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Professional Jul 23, 2010

Hummer: WPS players and owners determined to make dream league last

An article in USA Today yesterday titled “Women’s Professional Soccer league alive but not yet kicking” provided a good snap shot of where things stand with the second go ’round of a women’s professional league in the United States…

In a word… Barely.

Every Women’s Professional Soccer team lost money last year. Two founding teams have folded before the second season was even half over, including the team with highest league attendance. Average attendance is down.

However, the league lost much less in its first year than their WUSA predecessors ($15 million compared to $40 million), two new teams joined the league this year (Philadelphia and Atlanta), including one that built a stadium in suburban Atlanta. Sponsorship sales are way up. And at an average player salary of just $32,000, it’s obvious the players are absolutely committed to make it work this time around.

In another word… Determined.

If the league’s owners can survive the sophomore slump, and the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression, the pieces seem to be in place to make at least survival past the three-year record set by the WUSA plausible.

After that… Anything can happen.

Soccer is more popular than ever in the United States (sorry NASL purists, World Cup ratings don’t lie). WPS has most of the best players in the world. Nearly every team has a TV deal, and the league should get a big boost if next summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in Germany can capture even a fraction of the attention the men’s game enjoyed this summer.

According to new Atlanta Beat owner T. Fitz Johnson – who sold his company to Lockheed Martin specifically so he could start a professional sports team – WPS teams have around $2 million a year in fixed costs. After adding marketing, travel, and game operations; earning $2 million in revenue may not get the teams in the black, but getting close should keep the owners around long enough to grow from there.

$2 million in revenue per year is equivalent to the average annual sales of a McDonald’s franchise. How hard can that be? We’re talking clean, healthy, attractive, professional sports teams here. When was the last time a Big Mac made you yell OLE, or you saw a fry cook with moves like Marta?

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