburbs to watch a game wasn’t that appealing and the broadcast schedule was much worse than what the WUSA had so I pretty much gave up on watching women’s soccer, aside from the World Cup and  Olympics games and the qualifiers leading up to those.  To make matters worse, the “DC” team packed up and moved to Florida to become the magicJack.  Yeah, as in the phone service gadget.  That’s the all-time stupidest team name and yes, I know there is a team called the Red Bulls. 

After moving, the team ran into big problems with their owner who decided the team didn’t need coaches or trainers or organizational structure or advertising revenue.  When the WPS league owners booted him out, he sued them and caused such a financial and administrative nightmare that the league folded.  Further down in this post are two articles info about that fiasco.  So a second league folded although I hadn’t realized that the second one was gone for good until I started looking for information about the new league that was announced this week.  Apparently, the temporary hiatus that I was aware of for the WPS was actually a euphemism for “So long and thanks for all the fish!”  This kind of killed my spirit for soccer, particularly since DC United had been simultaneously going through a long stretch of disappointments and mediocrity, so I kind of tuned out to the sport and focused on tennis instead.

Now there is supposed to be a new league starting play next summer.  This makes me a bit excited again.  Who will be in the player pool?  Will key players be assigned to teams or will everything work through drafts?  Can the DC team get Abby Wambach, please?  Will the teams play in the same stadiums as the professional men’s league teams, which has always been my hope.  Since all the announced cities have MLS teams, that would make sense and could help reduce costs and marketing expenses.  Men’s and women’s doubleheaders!  So I started checking the news reports for details about the new league.  There is not much info out there right now but a lot of what is available is compiled below.  It sounds like the lack of funding that sunk the previous leagues will not be an issue this time around and hopefully they can arrange for a decent broadcast  schedule because from the early reports, my big issue with the Washington DC team in this league will be the fact that they won’t be in DC!  They will be in Maryland, at the SoccerPlex.  Sigh…..


D.C. Will Have Team In New Women's Soccer League

(By Baltimore Sun, 22 November 2012)

Undeterred by two failed attempts in the past decade, soccer organizers announced Wednesday plans for a first-division national pro women's league starting in the spring. Washington is among eight teams, joining Boston, Chicago, Kansas City, New Jersey, Portland, Rochester and Seattle. The league will feature approximately 24players from the gold medal-winning U.S. national team, 16 from Canada's program (2012 bronze medal) and 12 from Mexico, the third-best team in CONCACAF. The Washington franchise will be overseen by the same group that has operated D.C. United Women, a two-year-old second-tier club based at Maryland SoccerPlex in Montgomery County.
That team will continue to play in the W-League as a reserve team to the new pro squad. Neither will use D.C. United in its nickname. (United had licensed its name but didn't have a formal relationship with the women's operation.) The first-division squad will play in the new league at the SoccerPlex. Season tickets will go on sale next week. The U.S. Soccer Federation will operate the unnamed league and receive financial assistance from the Canadian and Mexican governing bodies. Stadiums and private investors were not disclosed. Each team will play 22 regular-season matches.


Professional Women’s Soccer League To Include Team From Seattle

(By Nick Eaton, Seattle Pi, 22 November 2012)

On Wednesday, the U.S. Soccer Federation announced the creation of a new women’s professional league, which will feature eight teams including one from Seattle.  Seattle’s newest soccer club does not have a name yet, but will be a founding member of the new professional league, along with teams from Portland, Boston, Chicago, western New York, New Jersey, Kansas City and Washington, D.C. It wasn’t immediately clear what the new team would mean for Seattle’s existing semi-pro women’s soccer team, Sounders Women. 

Bill Predmore, president of the Seattle-based digital marketing agency POP, will own the Seattle team.  “We are thrilled that the (federation) has selected our club to represent Seattle in the new league,” Predmore said in a statement. “In our proposal we articulated a clear mission: to become one of the best women’s soccer clubs in the world. We believe the fans in Seattle deserve nothing less and we look forward to earning their support over the coming weeks and months.”  The preseason is expected to start in March 2013 with a 22-game regular season kicking off in April. The season format will be triple-round-robin with the league’s other seven teams, plus one bonus match and a fourth bonus match against Portland. There are expected to be 11 home games for each team.

