Established LA ownership excluded for geography

Jeff Kassouf November 20, 2012 40

The Pali Blues (Sarah Huffman in black jersey) and LA Strikers (Christina Murillo in white on right) could have joined forces in a new women's professional soccer league. (Photo: Debby von Winckelmann)

Los Angeles soccer fans got some news on Monday that they probably hoped would wait for another year when David Beckham announced the Dec. 1 MLS Cup would be his last game with the LA Galaxy.

Light years down the news cycle is another piece of soccer Los Angeles fans will miss out on: a women’s professional team (at least in 2013) in the yet-to-be-announced women’s professional soccer league we keep sort of hearing about.

Los Angeles has been excluded from the mix for what is said to be geographical reasons. Soccer Wire reported last week that the league will consist of eight teams, with the only two on the West Coast being in Portland, Ore. and Seattle, Wash.

So, yes, an LA team would be the only presence for the league in the southwest corner of the United States based on that list. And yes, WPS and FC Gold Pride (Bay Area), in particular, frequently cited travel as a budgetary strain. But should geography override a strong ownership group?

What could have been for this still-rumored women’s professional league is an already established brand in the second largest market in the United States. The Pali Blues and LA Strikers of the USL W-League had teamed up in a bid for a LA-area franchise. Pali is one of the most established women’s soccer brands in the country and have consistently found ways to not only win (W-League champions in 2008 and 2009) and develop players (the names that have passed through there are extensive and impressive), but to balance the budget.

Women’s soccer teams come and go, especially at the semi-pro level. Everything I’m told is that money isn’t the issue for LA — it’s geography.

My guess is that the other owners and, just as likely likely, U.S. Soccer looked at a LA team and thought travel would be an issue not only for that team, but for other teams flying out there. I get that. But in omitting LA, they have passed up the opportunity at adding to the league another established brand in the women’s soccer hotbed that is Southern California.

The Los Angeles Sol averaged 6,298 fans in 10 home games in 2009.No other WPS team in history even averaged as much as 5,000 fans per game. (LA folded in January 2010 after a deal for a new ownership group fell through. AEG only signed on for one year; that scenario is in no way connected to what was in the works for this proposed new league.)

U.S. Soccer and the rest of the owners may be hedging their bets that LA will still be an option in 2014 and beyond when they can bring in LA along with another California city to create another pod of teams in that region, which is an established geographic goal of this new venture. The trouble is, there is no guaranteeing that this group will be willing to wait around for that, which means everything would start from scratch in SoCal.

And good ownership groups aren’t that easy to find. WPS struggled with that plenty, including the embarrassment of Saint Louis Athletica folding mid-season in 2010.

Some tweets for digesting:

  • http://twitter.com/heyderr Heather Larson

    I discovered this today while doing some research and trying to understand the LA “decision”: 2009 Ticket Revenue for WPS: https://www.box.com/s/noae21mz623czzc426mv via http://www.funwhileitlasted.net/2012/02/09/89-los-angeles-sol/

    And was reminded that LA hosts both the Galaxy and Chivas in the MLS. With all of the talent and soccer power in CA, I would love to see 2 women’s teams in So Cal. Orange County? San Diego?

    The Strikers-Chivas partnership would’ve been / could be very nice for the “new league” in 2013: http://www.lastrikersfc.com/2011/10/17/strikers-announce-partnership-with-chivas-usa/

    Other cities that I’m aware of with women’s teams with MLS partnerships include Seattle (former Sounders Women GM now partnering with Priedmore) – check, DC – check, Portland – check, Vancouver – 2014?, and Colorado – ? (probably needs a geographical neighbor … )

    • Joshua

      Why just two?

      California has FIVE Major League Baseball teams, three NFL Teams (used to have four before 1996 and could support five NFL teams), four NBA teams, and three NHL teams when they bother to play.

      I think they could run an independent women’s pro soccer league in California. Throw in Arizona and Nevada and you could have a league that could compete with any other in the world. Eight teams: one in Nevada, one or two in Arizona, and five or six teams in California, Travel by bus or auto to minimize travel expenses.

      • Steglitz49

        Hear hear!

        Alternatively, one could create a league from Vancouver to San Diego or, if USA only from Seattle to SD, though that would require some air-travel. With 2 teams each in Seattle and LA, and 1 each in Portland, SD, Bay Area and Sacramento, you already have 8 teams. Throw in the ones you suggest and you have your standard European 12 team league.

