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WPS loses another team, but Freedom returns

By Steve Goff

Gold Pride FC, the Bay Area club that won the Women's Professional Soccer championship this season and featured the world's best female player, has become the third team in less than a year to fold.

Despite the on-field results and the presence of Brazilian superstar Marta, Gold Pride met the same fate as the Los Angeles Sol in January and St. Louis Athletica in May.

In addition, the Chicago Red Stars have yet to secure investors and are in danger of going under as well. They have until Dec. 15 to commit to the 2011 season. The Washington Freedom, which was also in jeopardy of folding, has apparently attracted new investors and will continue to operate next season.

While Chicago is in limbo, six clubs are set for 2011: Washington, Boston, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Sky Blue (New Jersey) and an expansion team in Buffalo-Rochester. The future, however, appears grim: Before this past season, the league's highest-profile franchise, Los Angeles, folded; six games into the schedule, St. Louis disbanded; attendance dropped to high school football levels; and late in the year, Commissioner Tonya Antonucci stepped down.

By Steve Goff  | November 16, 2010; 1:22 PM ET
Categories:  Women  | Tags:  WPS  
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Next: MLS: Best XI, expansion outlook, playoff format, MVP hint, roster size, reserve division, other notes

Comments

That's not true -- I bet high school football does better here in the South.

FIFA's goal of the year nominees are here, including videos, and that backheel we saw the other week.

Posted by: Reignking | November 16, 2010 1:41 PM | Report abuse

This is really sad. Hopefully the women can have a savior come in like Phillip Anschutz did for MLS and help them get established because it is great for kids and it is ashamed that fans don't realize what they have here as these are the best players in the world in the womens game for the most part playing right here in the states. Although the MLS has made great strides it still doesn't or is it anywhere near getting the best players in their prime playing here in the states. I hope one day it does but it does not at the moment.

Posted by: I-95Exit43 | November 16, 2010 2:05 PM | Report abuse

I was about to say, I went to every Beat game, and I've been to plenty of football games that beat Beat games in attendance by long shots.


That said, I look forward to next season with the team, and some friends joining in after going to a game or two this season.

Posted by: JacobfromAtlanta-ish | November 16, 2010 2:06 PM | Report abuse

I've been to...neither, Jacob.

Posted by: Reignking | November 16, 2010 2:07 PM | Report abuse

College soccer, at least for elite programs, frequently draws at least about as well as WPS teams did this past season.

League is by no means in th clear. Chicago needs investors, without which it could go belly-up. If WNY suffers "failure to launch syndrome" then the dominoes will fall and WPS folds.

However, if both those teams can stick around, WPS should be able to try to make a go of it. Teams should cut expenses by paying only some players, and teams should avoid the expense of flying whenever possible. Players and coaches should drive their own cars to away games when possible, and drive back after the game to avoind hotel costs. Use charter buses when this isn't practical. Atlanta will still, say, have to fly to Boston, but they should fly out and back the day of the game to avoid hotel costs.

Perhaps more thought should be given to venues. I don't think there is any shame for a struggling league to play in high school or college facilities. The cost of that has to be lower than, say what CRS must be paying to entertain their 700 fans at Toyota Park.

Posted by: Ron16 | November 16, 2010 2:27 PM | Report abuse

It's obvious that California hates women and soccer and women's soccer.

Posted by: Reignking | November 16, 2010 2:29 PM | Report abuse

To all remaining WPS teams.

Avoid Marta, and her salary demands, like the plague. She is 2 for 2 on teams folding at the end of the season.

Good luck to the remaining teams, hopefully we will be able to enjoy a 3rd WPS season in 2011

Posted by: timmy6 | November 16, 2010 2:38 PM | Report abuse

How they compare with HS football is irrelevant. What's relevant is they haven't hit their budget numbers. That'll kill you in any enterprise . . . except politics. Their attendance standing alone is on a par with USL-1, I believe.

Posted by: OWNTF | November 16, 2010 2:38 PM | Report abuse

@I-95Exit43,

I cannot be ashamed for choosing not to be a consumer of WPS, Women's World Cup, WNBA, etc.

