The 2012 season for the US league known as Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) was cancelled today (WPS Suspends 2012 Season – ESPN). The question hanging in the air is whether this is the death of the league (like the previous Women’s United Soccer Association – WUSA), or if this is an opportunity for the league to experience a successful rebirth?
A few months back I wrote an article musing about the sustainability of the WPS (WPS – Will It Get Its Act Together?). I honestly think that a women’s soccer pro league can work, and that by taking 2012 off, there is a chance to do all the tweaking necessary to fix the holes in the business model. That said, there has to be a very public commitment to return to the pitch in 2013. Without a season, momentum and good will be lost, but if the fans are assured of the league’s return, then the year-long absence can be endured as well as possible.
Not having a 2012 season might be a boon to the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) going into this summer’s Olympic Games. The gyrations made in 2011 to make sure the USWNT got training while also playing a more-or-less full league schedule didn’t do the league any favors. With some USWNT players a bit dinged up, not having to play league matches through the spring will let them have a chance to heal and condition themselves properly.
What went wrong? It’s easy to point a finger to magicJack owner Dan Borislow who seemed, at least from the outside, to treat his team (the storied Washington Freedom, now relocated to Florida and renamed magicJack) and the league as little more than an advertising opportunity to his niche VoIP wares. After being rebuked by the league, he lashed out in the press and in the courts. So yeah, he’s a major player in the WPS woes. That said, the WPS was having issues before Borislow ever became a disruptive influence in the league.
In 2012, the WPS needs to focus on a few areas in anticipation of a 2013 return:
- Redraft league rules to allow more freedom of the league to deal with owners who don’t act in the interest of the league or their team.
- Increase the number of teams to FIFA’s top tier minimum of 8 teams in at least two different time zones.
- Shore up team ownership. There were too many teams moving or folding. There needs to be a commitment from owners to the league, and an escrow account set up to avoid sudden suspension of a team.
- Make a binding player salary cap. I would also suggest making one of the top players on the team an associate/assistant head coach with an additional 15-20% salary bump. On more than one occasion, players have become the team’s interim head coach. Just plan for it at the outset.
- Ensure all players are insured. This is a risky sport, and the US doesn’t have universal health care. Stand by your assets.
- Improve your media access. Ideally there will be more than one game a week on cable/satellite, but that might not be changeable. Web video access to live/archived games, preferably in HD, is critical — the more the better. Ask the WNBA.
Most of these aren’t new suggestions. I mentioned many of them in my previous article. But, for the league to succeed, it needs to build upon the few years of hands-on experience it’s gained. That’s a heck of a gift. Though informed by the mistakes of the WUSA, the WPS had to start the league from scratch, trying to make informed guesses as to how things would play out. Now they know.
If you are going to re-boot a league, this is a great way to do it. You take the year to find owners with the wherewithal to stay the course. You get a bit of sanity with the players and how you treat them in all facets, not just pay. You get advice from the WNBA and perhaps some help from MLS. And…you hope big-time that the USWNT wins gold at the Olympics or is at least spectacular if they come up just short. That will help make up for not having a 2012 season. Recognize that it’s about the personalities. If you don’t market the heck out of the USWNT and WPS stars, then you are wasting your assets.
Do I think the WPS will return? I hope so. Yeah, there are a couple of leaks in the boat but nothing that can’t be fixed given this pocket of time they have — and if a certain owner tones down the petulance. The key: not to waste a day. There’s much to do; there’s also (just) enough time to do it.
Photo: JWB Photography (CC BY-SA 3.0)