      • http://twitter.com/heyderr Heather Larson

        2 to get Southern CA started in the new league in 2013. Sure, the state (and SW region) definitely can provide for more than that down the line.

        • Steglitz49

          Joshua’s point is well taken. Women’s soccer in USA requires regionalized leagues. Now. Not down the line.

          Travel costs have to be kept at a minimum. Spectator participation at a maximum.

          • http://twitter.com/heyderr Heather Larson

            Now? as in last Summer? I think it’s an idea worth exploring … but distracting right now considering the news we’re all waiting to hear.

          • Steglitz49

            Do you mean like in “Let’s twist again” or “Summer in the City”? Last summer Japan were World Champions. This year FIFA gifted USA the Olympic gold. High time for USA to step up to the plate and bat, else it is good night and good luck!

      • Gerson22

        Baseball…is….popular…as…a…spectator…sport. Women’s soccer is not. Why do you people refuse to see this? Where are you going to play in Arizona, exactly? Where are you going to play in Nevada, exactly? Oh, I forget, reality doesn’t matter to you people.

        • Steglitz49

          Your point is well taken. After soccer, cricket is probably the biggest sport around the world, but baseball players earn a lot more dosh.

        • Joshua

          This is off topic. Baseball survives off of TV revenues. Spectators? Ask Frank McCourt about Dodger attendance figures in 2011. The real Dodger -paid- attendance numbers not the BS numbers they gave out. The LA Times would run picture after picture of an empty Dodger Stadium day after day during homestands. Maybe somebody is buying the tickets but nobody was showing up. The financial picture hasn’t been good for Baseball but still it shoulders on.

          The TV ratings for the 2012 World Series were the worst in history. But Baseball pushes along somehow inspite of a player payroll that should have bankrupted MLB long ago.

          By “pro”, I mean “not amateur”. Nobody’s talking a new major pro sports league. At least, I’m not. I know the USSF isn’t. And WPS wasn’t. My references to the major league teams in California is just to illustrate that California -in and of itself- represents a MAJOR sports market that really doesn’t need the rest of the country.

          It would appear there already are seven or eight outfits (I hesitate to use the term “organizations”) in California -that aspire- to the join an -elite- “pro” league. To be at the highest level. Something better than Semi pro.

          Are there laws against women playing in “pro” sports leagues in Nevada and Arizona? Hasn’t there been a there a WNBA team in Phoenix for 15 years now?

          USWNT draws decent enough in Phoenix, AZ when they play there.

          In Nevada? Isn’t Las Vegas in Nevada? “LFL”. Now that’s a “spectator” sport right?

          Who are “you people”?

          • Steglitz49

            Careful, Joshua. The answer to your prayers may not be what you want.
            — Las Vegas?!? I think the attire that women soccer players would be expected to wear in Las Vegas would be far beyond what Sepp Blatter had in mind and may well embarrass beach volleyball players to boot. But, each to their own desires and devices, though professional women probably means something else in Las Vegas, soccer or no soccer.
            — Baseball is the all american game. OK. Pete Rozelle supplanted it with Grid-iron, but women’s soccer is still waiting for its Pete Rozelle.

            Everyone interested in ladies’ football around the world is praying for the US league to succeed, just like every child in Sweden includes in her or his bedtime prayer a supplication that Zlatan remains injury-free for the world cup qualifying matches.

          • TsovLoj

            I’m not so sure about that first paragraph. That kind of attraction is for tourists, but the fanbase for any league team would be locals. They’re a different crowd.

  • dw

    If SoCal is such a hotbet, what has happened to the LA Viking Cup? It appears that the hosts can’t even field a squad… Anyone know more?

    • Beth

      Exactly my thoughts. Jeff, are you aware of the LA Viking Cup situation? Apparently Mgmt did not pay the players and the players refused to show up to their own tournament. It may be best for women’s pro soccer if SoCal is kept out.

      • http://twitter.com/JeffKassouf Jeff Kassouf

        I’m looking into exactly what went on there, but it’s completely independent of anything to do with a women’s pro team in LA run by the Pali Blues and and LA Strikers. LA Vikings is a separate organization and has nothing to do with Pali/Strikers.

