SBD/Issue 132/Leagues & Governing Bodies

WPS Launches In Effort To Carve Niche In Sporting Landscape

The inaugural season of the WPS kicks off Sunday and success for the league will be "simply existing," as the league's "dedication to realistic goals and commitment to the long term will be tested ... as companies cut back on sponsorships and families' disposable incomes shrink," according to Rachel Cohen of the AP. WPS Chicago Red Stars President & CEO Peter Wilt: "My fellow owners and I recognize that, operationally, we will take some hits. We're not expecting to be profitable in the short term. ... Our definition of success is not 10,000 fans a game, or being on 'SportsCenter' every night, or even on the front pages of newspapers." Cohen noted WPS execs "have seen what happens when lofty expectations outpace the ability to survive day to day" with the defunct WUSA. But St. Louis Athletica Owner Jeff Cooper said WUSA "gets a bit of a bad rap because it didn't survive." Cooper: "I would say from the things I've been able to work out that they got nine out of 10 things correct. Just the one thing they got wrong was the financing of the league." WPS Commissioner Tonya Antonucci has said that teams "can be successful if they average 4,000-5,000 fans over the 10 home games on their schedules." And when Antonucci "talks about the business side of the WPS, there's no embarrassment to acknowledge that the business model in many ways is more minor league baseball than MLB." Antonucci "wonders if the economy will even help draw some fans, who may go to a soccer match instead of that [MLB] game to save money" (AP, 3/26).

LONG TIME COMING: Antonucci said the idea of postponing the inaugural season due to the economic downturn was "not even on the table." Antonucci: "Is this the right model? Yes. Are the conditions ideal? No." But she added that WPS organizers and investors "have been building the league for 3 1/2 years, so the money is already in hand," and the league is "hoping to capitalize on whatever momentum remains" from the U.S. women's national team's gold medal at the Beijing Olympics in August. Meanwhile, in S.F., Tom FitzGerald notes WPS "will add Philadelphia and probably Atlanta next year," and Antonucci said that there are "discussions with groups in Vancouver, Denver and Dallas." But she insisted that the league "won't copy the WUSA's ruinous policy of expanding too fast and spending too much" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 3/27).

TOUGH ODDS TO OVERCOME: YAHOO SPORTS' Martin Rogers wrote it is a "case of now or never" for WPS and the "odds appear to be stacked against it." The league "will need smarts, innovation and a healthy slice of luck to smooth its early passage." WPS needs to "establish itself as clearly the best women's league in the world with all of the game's leading international stars, and the on-field product must be good enough to keep the television stations, sponsors and crowds interested." WPS also "must not allow itself to be swept away by the tough U.S. sports market." With sponsorship funds and public disposable income "drying up rapidly, there has arguably never been a more difficult financial environment in which to start a fresh sports league." If WPS can "go where WUSA couldn't and get past Year 3, then it has a legitimate chance of surviving, if not thriving." If the league "maintains a sensible and careful approach, there is no reason why it cannot carve out its own niche" (, 3/26).

GETTING CONNECTED: USA TODAY's Beau Dure noted WPS is "reaching fans with technology that didn't exist when the WUSA closed down." Antonucci is "happy to see her league's Facebook page near its pre-launch goal of 10,000 fans, and selected players will be using Twitter during the inaugural game." Antonucci said the league is "considering endorsing" Twitter use "for the entire season based on feedback from the inaugural match" (USA TODAY, 3/26).

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