SBD/Issue 179/Franchises

WPS St. Louis Athletica Fold Operations, Effective Immediately

 

WPS Thursday announced St. Louis Athletica are shutting down operations because the team does not have the necessary funds to operate for the '10 season. The decision was made after a review of the situation done together with interested parties, and alternatives suggested included WPS covering the funding shortfall for the Athletica's last two player payrolls. WPS will re-make the remaining '10 schedule for a seven-team league, and Athletica players will be available to other WPS teams as free agents beginning Tuesday (Athletica). Athletica's lead investors, Sanjeev and Heemal Vaid, recently stopped providing funds for the team, throwing it into financial disarray. Athletica is the second WPS team to fold since the league launched last year. The L.A. Sol ceased operations before the start of the '10 season (Tripp Mickle, SportsBusiness Journal).

LEFT HIGH AND DRY: In St. Louis, Tom Timmermann notes the Vaids joined the organization last year after the team lost "at least $2 million in their first season, substantially more than" Founder Jeff Cooper expected, and they "were responsible for funding of the teams and day-to-day operations." But for "reasons unclear, in early May the Vaids stopped paying the teams' bills and soon thereafter," Heemal, who was running the club, "returned to England." Cooper said, "The termination of St. Louis Athletica is a painful outcome from the funding shortfalls and ultimate default by the investors who had the obligation to fund and operate the team on a day-to-day basis. ... The investors who defaulted on a contract to fund Athletica through this season and beyond broke a promise to a league, team, players and a community." Timmermann notes the Athletica's "on-field success wasn't matched in the stands." The team's average attendance of 3,833 last season ranked fifth in the league, and the average attendance of 3,027 this season ranked last in the league (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 5/28).

'10 WPS ATTENDANCE TO DATE
TEAM
ATTENDANCE
Boston Breakers
5,250
Atlanta Beat
5,180
Washington Freedom
4,753
Chicago Red Stars
4,638
Sky Blue FC
4,119
Philadelphia Independence
3,898
FC Gold Pride
3,304
St. Louis Athletica
3,027

BLOW TO LEAGUE: FANHOUSE.com's Michelle Smith wrote though WPS was "happy to have survived its first season in a tough economy" last year, that "optimism took a major hit" with Athletica's folding. WPS Commissioner Tonya Antonucci in a statement said, "It's incredibly difficult to lose a team in mid-season like this. We looked at a few options as a league together with our Board and U.S. Soccer, but the operational hurdles and finances just didn't work out." Smith wrote Athletica's folding is a "big setback for the young league, which lost its cornerstone Los Angeles Sol franchise in the offseason" (FANHOUSE.com, 5/27). In DC, Steve Goff wrote, "Let the league's damage control begin" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 5/27). Philadelphia Independence Owner & CEO David Halstead said that he "still was satisfied with the direction of his team and the league." Halstead: "I'm disappointed but glad the entire league is structured so we are all independent businesses and separating operating entities. We are full-steam ahead and have a solid plan for 2010 and beyond and are confident with it" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 5/28).

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