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Sol Shines No More: Miami's WNBA Team Formally Closes Shop
Published December 2, 2002
The Heat Group and the WNBA formally announced Wednesday that after the Sol's operating agreement with the league expired, the organization decided not to assume ownership of the team (Heat). In Palm Beach, Jamey Eisenberg wrote the Heat Group "did not feel [the Sol] could operate under the WNBA's recent restructuring." The league will "assume control of the franchise, with a move to a new city the most likely possibility." Heat Group President of Business Operations Eric Woolworth said that the South FL market is "saturated with pro teams," and that the Sol "does not have a corporate base as large as other WNBA cities," including N.Y., L.A. and Houston. Woolworth: "Most of the sports teams in this market work very hard to get national corporate dollars for support, and that's difficult for us with the Sol." Eisenberg noted that the Sol is "believed to have never turned a profit," and Woolworth acknowledged, "We have suffered losses." It is estimated that the Heat Group spent about $2M a year on the Sol, including coaches' salaries, players' housing, car rental, travel and food expenses. The league paid players' salaries (PALM BEACH POST, 11/28). In Ft. Lauderdale, Sharon Robb cited team officials as saying that the Sol lost $7.5M since its inception in '00. The officials said that a "lack of corporate support and an added $1[M] worth of players salaries the Sol would have to pay made it fiscally unworkable to take over ownership of the team." While the WNBA's investment banking team has valued each franchise at $10M, "there was one interested unnamed party" to purchase the Sol, "but he declined to purchase the team and keep it in Miami" (SUN-SENTINEL, 11/28). Woolworth said that attendance, which averaged 8,828 last season, "was not a factor" in the move to cease operations. In Miami, Marissa Silvera reported season-ticket holders were "shocked and upset by the news." Heat VP/Sports Media Relations Tim Donovan said that refunds will be given for season-ticket deposits (MIAMI HERALD, 11/28). The Sol ranked seventh in the 16-team league in attendance in '02 (THE DAILY).
COULD IT HAVE WORKED? Sol execs said that they "worked all fall to figure out how they could make the ... team a success in Miami, but the numbers from attendance to sponsorship dollars just didn't add up." Woolworth, on the WNBA's new ownership structure, under which teams are owned individually: "I think that's a model that will probably work very well for the league in New York and L.A. and Houston and Cleveland and cities that have good corporate bases. I think that's a model that, ultimately in Miami, is not going to work" (Sarah Talalay, Ft. Lauderdale SUN-SENTINEL, 11/28). ABC Radio's Keith Olbermann: "The WNBA's failure to grow is easily explained. Instead of selling a slicker version of the women's college game in which passing and teamwork are at a premium, the WNBA has for some reason emphasized physicality, and given the impression that the dream of each of its women is to play against men" (ABC Radio, 11/27). Meanwhile, in Ft. Lauderdale, Dave Joseph wrote that 99.9% of the "general population didn't care about the Sol, and 90.9 percent probably didn't even know they existed." More Joseph: "The Sol was nice, but, like the [MLS] Fusion and Bobcats and women's football, not necessary" (SUN-SENTINEL, 11/28). In Miami, Linda Robertson wrote, "In concept, the Sol should have worked, with affordable games for families who can't spend $200 on Heat, Dolphins or Panthers events and who don't want to drive home from rain-delayed Marlins games at 11 p.m. ... The WNBA season was in the dead of summer, when there's nothing to do ... and the humidity sends us tromping like zombies into air-conditioned shelter" (MIAMI HERALD, 11/28). A MIAMI HERALD editorial, on the Sol: "This is a sad loss and not just for the value that the Sol provided in sports entertainment during its three seasons. The team's players also sent a great message to girls and young women about the value of competitive sports and teamwork" (MIAMI HERALD, 12/1).