I do have regret that the world's top women are losing the ability to ply their trade at the top level.

However, instead of searching for the angel investor and a separate league. Perhaps its time to go WNBA-ish.

Fans of WPS, WUSA, USWMNT, Women's soccer - should do all they can to convince the WPS and MLS to look at the acquisition of the remaining WPS clubs by MLS owners. You cut all individual branding. You combine all staff and support outside of coaching. Red Bull Ladies. Ladies United. Ladies Fire. Ladies Revolution. Ladies Union. You build the brands of the CLUBS - the Clubs that are offering the full range of the spectrum. Youth academies for men and women. First team and reserve league action for both men and women. And a singular identity.

Is it probably a slap in the face of women's soccer? Maybe, maybe not. But you could probably get to see the ladies and top flight action.

Posted by: VirginiaBlueBlood | November 16, 2010 2:46 PM | Report abuse

Sad to hear about FC Gold Pride, even though I hated Marta with a passion. Despite my worries about the league's future, I'm VERY happy the Freedom will be returning.

Posted by: stwasm | November 16, 2010 2:48 PM | Report abuse

VBB, if you were an MLS owner, why would you want to buy into that? Where is the payoff?

Posted by: Ron16 | November 16, 2010 3:00 PM | Report abuse

VBB: A singular identity is what they (WUSA and WPS) were trying to avoid. While it may benefit WPS financially, if I were an MLS investor looking at the shrinking WPS, I'd vote no.

Posted by: I-270Exit1 | November 16, 2010 3:03 PM | Report abuse

well, the Freedom will only be returning if there's a league to return to. 6 (or maybe 7) teams doesn't make much of league. It's hard to see how this enterprise can continue on much longer.

I do sort of like the idea of combining the women's teams under existing top flight clubs. I would avoid using the Britishism patronizing "ladies" moniker though.

Posted by: fedssocr | November 16, 2010 3:04 PM | Report abuse

Some interesting stuff in Goff's twitter on the Garber news conference: rosters increase to 30, possible 2nd NYC team in 2013 (ok yeah actually the first NYC team), reserve divisions return (we knew that right?), MLS Best XI intrigue, Garber gaffe.

Goff calls it exhausting, baffling, fiasco.

Posted by: benonthehill | November 16, 2010 3:06 PM | Report abuse

I-95Exit43 wrote: "it is ashamed that fans don't realize what they have here as these are the best players in the world in the womens game for the most part playing right here in the states. Although the MLS has made great strides it still doesn't or is it anywhere near getting the best players in their prime playing here in the states. I hope one day it does but it does not at the moment."


Speaking only for myself, I realize all the above, and it doesn't matter. If we had the best curling players (are they called players?) right here in DC, I still wouldn't be making an effort to see curling, because I don't find curling entertaining. Similarly, although WPS does have the best women's soccer players in the world, since I don't enjoy women's soccer, that doesn't entice me to watch.


Posted by: christopher_a_metzler | November 16, 2010 3:10 PM | Report abuse

Their attendance standing alone is on a par with USL-1, I believe.

Posted by: OWNTF | November 16, 2010 2:38 PM
_________________________________________

WPS attendance is actually better than USL-1 in all but a few places such as Rochester and Montreal, and few people talk about that league going out of existence. Individual teams come and go, and people accept that as normal, which is what should be expected of WPS in the foreseeable future.

Most people don't realize the degree to which MLS stands almost alone in the history of American pro sports in terms of its relative stability from the get-go, with with a grand total of two teams that have gone belly-up, and one team that has moved from its original location. Why is the Pro Throwball Hall of Fame in Canton, OH (or should I say Guangzhou, OH)? Because that was the home of an important early team, the Canton Bulldogs. Today nobody would consider that city a candidate for an NFL franchise. But 80 years ago, there was a lot of trial and error, much of it taking place in less-than-prime locations such as Canton, and a lot of red ink, before the NFL took hold permanently in about a dozen of what we would consider major markets, and started expanding from there. Ditto for pro baseball before the turn of the 20th century, and the NBA and NHL in the mid-20th century.