  • palifan

    I like the idea of Pali Blues and LA Strikers teaming up. I went to a lot of those W-league games last year and Pali struggled to have much of an audience despite having such a stacked team. I wondered why there were so many different teams all in the same area (3 W-league, 2 WPSL) but I guess geography was more an issue than selling lots of tickets.

    • Steglitz49

      LA has a population of about 3.5m in the city and nearly 13m in the metro area. That is about as many as in Sweden and Norway together. I doubt if population is the issue.

      • palifan

        Right. I know LA has a big enough population. Just seemed odd last year that there were 3 teams with attendances in the hundreds. Why not merge and have attendances in the thousands. But that wasn’t a pro league, so can’t really compare. Just an observation.

        • Gerson22

          You could merge. That wouldn’t necessarily mean you’d get attendances in the thousands. And it wouldn’t be enough anyway.

          • Steglitz49

            Gerson22 speaks words of wisdom so, palifan, do not shoot this messenger because s/he brings bad news. Rather, stare darkly into the glass and gather strength.

            Apart from Man Utd there is no more emblatic name in soccer than the Gunners, aka Arsenal.
            — Last season in the CL SF, Arsenal Ladies lost to Frankfurt and 894 (<1000) bothered to show up. The return leg in Frankfurt, which was academic, nevertheless attracted 3 710. At the same time, Lyon's home leg was watched by 12 800 while for the hopeless return match in Potsdam 3 870 hapless people showed up. Solidarity and all that.

            — The year before, Arsenal Ladies had the misfortune to play Lyon away and 20 000 showed up to watch Lotta Schelin score 2 goals. The return match in London attracted 507 souls! Worse, the QF between Arsenal and Linköping was watched by 286 in London while the return at Linköping attracted 1 921. Sancta simplicitas!

            It is not about merging. It is, as Gerson22 points out, about figuring out the market and developing it. Second-rate marketers are not going to cut the mustard.

          • palifan

            I don’t want to shoot anyone. I just want to be able to enjoy women’s soccer in Southern California. And I think other people do too. And a blanket statement that it won’t work is discouraging and not helpful. I think it can work. I agree with you. It is about finding the right market. I’m not sure youth soccer teams are the right market. Those kids don’t even watch the games and their parents don’t either. Market to adults that enjoy women’s sports. There are plenty out there. For example, lesbian women and men that find women soccer players attractive. Make the game more entertaining by serving drinks. Get a supporter’s group like the Riptide to bring a higher energy level.

          • http://twitter.com/heyderr Heather Larson

            Sounders Women were successful with this last season with crowds averaging over 4,000 (near capacity), rousing support from Jet City Auxilary, and a smallish beer garden near the SE corner of the field. I saw soccer lovers of all backgrounds at the games – not just one demographic group. They also had good cross-promotion going with the Sounders FC thanks I’m sure in large part to Sounders Women GM Amy Carnell has also worked as Sounders FC Youth Development director as well as WNT players like Hope Solo and Alex Morgan. http://soccer365.com/news/features/the_grainey_report/14721/seattle_sounders_women_draw_huge_crowds

            Seattle’s audience is ready. With Portland’s similar soccer fanaticism, I think they’ll be good to go as well – especially if UP soccer stars like Megan Rapinoe and Christine Sinclair decide to join their team.

          • Steglitz49

            Between Vancouver, Puget Sound and Portland, you have almost a league of your own, Heather.
            With corporations like Starbucks and Microsoft, you are not short of dough in Seattle.
            What is holding you back and stopping you?

          • Steglitz49

            In Japan, and at some grounds in Germany, the match is more than a match. It is more like a family outing. The players stay behind and are photographed with the girls in the crowd. Everyone has a good time.

            Nevertheless, the reality in Japan is that a couple of wealthy persons carry teams out of the kindness of their hearts. California is one of the biggest economies in the world. The world. Yet, the best paid women players play in Europe. If SoCal thus loved women’s soccer, how come the greatest are not playing in SoCal?

            When Lindsey Horan and Kosse Asllani chat with Zlatan, it is a meeting of equals. Nevertheless, not too many people turned up in Paris to watch PSG take on Lyon. C’est la vie.

  • Becca

    It would be tough to get an all-West Coast professional league sanctioned because it needs to be in more than one time zone. That being said, I think this a big opportunity that has been missed. Not going to draw any conclusions until we actually hear what is going on with the league, but I appreciate the fact that someone is giving us some info!