Even with the city’s love of soccer soaring after Seattle Sounders FC reached its first Western Conference Final this fall, the soccer scene could be getting a little crowded here. The new club will be the third professional soccer team in Seattle and the second professional women’s team including the Sounders Women.  The new women’s soccer league will attempt to fill a void left by the dissolution of Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) in May. Predmore told in August that the new Seattle franchise will not be a rebranded version of the Sounders Women of the USL W-League, as Seattle Sounders FC of the MLS was a rebranding of the old Seattle Sounders of the USL.  Predmore said he has been a fan of women’s soccer “for a long time,” and when he heard rumblings that a new league was in its infancy, he was eager to get involved.

The Sounders Women made a huge splash this past season with the signing of U.S. National Team superstars Hope Solo, Alex Morgan, Sydney Leroux and Megan Rapinoe as they trained for the London Olympics. But the Sounders Women will remain in the W-League after the club’s proposal to join the U.S. Soccer league was denied.  Over the past few months, Solo made clear her displeasure at the lack of an elite professional league in the U.S. In August, Predmore made it equally clear that the new professional league hopes to woo Solo and the rest of the national team’s stars.  “Right now, there’s literally dozens of amateur clubs that are out there,” he said then. “The idea is to get the best of the best together in this new league, and I think the argument is that the best players are going to want to play against the best.”

The new club will have ties to the Sounders Women, however, in former Sounders Women general manager Amy Carnell, who will join the new team in a senior leadership position, according to a statement released by Predmore on Wednesday.  “Congratulations to Bill with the new team and league,” Sounders Women CEO Lane Smith said in a separate statement. “Seattle is a fantastic market for soccer and the Seattle Sounders Women wish them the best in the upcoming inaugural season. With this new team and the Seattle Sounders Women’s continued representation in the long-established W-league, Seattle soccer fans will be blessed with the opportunity to attend many high-level women’s soccer matches.”


New Professional Women's Soccer League Announced

(By Charles Poladian, International Business Times, 21 November 2012)

 The United States Soccer Federation announced Wednesday the formation of a new professional women's soccer league. The league will feature eight teams in the United States, Canada and Mexico.  The announcement was made by USSF President Sunil Gulati, according to Reuters. This will be the third attempt at creating a professional women's soccer league. The first attempt at a pro women's league was the Women's United Soccer Association, which started in 2000 but closed its doors in 2003. The most recent was Women's Professional Soccer, which folded in May 2012 after just three seasons. The WPS featured Brazil's Marta, United States national team captain Hope Solo and Abby Wambach.

While the previous two leagues failed due to financial problems, Gulati promised that this one  will be more viable thanks to a shared economic plan.  According to ProSoccerTalk, USSF will providing funding for office and administrative costs. Player salaries will be split among the USSF, Canadian Federation and Mexican Federation. Each federation will be responsible for its national team players. There will be 24 U.S. Women's National Team members, 16 Canadians and at least 12 Mexicans.  Most importantly, the cost-sharing among the three biggest soccer nations in the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) should provide the league with some stability, according to Gulati. The federations have also considered other factors to reduce cost, include choosing more affordable stadiums and reducing travel costs by having teams located closer to one another.

Another important incentive for the professional women's soccer league's success will extend beyond just monetary growth and the sport's growth, according to ProSoccerTalk. PST notes the U.S, Mexico and Canada all need a way to train new players for the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup. The U.S. is a women's soccer powerhouse with Canada close behind. Mexico is developing its women's soccer program and would definitely want a place to nurture talent. 

The league will kick off in March. The eight U.S. teams will be from Washington, D.C, Boston, Chicago, New Jersey, Kansas City, Seattle, Portland and Western New York, notes Reuters.  The season will last 22 games, according to The Washington Post. There have been few details released, including basics like the league's name, playoff structure, any sponsors or investors, team names and stadiums. The Washington Post reports that the D.C. women's team will play in the Maryland SoccerPlex, with ticket sales starting next week.



Third Time The Charm? Another Women’s Pro Soccer League To Launch After 2 Previous Failed

(By Associated Press, 21 November 2012)

 Another pro women’s soccer league will try to succeed where two previous attempts have failed.  The currently unnamed eight-team league will launch in the spring, U.S. Soccer announced Wednesday. The clubs will be located in Boston, Chicago, Kansas City, New Jersey, Portland, Seattle, western New York and Washington.  The sport has repeatedly shown it can draw large numbers of fans in the stands and on TV for the World Cup and Olympics, but women’s soccer has yet to find a foothold as a pro sport in the U.S.
WUSA folded in 2003 after three seasons, failing to capitalize on the success of the 1999 World Cup.  More recently, Women’s Professional Soccer folded this year, also after three seasons.  With a vested interest in ensuring national team players have somewhere to play in the years leading up to the 2015 World Cup, U.S. Soccer is stepping in this time to seek to create a viable economic model. The teams will still be privately owned, but the federation will pay for the salaries of 24 national team players.  U.S. Soccer also will fund the league’s front offices.  “We are subsidizing the private sector here to try to make it sustainable, to try to make the investments necessary by the private sector smaller,” U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati said on a conference call.