Indeed, it is rare for any sort of startup business, be it a restaurant or a pet supplies store, to be profitable right from the start. If every entrepreneur threw in the towel after two years of losses, we'd still be living in some sort of primitive barter economy.

Posted by: universityandpark | November 16, 2010 3:16 PM | Report abuse

Marketing ranges from non-existent to terrible. They might as well be playing bridge for the quantity and quality of promotion.

Shame, because it's a superb product with pretty low overhead. On merit alone, you'd think it would sell itself, at least enough to stay solvent.

Posted by: Godfather_of_Goals | November 16, 2010 3:18 PM | Report abuse

U&P: History of American sports leagues in a nutshell. I would argue that MLS is not unique because it is a product of the growth-collapse-growth cycle of American sports leagues, with NASL being its predecessor.

Posted by: I-270Exit1 | November 16, 2010 3:22 PM | Report abuse

College soccer, at least for elite programs, frequently draws at least about as well as WPS teams did this past season.

Posted by: Ron16 | November 16, 2010 2:27 PM
__________________________________________

That's right, and there is a lesson in there. WPS should be doing more to market to recent college graduates, the people for whom watching women's soccer was part of their college experience, among whom incoming rookies might have at least a bit of name recognition, and who stand a chance of forming enduring attachments to teams. I'm sure they can be found in gender-inclusive rec leagues and such. Right now going to WPS games is perceived by many as an activity for children, which isn't going to fly.

Posted by: universityandpark | November 16, 2010 3:43 PM | Report abuse

College soccer, at least for elite programs, frequently draws at least about as well as WPS teams did this past season.

Posted by: Ron16 | November 16, 2010 2:27 PM
__________________________________________

That's right, and there is a lesson in there. WPS should be doing more to market to recent college graduates, the people for whom watching women's soccer was part of their college experience, among whom incoming rookies might have at least a bit of name recognition, and who stand a chance of forming enduring attachments to teams. I'm sure they can be found in gender-inclusive rec leagues and such. Right now going to WPS games is perceived by many as an activity for children, which isn't going to fly.

Posted by: universityandpark | November 16, 2010 3:43 PM | Report abuse

It's obvious that California hates women and soccer and women's soccer.

Posted by: Reignking
-------------------------------------------Tsk. Tsk. Misogyny and xenophobia--all in the same post.

Please stop slandering the Great State of California.

Your true feelings are all-too-thinly masked:

You, Sir are obviously the reason why women's professional sports will never get the respect that it dereves in this country.

What you wanted to say--because I, like many who like to post on the subject of the WPS--READ YOUR MIND:

Marta is a franchise KILLLER. She played for the Sol & for Gold Pride.

Rumor has it that St. Louis Athletica thought about signing her for all of about 10 minutes before Jeff Cooper realized that his soccer empire was in trouble and they could pick up her WPS DP equivalent salary.

The Washington Freedom could afford to add Marta while still carrying Abby and bleeding more money than Mr & Mr Discovery were willing to deal with, so they passed.

Besides, I am not so sure that Abby & Marta could co-exist on the same club (just ask yourself why the WPS All Star game was Abby's XI vs. Marta's XI?)

Tonya Antonucci didn't just quit because the owners of the WPS had grown weary of her heavy handed management style--no!

She has been known to attend events where Marta was present (gasp).

And she figured that if yet another franchise that featured arguably the world's most exciting player couldn't survive and the owners were getting on her nerves then it was time to jump ship before the boat sank.

Marta is the common denominator.

You were thinking it but you didn't have the soccer balls to write it.

So I had to.

The problem is not limited to California, Sir. I see that it apparently infesting ReingKingville, as well.

Tsk. Tsk.

Posted by: yankiboy | November 16, 2010 4:02 PM | Report abuse

College soccer, at least for elite programs, frequently draws at least about as well as WPS teams did this past season.

Posted by: Ron16 | November 16, 2010 2:27 PM

How many of in attendance get in for free, or close to free, with a student ID to these games?

Posted by: timmy6 | November 16, 2010 4:05 PM | Report abuse

Atlanta 's franchise survives despite MARTA.

Oh hush. You knew it was coming.

