Women's Pro Soccer Faces Extinction

John HowellAnalyst INovember 30, 2011

One of only two womens professional sports leagues in the United States, WPS faces what may be its biggest obstacle to continued survival.
One of only two womens professional sports leagues in the United States, WPS faces what may be its biggest obstacle to continued survival.Harry How/Getty Images

Women's Professional Soccer has announced they have less than two weeks to add another franchise, or face a loss of Division-I sanctions by U.S. Soccer.  Such a loss of sanctions could spell the end of the three-year-old league.

All professional soccer leagues in the United States, including WPS, are subject to sanctioning by U.S. Soccer and an annual review.  The Professional League Standards, as set up by U.S. Soccer, require all professional leagues, including those at D-I (the highest level of soccer sanctioned by U.S. Soccer) to field a minimum of eight teams.

U.S. Soccer granted WPS, the only women’s professional league in this country, a waiver and sanctioned the League as a top tier D-I league with six teams for the 2011 season.

WPS terminated the magicJack franchise at the close of the 2011 season due to blatant and ongoing non-compliance with league rules by franchise owner Dan Borislow, who also owns the company for which the franchise was named.  That action left the league with only five franchises.

WPS has again applied for a waiver from U.S. Soccer to retain its status as a D-I professional league for 2012 with its current field of five teams (Atlanta, Boston, New York/New Jersey, Philadelphia, Western New York).  WPS made this request in its application “based on the tremendous interest in women’s soccer, potential for growth in markets across the country, and expressed interest from viable expansion candidates for the 2013 season.”

According to WPS, there are several cities in the expansion pipeline for 2013.  One of those—a Hartford, Conn., group—is the most likely to be ready to compete in 2012, but according to league CEO, the odds of this or any franchise being ready to begin play next season are less than even. 

Efforts to bring in at least one more franchise for the coming year are ongoing and have intensified in recent weeks, but the league wants to ensure that any new entries have adequate time to launch a full, major league caliber operation.

 "While we take very seriously the issue of U.S. Soccer’s classification of us as a D-I league, we are both confident and undeterred in our mission to continue and to be the best women's professional soccer league in the world," said Women's Professional Soccer CEO Jennifer O'Sullivan.

"WPS enjoyed our strongest season in 2011, setting new attendance records, increasing sponsorship and engaging our growing fan base through social media.  Our brand was bolstered by the FIFA World Cup and we expect continued momentum from the 2012 Olympics next summer.  Given these factors in addition to our long‐term plan for growth, extensive expansion franchise pipeline, and the investment and commitment of a core group of owners, we would hope that the Federation would continue support for the only professional soccer league for women in the United States," O'Sullivan said.

While no final decision has been made by U.S. Soccer on the sanctioning of WPS for 2012, U.S. Soccer has given WPS additional time to resolve the issues they identified in the League’s annual report.  WPS is engaged in positive dialogue with U.S. Soccer and will continue ongoing discussions in the coming days to determine what is necessary for the League to retain its D-I status.

When asked if the league would attempt to continue without D-I status, and what real consequences would occur should they attempt to do so, Ms. O’Sullivan stated that she does not want to entertain that option at this point, since she is hopeful that because WPS plays a major role in helping develop future national team players and especially because 2012 is an Olympic year, US Soccer will see fit to find a way to issue a waiver for the five team field.