Finally, Women’s Professional Soccer Arrives

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By Jeff Kassouf

After a long wait, Women’s Professional Soccer is finally here. It has been over five years since the Women’s United Soccer Association folded, but the top level of women’s soccer returns Sunday when the Washington Freedom and Los Angeles Sol square off in the league’s inaugural match.

WPS kicks-off at a tough time economically. The recession continues to tighten wallets around the country, meaning that sports with more niche fans and less casual fans will have trouble drawing.

Women’s soccer targets a very specific soccer audience, making it more susceptible to failure in tough economic times. However, Women’s Professional Soccer is doing everything right thus far, setting itself up for success.

Innovative Marketing

The WUSA is ‘so 2000,’ as a young tween might say. So too are the marketing and promotional tactics of the old league. WPS is connecting with fans on a personal level through new media endeavors, which are the methods of the present and the future.

Not only has Women’s Professional Soccer reached fans through websites such as Facebook and Twitter, but it has developed Fan Corner, its own site for fan interaction.

Fan Corner is a place where fans of the league and various teams can express their opinions on message boards, but unlike other similar sites, can directly interact with players and team and league officials. Teams, players and even Commissioner Tonya Antonucci post blogs on the site where fans get direct answers.

WPS is already diving into the risky and controversial world of Twitter, the site that allows people to interact with short, text-message style updates. Sunday’s game between Washington and Los Angeles will include in-game Twitter updates from Washington’s Kati Jo Spisak and LA’s Aly Wagner.

Television Contracts

This time around, things are different. The WUSA’s major television contract was with PAX TV, a channel that is now the obscure Ion Television and is probably scarcely remembered.

Women’s Professional Soccer will boast a game of the week every Sunday on Fox Soccer Channel, the major television destination for American soccer fans. This will expose the game to those who may otherwise only watch Major League Soccer or international competition. That’s quite a step up from PAX TV.

The league is also working on regional television contracts to integrate itself into the local markets.

Televising most games on FSC on Sunday’s is advantageous to WPS, because it will not have to compete with Major League Soccer. Doubleheaders and other loose partnerships with MLS teams should also help WPS teams succeed financially.

Optimistic Realism

This is the most critical factor to the success or failure of the league. The WUSA reportedly spent a $40 million, five year budget in just one year.

WPS has a much smaller and more controlled budget, one that is supposedly meant to break even with an average attendance of 5,000. Should all other sponsorships and marketing work out, a league average of 5,000 fans is very attainable.

Certain teams such as Los Angeles and Chicago will be expected to help raise this average with their larger markets, newer stadiums and superstars such as LA’s Marta.

Cities such as Los Angeles and Chicago are also critical to the league’s success. Neither of these cities had teams in the WUSA even though they are two of the biggest markets in the country.

A small, growing league cannot have success without establishing itself in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Sky Blue FC playing in New Jersey rather than out on Long Island (like the New York Power did) will also help attendance.

The team will still draw from the New York City and Newark markets, but its location in central New Jersey is a much easier drive for those in the suburbs of and New Jersey and southern New York.

While it remains to be seen what will happen with Women’s Professional Soccer, the league has laid a realistic and solid blueprint for success. The first season will be a tough test and should be telling of what the future brings.

However, WPS plans on being around for a long time, which is suggested by the fact there are already three expansion teams lined up for 2010 (Philadelphia, Atlanta and Dallas). It is going to take time and patience for the league to succeed, but it should find success with a much-improved business plan from the last attempt that was the WUSA.

Jeff Kassouf can be reached at:

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