Posted by: I-270Exit1 | November 16, 2010 4:09 PM | Report abuse

@Godfather: In the Freedom's defense thay had radio spots on SportsTalk 980 and WJFK this past season. With good specials. I am pretty sure that I saw spots on the Metro this year again.

I don't know what more they could be doing. They did some sort of "sexy" photo shoot that they had a segment about on Comcast (which I personally found embarrassing but hey--i don't think that anyone forced the players involved to do it).

I don't know if Mia freaking Hamm coming out of retirement could have helped the team survive. Mia's window has closed and it appears that there is just not the market for a professional women's soccer franchise in this area.

But hey--it's not limited to gender.

We lost the closest second division team (Crystal Palace Baltimore) and things are looking really bad for the third division team (Real Maryland).

Oh yeah. And I hear that DC United has stadium problem. But don't go broadcasting that one...

Posted by: yankiboy | November 16, 2010 4:12 PM | Report abuse

Atlanta 's franchise survives despite MARTA.

Oh hush. You knew it was coming.

Posted by: I-270Exit1
-------------------------------------------

And being the capital of da Dirty Dirty.

Posted by: yankiboy | November 16, 2010 4:18 PM | Report abuse

I went to a few Freedom games this summer, and I can tell you, as a United season ticket holder, what stops me from going to more:

Freedom tickets are more expensive than United tickets.

Posted by: dkorn | November 16, 2010 4:19 PM | Report abuse

As an occasional youth coach, I think WPS games are much more valuable for teaching strategy and teamwork to young boys than are professional men's games, because, well, the women seem to work better together as a team and the pacing is moderate so you can actually see things develop.

Posted by: b18bolo | November 16, 2010 4:50 PM | Report abuse

I would vote no as well on many factors (the biggest being that I just don't believe there is a real market for professional women's sports without a huge subsidy or Title IX).

However, I'm trying to envision a world where you can still create opportunities within a structure that doesn't need a ton of costs to run.

As more MLS teams control the physical plant with their own parks, you could create the weekend of events - Saturday is first team games with Sunday held for Youth and reserves with ladies as the revenue item in the middle.

As a consumer, womens sports will never command my dollar or attention. There are many things I spend my money on that others would never. I just threw it out there as a potential solution. One that is not unique and has been vetted before...but a new one.

Posted by: VirginiaBlueBlood | November 16, 2010 5:08 PM | Report abuse

It will be a shame if WPS folds, but I can only watch so much soccer and they are not at the top of my priority list.

Posted by: Senor_Funk | November 16, 2010 5:27 PM | Report abuse

Atlanta's franchise survives because MARTA doesn't go all the way to Kennesaw.

C'mon Atlantans! One of you should have come up with that joke.

Posted by: I-270Exit1 | November 16, 2010 6:22 PM | Report abuse

Women's professional soccer in this country has always had a fatal flaw in their business model: they aimed to draw female youth players (with the idea that they'd mature into adults with their own cars and money and would buy season tickets). And what has consistently shown in both the WUSA and WPS is that the vast majority of young girls who play the sport suddenly lose interest as teens (it stops being cool). I know, I know, there are a lot of young women where that's not the case. But it's a weird dynamic with girl youth players and when you take away that demographic as a strong fan base (especially for the long term) suddenly your business model is: let's try and run the cheapest, least expensive franchise we can and b/c we're nice people and among the best female players in the world, eventually someone is going to start coming to see us. There aren't enough former college women players to make a fan base. Some WNBA teams have ended up being very attractive to lesbians (especially the Mystics). You can try to appeal to families but playing games out in Columbia is not family-friendly for most of the metro area (plus the lack of amenities at that site). I know I'm focusing mostly on the Freedom as an example but my point is: I'm still waiting for a coherent business model that makes sense other than "be cheap to run and eventually the fans will show up."

MLS has evolved into a coherent business model: appeal to hispanics and the hard-core soccer fan, look for small urban stadiums, make attending games a real experience and try to not exclude families and youth players (though that mostly isn't the target audience). And it seems to be working (at least in terms of attendance).

I don't know what would be in it for MLS teams to take on WPS "women's" sides. After all, it wasn't so long ago the MLS teams folded reserve teams and too many teams still lose money (so now they can lose even more money).