The Canadian and Mexican federations also will pay the salaries of some of their players, with the same goal of ensuring their national teams are well-prepared for the World Cup. That means each club won’t have to spend on salaries for up to seven players.  “We won’t start off with the sort of deficits that we started the last two leagues with,” Boston Breakers managing partner Michael Stoller.  The league will try to save money compared with the WPS in other ways, as well. Gulati said teams might sign fewer elite international players. Clubs will play in smaller stadiums to lower operating costs and do less marketing.  “What we need is a sustainable model: less hype, better performance,” Gulati said. “The hype will come if we have the performance.”  U.S. Soccer could have held a residency program for its national team players, as it has done at times in the past. Gulati said new coach Tom Sermanni and other officials believe the best way for players to improve is by competing in a league.  The federation’s involvement will also allow it to make sure the league’s schedule doesn’t conflict with national team activities. 
U.S. Soccer has a handshake agreement with one national sponsor and is looking into a potential television deal, Gulati said. He expected some players would essentially be semi-pro, joining a team while working part-time or going to grad school, saving the squads more money on salary.  But with star power guaranteed from players on the Olympic gold medalist U.S. team, Stoller insisted: “This is a true professional league and standard of play.  The one thing that has absolutely not changed is the teams’ commitment to professional training and professional environment for the players,” he said.


WPS Shutdown Might Mark The End Of U.S. Women’s Pro Soccer Efforts

(By Steven Goff, Washington Post, January 30, 2012)

Well, it happened again: Just as American women’s soccer was enjoying the limelight, it was jolted by another major setback on the professional front.  In the fall of 2003, with the Women’s World Cup weeks away, Mia Hamm and the sport’s greatest generation were sidelined by the demise of the three-year-old Women’s United Soccer Association. On Monday, the day after the U.S. national team celebrated an Olympic berth by hammering Canada by four goals in the CONCACAF regional final in Vancouver, Women’s Professional Soccer announced it was suspending operations after three seasons.  Two strikes and you’re out? Perhaps.

League officials and investors say they will reorganize and hope to relaunch in 2013, but with each failure, the prospects of a top-tier women’s league succeeding in this country dims.  WPS closed shop less than two months after the U.S. Soccer Federation granted it provisional sanctioning as a Division I pro league. The USSF agreed to it even though the league didn’t meet D-1 standards. The federation was inclined to reject the request, but in the best interests of women’s soccer, threw the league a lifeline. (Without sanctioning, a league doesn’t have access to game officials, among other issues, and imperils the standing of its players.)  So things seemed on course for a five-club league this summer and, under terms of the agreement with the USSF, a six-team circuit in 2013 and eight the following year.

But soon there were signs WPS might not even make it to opening day. The Insider reported last week that several U.S. national team players, including Hope Solo, were not going to play in the league this year. WPS believes it has plenty to offer fans beyond Solo, Abby Wambach and others, but realistically, the foundation of support isn’t strong enough in the league’s fragile development to thrive without marquee American players. 

WPS was also hampered by legal action – and the subsequent financial strain – brought by Dan Borislow, the notorious MagicJack boss, who went to court after being booted from the league last season for violating terms of ownership.  “I’ve only been onboard 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.”

Even without the Borislow distraction, one has to wonder about the lasting power of women’s pro soccer. In the big picture, women’s soccer is still an “Olympic sport” – meaning it captures the attention of the general public every few years for major international competition (in this case, the Olympics and World Cup).  It’s the same for Olympic swimming and speed skating: The public cares very deeply and genuinely when national pride and gold medals are at stake but otherwise isn’t captivated. Wambach and Solo, meet Michael Phelps and Apolo Anton Ohno.
America celebrates her Olympians, and the absence of an affiliation with a pro team or league doesn’t diminish their accomplishments. Solo and Wambach are as popular (more popular?) in this country as Landon Donovan, who performed World Cup heroics and has won four domestic pro league titles in MLS. Clint Dempsey is American soccer’s most accomplished export, scoring goals regularly for Fulham in the English Premier League, but he only wishes he were as well-known here as overseas in order to secure an invitation to “Dancing With the Stars.” (No, not really. He’s couldn’t care less. But you get the point.)  On a daily-weekly-monthly basis, women’s soccer struggles to find an audience and sustain a business. To repeat, this is not a reflection of the the individual players, who are some of the most committed, caring and community-oriented athletes I’ve ever covered. It’s more a reflection of women’s soccer’s inability to bust out of the “Olympic sport” genre.

