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Can Women’s Pro Soccer Survive in the United States?

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WPS - No Games in 2012

Last night, I posted on SoccerClassroom’s Facebook group an article from ESPN breaking the story that WPS Commissioner Jennifer O’Sullivan (and my fellow Richmond alum) had suspended operations for the 2012 season and hopes to return in 2013. It certainly elicited quite a bit of a quick response.

The league is in a legal battle with a franchise owner who seems like he’s conducting business “his way.” As a result, the fragile league’s resources are being used to ensure compliance instead of ensuring continuity of operations. You can read the legal briefs that have been filed.

It’s a sad day. I wonder if my daughter will have everyday soccer heroes that look like her. Sure, she’ll have the national squad, but why not a domestic league?

Despite having one of the elite national teams in the world and certainly the largest market, this is the second time that women’s professional soccer has stumbled in the United States. It’s much like many soccer brands who have come and gone and re-entered again (and again): Umbro, Lotto, Kappa, Hummel and diadora have all made splashes only to pack it in and regroup. Maybe this is a “soccer thing” instead of a women’s game thing…I don’t know. Or, maybe it’s a sheer lack of business execution in this space.

Building a great brand is about continuity of message. You don’t take a “year off” at almost any cost. This leads me to believe that the league was on tenuous footing to begin with – and the battle with the new owner pushed things over the edge. Combine this ongoing problem with the Olympics this summer and you’ll lose some star appeal through players competing in London while trying to cut through the clutter to your fans’ attention. All of that is speculation and doesn’t really matter. All that matters is there will be no play in 2012.

So, now what…

If you ran the WPS…

There’s going to be a lot of people describing the problem, but not a lot of people prescribing a solution to creating a viable women’s league. This is like a coach telling a team what’s going wrong, but offering no new tactics to help the team. Let’s try and help.

If you ran the WPS, how would you create such a remarkable experience to engage fans that they would regularly choose the WPS over American Idol on TV and attend games in droves to support the teams (complete with tailgates) and create a standing room only atmosphere? How do you connect the league to the masses of players and fans who could potentially support the league?

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One Comment of “Can Women’s Pro Soccer Survive in the United States?”

Comment by John C
February 9, 2012

My biggest complaint from the start of WPS when looking at their model (and suspecting their footing was a bit shaky) was their marketing was top-down. They prioritized league and then the clubs, and while there’s a certain sensibility to that any professional sports league’s success can be measured by its stars and the fans fervor for them. The greatest example being the impact of Bird and Magic followed by Jordan on the NBA. As a season ticket owner in WPS I can say unequivocally that my daughters greatest attraction was the entire experience of meeting their soccer idols, watching them being second. In other words, the experience of discovering and interacting with them was everything. The great soccer made it perfect. It’s a shame how much they’ll miss it.


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