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SBD/Issue 9/Leagues & Governing Bodies
WPS At Crossroads With Second Season Nearing Conclusion
Published September 23, 2010
|Antonucci Says Losing L.A. Sol Before
Start Of Season Was Tough For WPS
The WPS Championship kicks off Sunday at Cal State East Bay, but "what the league will look like next year is anyone's guess," according to Tom FitzGerald of the S.F. CHRONICLE. League supporters insist that "brighter days are ahead," but the "numbers are not encouraging." Two of the league's top teams -- the L.A. Sol and St. Louis Athletica -- "folded this year and average attendance dipped from 4,500 in its inaugural season of 2009 to 3,600 this year." Outgoing Commissioner Tonya Antonucci estimated that WPS clubs "need an average attendance of 5,000." She believes the figure is "absolutely possible." Antonucci said that she "hoped her resignation as commissioner, effective at the end of the season, wouldn't be construed as a blow to the league's credibility." Antonucci: "The model can work. It needs improved economic conditions." She added, "The league is going through a transition, with less emphasis on the national league office. The owners are taking a more active role in setting a strategic agenda for the league." FitzGerald noted WPS General Counsel Anne-Marie Eileraas, who will become WPS CEO upon Antonucci's departure, "will inherit a difficult situation." The staff at WPS HQs was "slashed this year, and some executives took pay cuts." Antonucci said that she "voluntarily worked without pay for five months earlier this year." After last season, the league also "lost its highest-drawing team" -- the Sol. Antonucci: "That was tough for me. I fought very hard with the expansion committee to find a new buyer." FitzGerald noted the WUSA "lasted three seasons" until '03, losing an estimated $100M. WPS "has tried harder to keep expenses in check, but it launched in a terrible economy last year and has been unable to land as many national sponsors as it needed" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 9/22).
SLOW GROWTH PROCESS: Antonucci said despite the loss of the Sol and Athletica, the league is still hopeful it will find "slow and steady growth." She said, "In the early years of any pro sports league, you're going to see teams sort of come and go if you will as it finds it footing and the model sort of settles in with the owners that are committed." The seven-team league is "very close to announcing Buffalo as the an eighth team to join the league for 2011." Antonucci: "We've seen tough situations with the economy, no doubt, and we've had to manage through those and adapt and continue to be efficient with our model, cut costs. We're trying to make the teams stronger so that they can continue. ... It's about generating awareness among fans, growing the fan base" ("Chronicle Live," Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, 9/22).
WHY THE RUSH? WPS Boston Breakers coach Tony DiCicco "criticized the scheduling" of the team's WPS Semifinals match against the Philadelphia Independence tonight. The winner faces a "cross-country trip with about 60 hours of recovery time" before Sunday's championship. DiCicco: "It's tough for either team to travel to the West Coast for Sunday morning. ... I understand the TV implications, but don't you want your showcase game, your championship game, to be among your best games of the season? I personally think it was a big mistake by the league" (BOSTON GLOBE, 9/23).