So what happens now? It’s unclear where the U.S. national team players will land this spring. Most are under contract with the USSF and could enter into long-term residency of sorts to gear up for the Olympics. Some could head to Europe. Some might play for Borislow’s barnstorming team in Florida. When asked if that were in the works, he told me: “I don’t want to speak for any of the players. Getting [t]hem happy and to the Olympics should be all of our goals.”  Said USSF President Sunil Gulati: “We have had discussions with the [U.S.] coaching staff and will be increasing our programming over the next six months.” 

A gold medal would help the WPS’s cause in attracting new sponsors and investors for 2013 – or so the theory goes. After all, the buzz created by last year’s Women’s World Cup in Germany offered only short-term dividends.  So after watching franchises in Los Angeles, St. Louis, Chicago and the Bay Area fold within two years, the Washington Freedom move to Florida, MagicJack implode and then Monday’s punch in the gut, it’s unclear whether Solo, Wambach and Co. will have the opportunity to perform in a top-level U.S. league ever again.  While that would be disappointing to aspiring players and American soccer in general, it reinforces the fact that pro sports are a business, not a cause. And if the business isn’t working, the broader cause will suffer.



WPS Shuts Down Magicjack Franchise: A Brief, Tortured History

(By L.E. Eisenmenger, National Soccer Examiner, October 27, 2011)

 WPS announced that the Board of Governors of Women's Professional Soccer voted to terminate the controversial magicJack franchise, owned by Dan Borislow and based in Boca Raton, Florida. WPS "has plans to make 2012 the most competitive and successful season to date," that statement confirmed.  Although WPS appears to be left with only five franchises - Philadelphia Independence, Boston Breakers, Western New York Flash, Atlanta Beat and Sky Blue FC - 2012 expansion can be expected. At the end of July, Independence owner David Halstead told Examiner that WPS was in talks with five or six potential West Coast markets and that five MLS markets - Seattle, Dallas, Vancouver, Portland and Toronto - had interest in fielding a team.

Borislow purchased the Washington Freedom in November 2010, moved them to Florida and rebranded them as magicJack after his Internet telephone device. The commercial, oddly capitalized name immediately jarred the sensibilities of soccer fans and the move offended longtime Washington, DC supporters.  Borislow paid his players more than the other teams could afford, but failed to hire a staff or trainer, maintain a functional website and eventually released his coach and began to act as coach himself, without an assistant. After he failed to meet WPS contractual obligations by not displaying sponsor field boards, allowing post-game press access to players or submitting match video to the League, on May 14, WPS sanctioned Borislow for breach of contract and inappropriate conduct. The magicJack had a point deducted from the standings and was billed for the League arranging vendors to conduct the necessary work.

In an infamous email to Jenna Pel at All White Kit, Borislow responded by referring to WPS executives as "infidels" and the vendors as "organized crime."  On August 3, WPS attempted to terminate magicJack at the end of the season for failure to meet contractal obligations and Borislow responded by asking a Florida court to bar the League from that action.  "Mr. Borislow has failed to honor his commitments to the detriment of the League, our players and our partners, said the League statement.  From unprofessional and disparaging treatment of his players to failure to pay his bills, Mr. Borislow's actions have been calculated to tarnish the reputation of the League and damage the League's business relationships.  Mr. Borislow's many contractual breaches more than justify any decision by the League to terminate his franchise."  Borislow responded with inflammatory rhetoric. 

After the formal complaint from players, Borislow was banned from the sidelines. Abby Wambach, returning from Women's World Cup Germany, stepped up to the role of player-coach and led magicJack to the WPS Semifinal, where they were defeated 2-0 by Philadelphia Independence.  Seven prominent U.S. Women's National Team players - Hope Solo, Jill Loyden, Christie Rampone, Becky Sauerbrunn, Shannon Boxx, Lindsay Tarpley and Abby Wambach - were rostered by magicJack and now will be looking for new teams.


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