Women's Professional Soccer (WPS) announced today that six of its seven existing franchises have met the financial threshold to compete in 2011.
For the second consecutive year, the reigning champions are not one of them. Shockingly, what many had thought to be one of the league's strongest franchise, Chicago, is also on the bubble.
The announcement confirmed earlier rumors that the Bay Area's FC Gold Pride, 2010 WPS Champions were unable to raise sufficient cash to make the required escrow deposit, even after the deadline was extended to November 15th.
The announcement also made explicit what was implicit in a recent announcement by the Chicago Red Stars that their club is in need of additional investors in order to continue operations. Chicago has been given until December 9th to post the required escrow, or that franchise will also fold.
Washington Freedom, also rumored to be folding, was able to attract additional investors and has made their escrow deposit.
“While it is disappointing to the league and its many enthusiastic fans, players, and partners that FC Gold Pride did not find the level of support it aimed for in its market, the continuing WPS teams have fully committed to the 2011 WPS season,” said WPS CEO Anne-Marie Eileraas.
She continued, “These past few weeks have been critical to ensuring the long-term health of the league, and we are pleased to be moving forward today with these six committed teams for the 2011 Season. We are hopeful that Chicago will also join those teams for 2011. We are looking forward to a great summer of WPS soccer next year with those teams in light of the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup, which will give fans around the world the opportunity to see the exciting play of many WPS players on the sport’s biggest stage.”
The league also announced revised rules for free agency and the expansion draft.
Free agency officially opens at 12:01am ET on Wednesday, November 17 with players from FC Gold Pride now all becoming free agents.
On Tuesday, November 16th, in lieu of the formal Expansion Draft, the Western New York franchise will have one day to claim up to six unprotected players from the Expansion Draft list announced by WPS on October 20.
Upon approval of the selected players in accordance with the previous draft mechanics determined by the league, WNY will announce their picks in a separate release later this week. The players will be selected and approved prior to the opening of free agency.
If Chicago folds, four of the original seven franchises will have failed within two years. Of the remaining six, half would be expansion clubs. Still, league officials insist this is all part of the life cycle of a new league.
“The history of sports has shown that in the early years of any league, teams come and go,” said Eileraas. “We are moving forward to start planning for 2011. We’ll have a terrific season next year with at least six committed teams and will continue to have the best soccer talent in the world playing throughout the spring and summer, culminating with an exciting WPS Playoffs like we’ve had the past two years.”
“Over the past few months, we have made tough decisions to create a more efficient and sustainable business,” said Thomas Hofstetter, member of the WPS Board of Governors and President, Sky Blue FC. “These changes have enabled us to build a solid foundation for growth over the coming years.”
An overview of the season schedule, league calendar, 2011 WPS Playoff format and the 2011 WPS Draft will be announced in December.
Meanwhile, the new Western New York franchise is yet to re-schedule their launch press conference. Sources indicate the team will announce its nickname, logo, kits and roster by the end of November or early December.