By Kevin Koczwara
Life for Women’s Professional Soccer hasn’t been easy since its inception in 2007. The league continues to teeter on the brink of extinction. Attendance and national media coverage are slim. And most troubling of all has been the league’s inability to keep teams in the league for one reason or another.
Adding to the pile of teams in the morgue is magicJack, the south Florida based team that moved from the Washing D.C. area last season. magicJack joins teams from Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, St. Louis and Chicago as the failed franchises of WPS. There is a difference between the folding of previous teams and magicJack, though. The difference: owner Dan Borislow.
Despite a team stocked with some of the most prized faces and talent in women’s soccer, Borislow found a way to make magicJack a troubled franchise with a terrible reputation for not taking care of its players and ostracizing its fans. With the likes of Abby Wambach, Megan Rapinoe, and Hope Solo, magicJack had arguably the most talented and most marketable squad in WPS. With that kind of squad, it was a no-brainer for Borislow to try and market his team, right? He didn’t think so. He also didn’t think it was necessary to hire a coach. He didn’t think it was necessary to give his prized players proper training, treatment and supplies. He did the opposite of what any good owner of a sports franchise does: he cut back on all things to make his team stand out, and almost single-handily impeded on his team’s success. Borislow took his team and worked to alienate his team from the rest of WPS.
Borislow and magicJack’s death as a team started when he took over as owner. He moved the team — formally the Washington Freedom of Washington D.C. — to a stadium close to his home in Florida and out of a major metro area where exposure, newspaper coverage and plenty of people lived — out of the seventh largest metro area in the United States. It was a grave mistake, and a precursor to all the mistakes that would lead to the demise of the franchise.
For the the WPS, the loss of another team is a major blow.The league now is down to five teams, and it doesn’t look good. Part of the league’s plan, to build a strong core of teams with good ownership, was endangered the day Borislow purchased the Freedom. Now, the league needs to re-think its process of allowing the sales of teams and how it handles the ownership of franchises. A look at Major League Baseball (sometimes), the NBA, or the NFL could offer some insight into how owners should be chosen and how much involvement professional sports leagues should have in the process. For an owner to move a team or for a new owner to come in and purchase a team, it must be approved by the league and in the better interest of the franchise and the league as a whole. Now, there is no way WPS could have known to what extent Borislow was going to go, but it had to have an idea when he proposed moving the team to a city much, much smaller than the Metro-Washington D.C. area, the seventh most densely populated metro area in the whole of the United States.
One thing WPS did do well: it waited until the end of the season to remove magicJack and it allowed the team to keep playing. It also did the right thing by removing the team by the league. If professional women’s soccer is going to succeed, it can’t have a team like magicJack or an owner like Borislow. Removing him quickly was important, WPS still has plenty of time to find a new owner and establish a new team before the season starts.
And it needs to find a new team quickly. WPS cannot survive on five teams. There aren’t enough games to go around, and there can’t be the much loved playoff structure of American sports if there are just 5 teams competing for spots. Finding a solid market will be tough, but WPS needs to step up the search and get a new team quickly by using the success of the 2011 Women’s World Cup, which still has resonance and still lingers in the public conscience. Or it could find out, just as previous professional women’s soccer leagues have found out, that everything can come to an end quicker than ever expected.
Kevin Koczwara can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.