Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) announced today that it will suspend operations for the 2012 season to deal with litigation and finance issues stemming from that litigation. The league has said it will return in 2013, but who knows if this is the death blow to professional women’s soccer in the United States or a chance to regroup and return.
The league released a statement on the situation:
Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) announced today that its Board of Governors has voted to suspend the 2012 season to permit the League to focus on the resolution of certain pending legal issues and the challenges that now face the League as a result of its ongoing dispute with a former owner.
“We are proud of what the League has accomplished in the first three seasons, but we do recognize the necessity to resolve our existing legal and operational issues so that we can continue to support and grow WPS the right way,” said Sky Blue FC Owner Thomas Hofstetter. “This was a very difficult decision, but one we as owners feel is the best business decision for the League at this time.”
The Board voted on Monday morning to suspend the 2012 season. Over the last year the league has faced significant challenges, including a lengthy and expensive legal battle with a former owner. The litigation has diverted resources from investment in the league and has forced the Board to take action, suspending the 2012 season in order to address the legal issues head-on before moving forward with competition.
“We firmly believe there is a place in the global sports landscape for Women’s Professional Soccer,” said WPS CEO Jennifer O’Sullivan. “Making the decision to suspend the 2012 season was a difficult and painful one, but it is necessary to take the time to address current issues and solidify our business in order to provide appropriate support needed to achieve the League’s long-term goals. Those that take part in our League – players, partners and fans – deserve the best, and that is what we are taking the time to ensure we deliver when we resume play in 2013 and beyond.”
What this statement doesn’t say is the legal issues stem from Dan Borislow, the owner of the MagicJack team named after his business. In 2011 Borislow purchased the Washington Freedom. He moved the team to Florida and changed the name. Over the 2011 season he and the league had many disagreements, and the players union sited multiple violations by Borislaw regarding breaking contract negotiations and league rules. In October of 2011 the WPS severed its ties with Borislow and terminated the MagicJack franchise. Borislow went to court, and proceeded to drain the life blood of the WPS. The money which was to be spent running the league in 2012 is gone, bled into the pockets of lawyers and courts.
Without the WPS women’s soccer is left with the USL W-league and the WPSL. Those leagues are just semi-pro, where the business plan is simple, don’t pay the players. So now the young girls in the U.S. who dream of, and want to play professional soccer are left with these leagues, no pay for their hard work, no television contracts, and worst of all, little or no fans in the seats. It’s hard to view these leagues as legitimate without the above.
The idea that the WPS will return in 2013 seems a long shot. Maybe it will be back, I certainly hope so. Over 18 million children and teens play soccer in the United States, more than half of those are girls. I find it somehow amazing that that this country cannot maintain a top tier, well funded women’s league that pays its players a fulltime sustainable salary. It seems to me that having 9 million plus girls to draw on for fans, as well as their parents, would be more than enough to create a base of support to hold a league together. You have to wonder how two attempts at creating a top tier league have failed to sustain themselves with that large and growing base to tap into. Instead, the only women’s leagues that survive do so because they either pay a non-sustainable salary or worse yet, don’t pay the women players any money at all and function as little more than an amateur league. By that standard you would be better off going to watch a youth soccer travel team game.
Doubters say it’s just not time for a women’s professional soccer league, there just isn’t the interest in women’s sports. But it is time, and there are the fans (9 million of them), however someone needs to run a league the correct way and get those fans to the stadium, get those television contracts, find the advertisers who want to reach fans of women’s sports. Also, you can’t be a legitimate league if you allow yourself to be held hostage by a megalomaniac and not be monetized sufficiently to survive litigation, which you should have avoided in the first place. Everything in the world comes down to politics and money, so a league has to be good at both raising revenue and finding a political solution to owners run amuck. I don’t think the problem is lack of interest in the women’s soccer game, it’s about making a league work how a league should work, and the mediocrity of those who have run women’s soccer leagues thus far.
Sky Blue will more than likely go on if the WPS fails, returning to the W-League where it started. But don’t expect to see any star players. Again, you’re better off grabbing a chair and going to a youth travel soccer game, the talent is the same as the WPSL and W-League and doesn’t cost you a penny. My girls will be back on the pitch in March, come catch a game.