WPS Draft and Offseason ReportBy: phil | January 26th, 2011
As often with young leagues, a lot of changes were made in the offseason. I thought I was at least glibly familiar with the WPS going into the day, but a few incidents of upheaval since the past season ended took me by surprise:
- A new franchise has been added in Rochester, to be called the Western New York Flash.
- Several teams have folded, including California’s FC Gold Pride (last year’s champions) and the Chicago Red Stars. They join St. Louis Athletica, who went under halfway through last season.
- The Washington franchise has announced it will play some of its home matches in Florida (where the owner happens to live) this coming season. This doesn’t augur well for this team’s future in the DC area.
- Also, the Washington team, currently called the Freedom, announced it will change its name to magicTalk FC / Washington Freedom. The less said about this, the better.
If you’re keeping track at home, this leaves six teams to play in the upcoming 2011 season: the Western NY Flash, the Atlanta Beat, the Philadelphia Independence, Sky Blue FC (based in NJ), the Boston Breakers, and magicTalk FC / Washington Freedom. All of them are based on or near the East coast.
There were definitely a few positive signs. First, the sponsors from last year hung around, and the league did pick up a few more. Citibank and Puma logos were all over everything at the draft. This is probably more important than anything. Even the biggest and best leagues need sponsors (consider the bidding wars to be “the official truck of the NFL”), but for a smaller and newer league, they are absolutely vital. Only corporate sponsorships are going to give you the continued and reliable flow of cash you need to fund the operational basics – salaries of players, coaches and employees; lease payments on arenas and stadiums; even travel costs. Draft day showed that are a few companies that are willing to stick with the league, and surely for business reasons (I doubt Citibank has much of a sense of sentiment).
In the end, of course, only converting large numbers of fans will bring the necessary revenue: tickets sales, shirts and hats, and eventually TV viewership. The league seems genuinely confident that this will come, in time. But the sponsorships are going to be necessary to keep the show on the road for at least the next two years.
A second positive sign was the presence of a respectable-sized media pool. Between reporters with notebooks and tape recorders, photographers, and bloggers typing away at computers, I counted at least 20 media types on the scene. A few people were live-blogging the draft. The entire thing (which wasn’t shown on TV) was being broadcast over the net, and we were told the start had to be delayed because the online feed was overwhelmed. So there are people interested in the WPS. How many, and how deep their interest, remains to be seen.
The draft itself followed an asymmetrical format – because of special expansion and compensatory picks, none of the four rounds had the same number of picks. This kept us on our toes. With the first overall pick, the Western NY Flash took Alex Morgan, forward out of the University of California. Unlike the MLS Draft, the women came from a wide of variety college programs: 18 schools were represented in the 24 picks, and no school had more than two.
The expansion Flash probably made out the best. In addition to Morgan, they selected Elli Reed out of the University of Portland, Rose Augustin from Notre Dame (who led the Irish to the NCAA title this year), and Ashleigh Bowers from Niagara U. So don’t be surprised if the league newcomers threaten in their first year.
Teams are still in the process of signing their players, so complete rosters for the upcoming season aren’t available yet. The full season schedule won’t be set until February, but the first week of games has already been announced. The Breakers and Atlanta Beat open the season on April 9, and the Independence travel to Jersey to take on Sky Blue FC the next day, with Fox Soccer Channel broadcasting live. Stay tuned over the next few months, as The Offside will preview the upcoming season, investigate the possible move of the Washington franchise to Florida, and maybe even profile a few players.