  • Steglitz49

    MLS has grown by 1m spectators per year, from 4m spectators to 5m and now 6m. Yet, the top male players in the world play for clubs in Europe. Meanwhile, USA’s women (Olympic gold x2) are the best in the world with Japan (reigning world champs) and Germany (former world champs, defeated by Japan last year) but the USAs women’s leagues folded twice.

    The marketers must solve this paradox. It is as if there were two matches in Seattle on the same evening. In one match Zlatan was playing and the tickets were $8 while in the other the best player was Donovan and the tickets were $25 — yet everyone went to watch the game without Zlatan.

    Maybe SoCal holds the answer to the riddle? Study and solve SoCal and be wise.

    • Gerson22

      Here’s the solution: understand that the market in this country cares about the US Women when they wear the stars and stripes and not as much when they play for club teams. Why can’t WoSo zealots understand this? Calling on “the marketers” to “solve this paradox” as if it can just be solved by marketing is exactly the kind of myopia that marginalizes people like you, who let their own fanboy and fangirl hysteria overwhelm what is obvious: this product won’t fly here.

      • Steglitz49

        Your point is well taken. Verily, it is mirrored in several countries. For women’s soccer in USA, the paradox has to be either solved or the sport will vanish.

        Lyon’s team has arrived in Japan to play in the Mobcast cup, (unofficially) labeled as the Women’s Club World Championship. Lyon is bringing their top team, somewhat against the expectations of the Talking Heads and Chattering Classes because France ladies play a match against Germany soon after.

        America are the reigning Olympic champions, having thrashed the French in their group game. America beat France at the World Championship last year. Yet, no American club team is playing in the Mobcast cup.

        Until now, the NCAA system has carried USA along but they have not been World Champions for an awfully long time (and the most iconic Olympic final remains that in Sydney). Lindsey Horan is plying her trade for Zlatan’s club. Maybe the USA has seen the light but as long as other countries struggle on, the light will shine elsewhere.

        USA has the opportunity to dominate ladies’ football, just the way the NHL has dominated hockey. Like the NHL, USA seems to be hell bent on shooting itself in booth feet.

      • palifan

        So we should just give up? Are you always this pessimistic?

      • Joshua

        If its just all about stars and stripes how come other National teams do not register so much as a mention anywhere. USA Women won gold in basketball and water polo, won silver in volleyball at the Olympics. Did anybody notice? Stars and stripes though right? So where are their victory tours?

        An objective, nonbiased observer would come to the conclusion that Women’s Soccer is a more popular sport that the above mentioned and is expanding beyond it’s National Team groupy following.

        Of course a biased commentor would come up with any sort of argument to fit his biase…

        • TsovLoj

          To be fair, US has a women’s basketball league that does quite well. So it’s not like they’re a great example of non-popularity.

  • Joshua

    If California has been left out because of “geography” why are Seattle and Portland ok?
    Not that much less distance to Boston.

    Of course, this assumes the rumours about this new league are correct…
    My take on Washington and Oregon being ok in a league otherwise centered in the Northeast is to prevent a rival regional west coast based league from starting. Clever people at USSF. But why the anti-Cali biase?

    • http://twitter.com/heyderr Heather Larson

      If East Coast and Midwest teams can play two West Coast teams on one trip, would that be a significant savings on travel for each team?

      • Steglitz49

        To operate a ladies team today, you need a budget of about $3m a year, and probably more. Who are your sponsors? Wealthy private individuals — maybe — but which corporations will fork out?

        Augusta National recently admitted its first two lady members, one of whom held a senior position at Stanford before going into politics. Stanford is, as usual, doing jolly well at the soccer NCAAs. Where is the Bay Area Ladies’ pro(-am) soccer team?

      • Joshua

        Only maybe on air travel expenses. Nothing else unless you intend to play both Seattle and Portland on the same day.

  • Steglitz49

    Apparently there will be some press-conference or conference call in about 6 hours or so, where everything will be revealed. It would appear that this new league may involve teams from north and south of the border. We wait on tiptoe.

    (Allegedly, the team in KC is already out of the bag — the owners of the Missouri Comets — a Men’s Indoor Soccer League program — have been given the task.)

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