WPS

WPS: Coming and going

Photo: Michael Long

Before I get too far into discussing the decision of WPS to cancel the 2012 season, let me say that my initial reaction when the news first broke was that I was simply gutted. Gutted for every fantastic person I’ve met covering the Independence and women’s soccer in general. The players especially, but also the front office staff, the volunteers, and everyone who makes WPS possible. There are far more fantastic people than most people know behind this league and I’ve really enjoyed interacting with every single one. I hope to see you all in 2013, if not sooner.

The official statement from the league says, “[WPS] Board of Governors has voted to suspend the 2012 season to permit the League to focus on the resolution of certain pending legal issues and  the challenges that now face the League as a result of its ongoing dispute with a former owner.” For those not aware, the former owner mentioned here is none other than Philadelphia’s own Dan Borislow, owner of the now expelled South Florida franchise (I’m sure you either know the name or can figure it out without any free advertising from the PSP).

A Brief History of a True Madafaka

Borislow took over the ownerless Washington Freedom franchise ahead of the 2011 season and abruptly moved the team to Florida. In his first match in Florida, he broke a number of WPS rules including: failure to display sponsor sign boards, failure to upload video to the league’s site for scouting purposes, lack of an ambulance and EMS staff at the game, failure of the coaching staff to wear required Puma attire, an undersized field (league minimum is 66 yards wide), lack of seating for a minimum of 5,000 fans, lack of press accommodations, lack of player availability to the media, and a past-due balance of $53,166.67 owed to the league. You know, nothing major.

Meanwhile, he was friendly and cordial and willing to work with the league to correct his past mistakes. In May, he emailed WPS President Anne-Marie Eileraas after losing an appeal on a touchline suspension, “I expected nothing less from a bunch of blithering idiots. This will be judged by a higher authority one day. Your boss, Dan.” You can read more of his friendly communications with the league here, including a number of mentions of how he would sue the league out of business.

Oh, and he basically singlehandedly lost the league’s biggest sponsor, Puma, after a single contentious meeting.

He finally did make good on his promise to bring the league to court after his team was expelled in October. After the league lost a few key proceedings early on, the two sides seemed to reach a settlement earlier this month. The settlement allowed the Florida franchise to continue to play soccer in the shape of a series of exhibition matches against WPS teams, but the team would not actually participate in the league.

With last season’s Florida team stacked with USWNT players including Abby Wambach, Hope Solo, Christie Rampone, and Shannon Boxx—and those same players still not employed with other WPS squads—it was interesting to see who would sign with the renegade Florida team. Wambach stood by Borislow and said she was willing to play for him again as recently as last week in an interview with Julie Foudy.

On Sunday, ahead of the league’s announcement, Big Soccer’s Dan Loney had some choice words for any player looking to play in Florida, calling out players for choosing to play for Borislow. As of this writing, there’s been no word from Wambach or any of the other former Florida players since the league’s announcement.

As for other players from across the league, there isn’t a lot being said, yet. Twitter was surprisingly quiet in terms of real substance, with a few players such as Nikki Krzysik and Alex Morgan cryptically posting about being saddened by the news. The Independence’s colorful striker Tasha Kai was less shy, tweeting, “Dear Dan Borislow. U are the true definition of a MADAFAKA. U can shove that magic jack up ur fat ass. U miserable bastard. Asshole.” Check her further tweets for some more quality barbs at Borislow.

Sky Blue defender Carrie Drew also had some choice words for Borislow, tweeting, “Dan Borislow you are a life ruiner. Leave soccer alone and go invent something else useless…” Any search of the hashtag WPS will lead to plenty of Borislow bashing by upset fans of the league.

To blame the cancellation of the season simply on the legal proceedings seems short sided. Borislow himself claimed today that he thought the lawyer for WPS was working pro bono. What is clear is that the current group of WPS owners have no interest in working any further with Borislow or his team and, if the choice was to play another season with the man or not play at all, they choose not to play at all.

But even outside of the Borislow fiasco, there is more that has to be examined about WPS.

Is the loss of the 2012 season the end?

Before US Soccer sanctioned WPS with only five teams in December, former Chicago Red Stars owner Peter Wilt wrote an interesting article questioning whether WPS would benefit from taking a year off in 2012 to regroup. Wilt makes a number of important points about finances in WPS, noting that the current financial climate for the league and all of its teams is impossible to maintain.

His argument that everyone needs to be paid less and that administrative staff needs to be cut down is a little hard to swallow. Most of the players are, with a few exceptions, barely clearing $25k per season and most teams don’t have a front office staff of more than a few people. But with revenues and ticket sales being what they are, either a change has to be made to balance the books or teams will continue to lose money and drop out of the league.

Wilt outlines a tiered payment system:

  • Base player salary budget of $100,000 to $150,000 per team. 18 players per team. $0k to $3k per month in season per player.
  • 2-3 designated players per team. $4k to $10k per month in season per player. DP salaries are off budget.

Most players in the league would not be making more than $20k a season and some could be making close to $10k under this plan—painful totals for a “professional” league. But to put player salaries in line with the money actually coming in through ticket sales and sponsorships, those wages are likely the only way to sustain the league.

Where do we go from here?

I know MLS involvement in the women’s game popped up on both Twitter and in the press conference with current league president Jennifer O’Sullivan on Monday. This is not going to happen. Yet. The WPS model has been imperfect from the start and this is just further exacerbated with the loss of the 2012 season. MLS itself is just starting to get their feet under them and to try and take on an unsuccessful women’s league is not a fair task.

A Borislow return has to be out of the equation. It’s clear that no one wants to work with the man, and I don’t think we can blame them for this—we all deserve the right not to work with crazy people. There is a year to go through whatever has to be gone through to get the man out either via the court system or by any means necessary. (The PSP stands by our offer to posse up with pitchforks).

What needs to happen in the next year is a re-evaluation. The Peter Wilt tiered player payment structure is interesting. It would probably be a drastic change for a lot of WPS clubs, but it would allow more second tier women’s soccer teams to consider joining the league. With US Soccer requiring the league to have a minimum eight teams for sanctioning, joining the league must become easier financially.

There has to be investment in the league. Even after taking 2012 off, significant financial investment will be needed to make sure there is enough incentive for at least the biggest names in American soccer (and hopefully international players as well) to want to play in WPS. If they are designated players, if they just exist outside of a salary cap, whatever, there has to be the money to bring in top talent to be able to market the league.

When the league does resume play in 2013, one simple way for the league to raise money is for more people to go to the games. Yes, that means you, casual soccer fan. It was heartening to see the anger and frustration on Twitter all day from a wide range of soccer fans. But this is by far the most I’ve seen the league talked about in the two years or so that I’ve been covering it. It’s time to pony up, everybody, or this league is never going to work.

 

2 Comments

  1. The shame is I finally got around to buying Tickets for the Independence and was pretty psyched to see them at
    PPL park and then the team shut down for the year.

    These last couple of days have been pretty annoying to say the least.

  2. Whats funny is that many players were cut down so low on their salaries that they were way below the suggested salary cuts. Some contracts in Atlanta were 350 per game played in, with no monthly salary. That is a joke

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