SBD/May 21, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Women's Professional Soccer Folds After Three Seasons Of Low Attendance, Ratings

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The five remaining WPS owners announced all operations are suspended permanently
WPS officially folded after three seasons on Friday, with the remaining five owners announcing that "all operations were suspended permanently," according to Beau Dure of ESPNW.com. The league in January canceled the '12 season, "at the time hoping to return next year." Atlanta Beat Owner and WPS Chair T. Fitz Johnson said, "We sincerely regret having to take this course of action." The "last two WPS employees" -- CEO Jennifer O'Sullivan and CFO Kristina Hentschel -- departed earlier this month (ESPNW.com, 5/18). In N.Y., Nina Mandell wrote while WPS "suffered from bad television ratings and attendance, its momentum seemed to come to a screeching halt after terminating the franchise rights" of magicJack Owner Dan Borislow, who had battled the league in a "costly legal battle." WPS began with seven teams in '09 (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 5/19).

HELP FROM ABOVE
: In Georgia, William Bretherton wrote, "Although the league pointed to litigation being the primary issue for terminating operations, several other factors seemed to contribute to its demise." Borislow "believes that a lack of aid from the U.S. Soccer Federation was a contributing factor." Borislow: "This is the biggest women’s sport in the U.S., and for them to continue to (give) a couple million per year is less than a drop in the bucket. ... If you have to point fingers at somebody, it’s not the players, it’s not the owners -- the federation should help come up with a better business model and contribute to it." Bretherton noted in addition to the recession and rocky relations with the USSF, other factors contributing to WPS' downfall were "porous attendance prior to the Women's World Cup, high overhead costs relative to the league's respective teams' total revenues and overall problems with the league's business model" (MARIETTA DAILY JOURNAL, 5/19).

PLAYERS WEIGH IN: Former Beat MF Carli Lloyd said, "We just need to get investors that are all on the same page." She added, "I don't think the pay can be as glamorous as it has been in the (WPS). Maybe partnering with (Major League Soccer) would be beneficial, like the WNBA does with the NBA" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 5/19). In a special to the N.Y. TIMES, former Sky Blue FC MF Yael Averbuch wrote, "As a player who was fortunate to participate in the inaugural season of the league in 2009, I can’t help but feel ... that all of us involved feel a sense of failure." She added, "But I differentiate between a 'successful' and 'sustainable' league. WPS was not sustainable, but it was successful in many ways." Averbuch: "We can place blame, but bottom line: it is extremely hard (if not next to impossible) to build a league from nothing, have individuals fronting large sums of money, and make it sustainable." Averbuch wrote, "There is a dedicated fan base, dedicated team owners and dedicated players in this country. ... Women's soccer will be here, just in a different form" (NYTIMES.com, 5/18).

WHAT'S NEXT? ESPNW.com's Dure wrote, "The bottom line from all parties: Women's Professional Soccer is dead; long live professional women's soccer." Three former WPS clubs are playing in the WPSL Elite League this season, which "has a mix of pro teams and high level amateur teams." The USL W-League "has had pro teams in the past, and the league is revving up its effort for a pro division next season." USL President Tim Holt said, "W-Pro is being developed to offer an economically viable and sustainable model for professional women's soccer in the United States and Canada." Bure wrote the W-League and WPSL "don't have a good relationship with each other" (ESPNW.com, 5/18).
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