Posted by: JoeW1 | November 16, 2010 9:35 PM | Report abuse

I am so happy that we will have the FREEDOM for at least one more season. I really enjoy the games and the player's have great spirit and are very friendly and accesible to fans. I agree with JoeW1 that WPS needs a better business model and hope they will use some of the ideas put forth in their marketing efforts. GO FREEDOM!! I hope the USA WNT games will be televised.

Posted by: 10bestfan | November 17, 2010 10:18 AM | Report abuse

Freedom should sign free agent Kelley O'Hara. She would score goals, and complement Wambach well up front.

Posted by: Ron16 | November 17, 2010 12:12 PM | Report abuse

Is it me or is Marta the kiss of death for a franchise? It seems she's the common denominator.

Posted by: tim21 | November 17, 2010 1:06 PM | Report abuse

Is it me or is Marta the kiss of death for a franchise? It seems she's the common denominator.

Posted by: tim21
-------------------------------------------

I think that it is just you and Reignking.

Posted by: yankiboy | November 17, 2010 2:22 PM | Report abuse

Actually, Shannon Boxx is the league leader in that category, having played for three defunct sides.

Posted by: universityandpark | November 17, 2010 2:53 PM | Report abuse

Women's professional soccer in this country has always had a fatal flaw in their business model: they aimed to draw female youth players (with the idea that they'd mature into adults with their own cars and money and would buy season tickets). And what has consistently shown in both the WUSA and WPS is that the vast majority of young girls who play the sport suddenly lose interest as teens (it stops being cool)....

There aren't enough former college women players to make a fan base....

Posted by: JoeW1 | November 16, 2010 9:35 PM
__________________________________________

Your first point is all too true. In fact, I question whether many of them were true fans in any meaningful sense in the first place. I've been to my share of WPS games, and a lot of these kids aren't even paying attention to what is happening on the pitch. A case could be made that they detract from the atmosphere.

With regard to your second point, as I pointed out above, what is relevant is not the number of former women's college players, but the number of women's college fans, of which there are a lot, and whose numbers are growing steadily. Recent graduates of schools with popular teams are already adults with their own cars and money, and they have had the experience of spending up to four years following their favorite team, at the level just below WPS. When and if they have kids of their own, those kids will be going to games with parents who have a genuine interest in the game, which one hopes will be transmitted to their offspring. (A lot of today's parents seem to treat an outing to a WPS match as little more than a form of day care.)

Posted by: universityandpark | November 17, 2010 3:20 PM | Report abuse

Women's professional soccer in this country has always had a fatal flaw in their business model: they aimed to draw female youth players (with the idea that they'd mature into adults with their own cars and money and would buy season tickets). And what has consistently shown in both the WUSA and WPS is that the vast majority of young girls who play the sport suddenly lose interest as teens (it stops being cool)....

There aren't enough former college women players to make a fan base....

Posted by: JoeW1 | November 16, 2010 9:35 PM
__________________________________________

Your first point is all too true. In fact, I question whether many of them were true fans in any meaningful sense in the first place. I've been to my share of WPS games, and a lot of these kids aren't even paying attention to what is happening on the pitch. A case could be made that they detract from the atmosphere.

With regard to your second point, as I pointed out above, what is relevant is not the number of former women's college players, but the number of women's college fans, of which there are a lot, and whose numbers are growing steadily. Recent graduates of schools with popular teams are already adults with their own cars and money, and they have had the experience of spending up to four years following their favorite team, at the level just below WPS. When and if they have kids of their own, those kids will be going to games with parents who have a genuine interest in the game, which one hopes will be transmitted to their offspring. (A lot of today's parents seem to treat an outing to a WPS match as little more than a form of day care.)

Posted by: universityandpark | November 17, 2010 3:20 PM | Report abuse

(A lot of today's parents seem to treat an outing to a WPS match as little more than a form of day care.)
Posted by: universityandpark
=========

If I want to attend a Freedom match, I usually end up buying four tickets instead of one. So maybe WPS should market the day care aspect.

Posted by: I-270Exit1 | November 17, 2010 3:29 PM | Report abuse

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