With Women’s Professional Soccer five days away from kicking off, there are still the naysayers. But WPS Commissioner Tonya Antonucci insists the timing is right. The seven-team league kicks off its five-month season this weekend as the Los Angeles Sol host the Washington Freedom at the Home Depot Center, Sunday March 29, 2009 at 6 pm ET.By Kathryn L. Knapp
With Women’s Professional Soccer five days away from kicking off, there are still the naysayers. But WPS Commissioner Tonya Antonucci insists the timing is right.
“It’s an exciting time for all of us. Most importantly it’s an exciting time for the fans,” Antonucci said. “It’s time to show the fans what they want to see – world class soccer by world class players.”
WPS kicks of to skepticism after the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA) folded in 2003. The WUSA was formed in 2000 fresh of the U.S. Women’s domination of opponents in the FIFA Women’s World Cup held in the states in 1999. With the WPS kicking off, many wonder what exactly is different about this league. First and foremost, Antonucci said ownership is a big difference.
“We have committed owners who are here for the long haul,” Antonucci said. “We needed to show that no. 1 the participation and interest in women’s soccer has only grown since suspension of WUSA.”
The format behind the WPS includes playing in smaller, soccer-specific stadiums, developing partnerships at the local level and reaching out to the community on a grass-roots level.
“We have a traditional sports model now,” Antonucci said. “We’ve done all of these in a very disciplined fiscal fashion. And on the backside, our owners have a strong position.”
So will it be profitable or even affordable with today’s economic struggles? The WPS is keeping things realistic. They are hoping to fill the stands on game day with four to six thousand people. Season ticket packages start around $100. And game-day/group rates are even more affordable.
“We have several teams with over 1,000 to 1,400 season tickets sold,” Antonucci said. “If that number is times three with group sales, individual sales and walk ups, we’ll be close to our goal of 6000 fans per game.
“The Chicago Red Stars and Boston Breakers have high marks and are on their way to their goal 2,000 season tickets.”
The average player salary is approximately $32,000, with each team having 18 full-time roster spots and four developmental spots.
“It’s a seven-month playing contract,” Antonucci said. “Players do have opportunity to earn additional income with marketing appearances, camps, off-season transfers to other teams. We want to be competitive and bring the world’s best here.”
Sponsorships have been a different issue for the WPS. The Los Angeles Sol announced a jersey partnership with Amway. The Chicago Red Stars announced a partnership with Mexico Tourism Board. New York/New Jersey Sky Blue FC is on the cusp of announcing a new sponsorship. So things are moving along, but as with everything, they’ve slowed down a bit.
“We’ve adjusted accordingly,” Antonucci said. “We have been able to cut a little bit at team and league level to cut expenses where we could. We’ve made some adjustments. These budgets are coming back online slowly. They’re going to be rolling out throughout the course of the season.
“Some sponsors take a wait and see approach. It’s natural. Our key is showing sponsors that we have a very different model and we’re here for the long run. We’re affordable.”
The seven-team league kicks off its five-month season this weekend as the Los Angeles Sol host the Washington Freedom at the Home Depot Center, Sunday March 29, 2009 at 6 pm ET.
Kathryn L. Knapp is women's soccer editor for Goal.com.