Wednesday, November 21, 2012
New soccer league to feature 8 teams
CHICAGO -- Another pro women's soccer league will try to succeed where two previous attempts have failed.
The currently unnamed eight-team league will launch in the spring, U.S. Soccer announced Wednesday. The clubs will be located in Boston, Chicago, Kansas City, New Jersey, Portland, Seattle, western New York and Washington.
The sport has repeatedly shown it can draw large numbers of fans in the stands and on TV for the World Cup and Olympics, but women's soccer has yet to find a foothold as a pro sport in the U.S.
WUSA folded in 2003 after three seasons, failing to capitalize on the success of the 1999 World Cup. More recently, Women's Professional Soccer folded this year, also after three seasons.
With a vested interest in ensuring national team players have somewhere to play in the years leading up to the 2015 World Cup, U.S. Soccer is stepping in this time to seek to create a viable economic model. The teams still will be privately owned, but the federation will pay for the salaries of 24 national team players.
U.S. Soccer also will fund the league's front offices.
"We are subsidizing the private sector here to try to make it sustainable, to try to make the investments necessary by the private sector smaller," U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati said on a conference call.
The Canadian and Mexican federations also will pay the salaries of some of their players, with the same goal of ensuring their national teams are well-prepared for the World Cup. That means each club won't have to spend on salaries for up to seven players.
"We won't start off with the sort of deficits that we started the last two leagues with," Boston Breakers managing partner Michael Stoller.
The league will try to save money compared with the WPS in other ways, as well. Gulati said teams might sign fewer elite international players. Clubs will play in smaller stadiums to lower operating costs and will do less marketing.
"What we need is a sustainable model: less hype, better performance," Gulati said. "The hype will come if we have the performance."
U.S. Soccer could have held a residency program for its national team players, as it has done at times in the past. Gulati said new coach Tom Sermanni and other officials believe the best way for players to improve is by competing in a league.
The federation's involvement also will allow it to make sure the league's schedule doesn't conflict with national team activities.
U.S. Soccer has a handshake agreement with one national sponsor and is looking into a potential television deal, Gulati said. He expected some players would essentially be semi-pro, joining a team while working part-time or going to grad school, saving the squads more money on salary.
But with star power guaranteed from players on the Olympic gold medalist U.S. team, Stoller insisted: "This is a true professional league and standard of play."
"The one thing that has absolutely not changed is the teams' commitment to professional training and professional environment for the players," he said.