We’re a year away from the start of the highly anticipated Women’s Professional Soccer League, the successor to the failed Women’s United Soccer Association. In April 2009, the new league will kick off and relaunch
(That’s Mia Hamm’s silhouette on the WPS logo. How cool is that?)
The first women’s U.S. soccer league, the WUSA, folded prematurely in 2003 after a lack of sponsorships and audience. Now, the WPS has to learn from the mistakes of its predecessor, and league Commissioner Tonya Antonucci guarantees that it will. “In order to ensure long-term success, WPS has developed a brand-new business model, focused on shared infrastructure, cost containment and realistic expectations that will maintain profitability for the league and team owners,” she wrote on her blog.
In 1999, after the U.S. won the World Cup title before 90,000 fans at the sold-out Rose Bowl (when Brandi Chastain became famous for taking off her shirt — and was I glad she did), there was just as much potential for a great league as there is now.
The difference, however, is in planning. Today, with assistance from the men’s league (MLS) and investors such as NBA star Steve Nash and former Yahoo! president Jeff Mallett, the WPS will be stronger and steadier, in a pursuit to become “the premier women’s soccer league in the world.”
The new league will have, for now, seven teams scattered across the country: Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York, St. Louis and Washington, D.C. They’re hoping to have one more team in the San Francisco area, so the regular season will add up about 20 games, not counting a special all-star game.
The teams are still lining up staff and coaches, and there aren’t any players yet. Still, according to Commissioner Antonucci, things are starting to roll out quickly, and “by early summer all teams will have their names, logos and colors done.” After that come the players. The WPS is hoping to lure some of the world’s best, like Germany’s Birgit Prinz and Brazil’s Marta.
The WPS has everything it needs to be successful and, personally, I think it will succeed. If everything goes according to plan, the WPS will soon become the best league in the world, where all female players will want to go.
Sure, there are very good leagues in Europe as well, but the U.S. has one big advantage in women’s soccer: It’s not a secondary sport. And by that I mean men’s soccer, in Europe, is the really big sport, the one everyone cares about. That leaves women’s soccer in a largely secondary role, which doesn’t help its development.
The last time I was in the U.S., I was amazed by the number of little girls I saw playing soccer — and good soccer, too! It has become a normal thing to encourage girls to play soccer there. However, in some European countries (including my own, Portugal), little girls do not play soccer and there aren’t any schools or competitions especially for them, which leads to the sport’s stagnation.
And therein lies the difference: Women’s soccer in the U.S. is especially supported because is a girls’ sport, whereas in Europe, it’s a man’s (not to say macho) sport. That’s why the WPS has everything necessary to be the best women’s league in the world.
How do you think the WPS will do? And how is women’s soccer doing in your country?