We’ve admittedly given short shrift to the fate of the WPS, which announced that it was suspending operations for 2012. Over the years, we had expressed cautious optimism about the league both on this site and elsewhere. The three year old league has definitely had some ups and downs in the last couple of years. We have documented the league’s struggles at the gate, but things reached a bizarre stage when the former Washington Freedom franchise was sold to a Florida based investor who refused to name the team and the league defending champions closed up shop in consecutive seasons. That investor, Dan Borislaw is blamed by the league for its ultimate demise.
Despite those strange circumstances, the league continued to pick up new sponsors and open stadiums. Last year WPS announced that Sahlen’s Hot Dogs was the league’s 6th official sponsor and a new franchise and SSS opened in Buffalo for the 2011 campaign.WPS is good for soccer and good for women’s sports and its self imposed hiatus is definitely a setback.
In March of 2009 we interviewed WPS Director of Communications Robert Penner. At the time, the league was set to kick of its first season.
On March 29, Women’s Professional Soccer will kick-off its inaugural season with a nationally televised match-up at the Home Depot Center. Pitting the Los Angeles Sol against the Washington Freedom, the opening match will feature Brazilian star Marta and U.S. National Team scorer Abby Wambach.
Rising from the ashes of the WUSA, the WPS is seeking to gain a permanent foothold in the U.S. sporting scene. A national TV deal, a partnership with MLS and a reduction in team costs are all part of the “new model” . WPS director of communciations Robert Penner was kind of enough to chat with footiebusiness.com about some of the business aspects of the WPS. Mr. Penner is a veteran of sports media and marketing and has worked with the A.T.P., U.S. Open and NBC. Most recently, Mr. Penner worked with Puma, a founding partner of the WPS.
Footiebusiness.com: Who does WPS view as the target demographic? When affiliating with the League, who are your sponsors looking to reach?
Robert Penner: Our core demographic is of course the young female soccer player age 8-18 who plays at the club and recreational level, but we also want to reach their parents, fitness-minded women in their 20s, 30s and 40s, as well as soccer fans in general. With our world class product and athletes on the field, we think we can accomplish that. The sponsors that we have met with and those that have signed on with WPS, know that we can help deliver this hard-to-reach demographic to them through many different activation platforms.
FB: How does the media relationship with FSC differ from the media model pursued by the WUSA? What efforts are being made to secure local TV deals?
RP: First, we wanted a network that spoke to the core of what our league stands for, in this case world class soccer – so FSC was a great fit for us. In addition, we wanted appointment television so our fans know exactly when and where they can watch WPS every week. FSC has made the commitment to promote our league across their various media partners and online, so that was important to us. At the local level, we are working with two potential regional television partners and hope to know our regional TV schedule very soon.
FB: How closely will WPS work with MLS? What are the advantages/disadvantages of a close relationship?
RP: We have gained a tremendous amount of insights from MLS. They are our sales arm through our agreement with SUM, so officially we are business partners on the sales side of things. In other areas, there are overlapping synergies with operations for some teams and several teams share stadiums such as Chicago, Bay Area and Los Angeles. DC United and the Washington Freedom have announced several doubleheaders and our new franchise in Philadelphia has had a lot of discussions with the MLS Philadelphia franchise that is coming on board next year. There’s a lot we can learn from MLS, they’ve done a great job building their league to where it is today 13 years after their launch.
FB: What are the League’s goals/expectations for attendance/ratings in the first two years?
RP: We’ve said all along that we want to keep our expectations in check and we are shooting for 4,000-6,000 fans per game for the opening season, which we think is reasonable and will still make our league model profitable.
FB: We have heard about Amway’s deal with the Sol. Who is responsible for securing jersey sponsorship (i.e. the teams or the League)? Can we expect additional announcements about such sponsors prior to the season?
RP: Team shirt deals, the inventory on the front of the jerseys, is for sale by the teams. From what we’ve heard there have been some other fruitful discussions so we are hopeful that there will be other announcements over the course of the season.
Thanks to Robert Penner. WPS opens play this weekend on FSC.
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