Thursday, August 9, 2012

Women's Soccer Debacle: Join or Die (Literally)

If you guys have been living under a rock for the past few hours, a lot of you may have witness or have found out that the U.S. Women's Soccer Team beat Team Japan 2-1 in the Gold Medal Match at the Olympics. After losing in the 2011 Women's World Cup in a shootout, the American ladies struck back and claimed the top prize. I guess you can say they struck gold. Tee hee.

Due to the stunning popularity of these girls over the past two weeks, there are talks to keep these girls in the public eye and continue pushing women's soccer in the United States. Basically, they're pushing for another professional women's soccer league to rise from the ashes of the fallen American leagues in Spring of 2013.

Oh, here we go again...

Truth be told, there actually are women's leagues in the United States, but they're not that well-known at all. The two leagues that cover the United States (and also Puerto Rico and Canada) are the USL W-League and the Women's Premier Soccer League. Due to the folding of the previous professional leagues in the U.S., the WPSL has benefited a great deal from this, as they have adopted some of the folded teams and the deals that were ensured from sponsorships. The W-League has also gained strength in receiving help from the bigger MLS teams and got some exposure from Universities since the league is considered an open league. Cool, right? Well, apparently it's not enough and people want a standalone league.

It's understandable that the country wants to feed off of the successes of the national team, but didn't we all go through this before? Let's take a walk through the U.S. Women's Soccer League Graveyard...

#1 - WUSA
Founded: 2000
Folded: 2003

This league was rooted in the U.S. Women's successes in the 1999 Women's World Cup. After defeating China in a penalty shootout (leading to this perennial image), girls soccer was a hot topic at the turn of the century. Personally, this World Cup actually spiked my own interest in soccer, leading me to stick with playing competitively for another seven years. Nationally-known players like Mia Hamm, Tiffeny Milbrett, Briana Scurry, and young Abby Wambach and Hope Solo were participants in the league, bringing droves of screaming young girls and youth soccer teams to games. However, the case of this league, they almost got a little too big for their britches and fell into serious debt due to their budgets going overboard. Attendances and ratings started faltering after the first regular season, and the women starting suffering pay cuts. The league folded shortly after the 2003 season, before the Athens games commenced in 2004.

#2 - WPS
Founded: 2007
Folded: 2012

After the WUSA folded in 2003, a lot of the previous team owners and admins of the league were looking to reinvent the wheel and start another league while avoiding all of the issues they completely Mexican hat-danced in the first time around. Although the league was founded in 2007, they were trying to avoid any operation until the 2007 Women's World Cup ceased and the 2008 Beijing games ended. Once that was over, they had announced numerous national players coming to the United States to play among several teams (some returning from the WUSA days). The first season was rough, leading to two sudden folds from financial problems, and later seeing the team name Washington Freedom changed to magicJack. [I'm dead serious. The guy who owned the team owned the magicJack company and made that the team name. Why? I don't know.] In the third and final season, there was a massive upsurge in the league with thanks to coverage from the 2011 Women's World Cup, and there were hopes of gaining more teams and revenue in time for the 2012 season. However, that didn't happen, and because of the problems that stemmed from ongoing financial shortcomings, the league suspended operations and later folded earlier this year.

"Michael Stoller, managing partner of the Breakers, said in the statement. 'We want to emphasize this is not a competitor to any of the existing leagues, but rather this is a significant step up in the competitive level and professional standards, and we expect to establish a natural relationship to allow teams to enter this new league and perhaps to fall back (self-relegate) to their prior league if they need a break from the higher spending and competitive requirements.'"

The owners that are adamant in creating a new league is using other leagues' salaries as an argument. Wait, isn't money what got you guys in trouble in the first place? If you want to get the international players like Marta and Cristianne, you have to make sure you have the goods and services to keep them there and keep the rest of the team intact. Their hearts are in the right place, but if they really want to get a league that stands on it's own two feet, it needs to lean on a brother for a little while until the training wheels come off. I'm looking at MLS here. In the near-20 years that MLS has been around, they've suffered through a lot of problems, and now they've become the third-most attended sporting event in the United States (behind MLB and the NFL, of course). Seriously, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

The one thing they mentioned was relegating back to their previous leagues. In other words, they're opening this to the forum, in this case the W-League and the WPSL. Although they might be smart businessmen, they need to make better business deals and better networking outlets if anything is going to be stable and work for over three seasons. Some of the teams in the league already get help from MLS by name usage. I'm hinting this here, businessmen of the American soccerlands. This could be useful. I didn't study public relations for four years to talk utter nonsense about business deals and communication/marketing. The United States Soccer Federation (USSF) seems to be all in with this, considering how there hasn't been a flagship league for women that has lasted for more than three playing seasons. They're riding on moments like Alex Morgan's extra time goal against Canada in the Olympics as moments where girls (and boys) want to see these things close to home.

Unfortunately, I have a bad feeling about all of this. They have very high hopes for getting this off the ground in time for Spring 2013, and because of the rather poor track record of these guys over the past 14 years, things just seem rather fishy. Sometimes even the highest of confidence marks the highest fears. All corners need to be boarded and watched for any impending storms that may approach if another women's professional league is founded. If there's one false step, the credibility of U.S. Women's Soccer could tank really easily and really fast. In conclusion, they better find someone to lean on in case things get nasty. For the future women's pro league, it's not sink or swim, it's join or die.

(Much thanks to AP and ESPN for these two articles: 1, 2)