WPS’s tough times spell trouble for future of women’s game

By Melissa Turtinen

It was announced on Monday that the Women’s Professional Soccer league would suspend its 2012 season due to a legal battle with the former owner of magicJack, Dan Borislow. The Board of Governors said it hopes to bring the league back in 2013. After struggling for three seasons it seems unlikely that the league will be successful following a season-long hiatus.

This season could have meant a lot for women’s soccer. With the U.S. Women’s team looking to defend their gold medal in the London Olympics this summer would have been a great time to promote the WPS and women’s soccer as a whole. This coming on the heels of the 2011 Women’s World Cup in Germany, which only showed the world the skill and athleticism of women soccer players and increased ticket sales for many WPS teams.

You’d think with these two huge sporting events women’s soccer would only flourish, but instead it is over – at least for now – but with many sports that go on a hiatus (the 2004-05 NHL lockout) it takes a long, long time to regain fan base and recover.

WPS CEO Jennifer O’Sullivan told the Associated Press that the owners chose to cancel the season over possibly working with Borislow in the league again. Borislow’s franchise was terminated last October after being disciplined on more than one occasion for not meeting league standards. Since the termination, a legal dispute has ensued and a Florida judge ruled in January that the WPS did not follow its own dispute procedures when terminating the magicJack franchise.

“We have diverted so many resources into litigation,” O’Sullivan told the Associated Press. “This is something that needs to be resolved before we can move forward with play.”

Thomas Hofstetter, President and CEO of Sky Blue FC and a WPS board member, said via a Twitter chat Monday, “We owners want this league because it is important for women in this country, but we can’t ignore the economics.”

Perhaps the combination of the 2012 Olympics and 2011 World Cup could have been the support – both by fans and financially – that the WPS teams needed to continue…but now we’ll never know.

This isn’t just a loss for the WPS. It’s a loss for future soccer players, women and men, who will miss out on more opportunities to experience the game at a professional level. Players won’t get the chance to witness what a fantastic athlete is capable of. Kids won’t get the chance to go cheer on a professional hometown team, and I, as a writer, don’t get the chance to cover a sport I spent the majority of my life playing.

The WPS has – I’m reluctant to say had – the opportunity to make girl soccer players excited about the sport more than every two to four years (World Cup, Olympics). It has the chance to keep girls interested in the sport past their first initial seasons. It has the possibility to change the way a girl grows up. With so few women’s professional teams of any sport, the WPS had the best chance to influence female athletes.

It’s disappointing, for this season and for the future. It’s hard to think that the WPS will come back and be a successful league after all the struggles it has endured prior to this legal battle and season long hiatus. The WPS had to acquire a waiver to be sanctioned as a first-division league by the U.S. Soccer Federation in 2012 because it only had five teams, when eight are required. Now the league is suspending what would have been their most attended – and likely financial secure — season to date.

What does this mean for the future of professional women’s soccer in the U.S.? To me, as hard as it is to say, it’s not looking bright. I hope that I’m proven wrong.


Melissa Turtinen is contributing writer for The Soccer Guys and was hoping to cover The Boston Breakers this year for The Soccer Guys.

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