The End of the WPS

On March 29, 2009 the WPS kicked 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 featured Brazilian star Marta and U.S. National Team scorer Abby Wambach.  At the time, this site was just over one month old and covering the birth of the league was a natural fit.  At the time, I wrote that as part of the league’s efforts to gain a foothold in the American sports scene, “a  national TV deal, a partnership with MLS and a reduction in team costs are all part of the “new model.”

In advance of the league’s first match, I was fortunate to speak with WPS’ Director of Communications Robert Penner.  Mr. Penner’s role was a natural outgrowth of the league’s close relationship with PUMA, WPS’ founding sponsor.  Mr. Penner emphasized that the league’s attendance goals of 4-6k per match were reasonable and the league was going to move slowly and steadily toward growth.  The league’s relationship with Fox Soccer was key as was the presence of top players and even a jersey sponsor (Amway).  With respect to demographics, here is what Mr. Penner said.

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 platform.

Over the years, the league built a stadium in Atlanta, added a team in upstate New York and added league sponsors.  Yet the attendance and television numbers never impressed, disputes among owners drained resources and energy and teams began to fold. Despite a successful World Cup last Summer, especially on television, WPS couldn’t gain a foothold.  The WPS was the second attempt in less than 20 years to add a women’s soccer league.

It is sad for American soccer and female sports that the WPS, which started with such promise has now folded.  Hopefully a new effort will materialize, perhaps in partnership with MLS, which will make a third effort a charm.