January 30, 2012
by Charles Cuttone
A bad day for American soccer
Monday was a bad day for American soccer. And it shouldn't have been. Most of the signs in the sport are positive. Then Women's Professional Soccer announced that it is suspending the 2012 season and intends to return to play in 2013.
Other soccer entities have taken hiatuses, as have other sports leagues, notably Arena Football. But few ever come back.
This decision comes just days after the United States Women's National Team clinched a spot in the 2012 Summer Olympics. Games that would have created buzz for WPS, just as last year's World Cup did.
Whatever momentum from last year has already been lost over the offseason, and any effect from the Olympics surely will be forgotten if the league lays completely fallow for the next 12 months.
As one veteran sports executive said to me, "You are never going to get back the year that you lost."
While the league ostensibly laid the blame for this decision squarely at the feet of magicJack owner Dan Borislow, there have been a lot of people, many of them well meaning, that ultimately have led the women's game to where it is.
Of course, Borislow, his non-compliance with league rules last year, his treatment of many of his non-national team players and his propensity to badmouth his partners in the league, cannot escape blame, but the shortcomings in the women's game were there long before he arrived on the scene.
It easily dates back to the 1999 Women's World Cup team, who thought they were so popular that a league paying them high-end salaries could be sustainable. At that time, Major League Soccer was struggling, but still wanted to start a women's league. It certainly had owners with deep enough pockets to do it, guys like Phil Anschutz, Lamar Hunt and Robert Kraft, but the women arrogantly told them they didn't need the men screwing up the women's game.
The player-driven WUSA lasted three years. Now too, it seems like WPS has lasted three years. Well meaning owners lost ten of millions of dollars. Why? Because the business model doesn’t work. I know at least one national team player was making close to $80,000 in 2010, and was not the highest paid of her WNT teammates.
Things like that led the owners in WPS to think their business model needed to change to one that was more sustainable, where player salaries were more in line with the revenue teams could take in on ticket sales.
A number of National Team players, mostly the younger ones, bought into that philosophy, agreeing to take pay cuts to keep playing in the league this year. Unfortunately many of the veterans, players who played for magicJack, didn't feel the same way.
Oh, they give lip service to building the game, which perhaps by their play on the field they do, but at the same time, the player who is ostensibly the face of women's soccer in this country, Abby Wambach, said on national television the other day that she "admired" Dan Borislow and would support him – evidently even if that means shutting down the professional game in this country.
According to people I have talked to, Wambach and other veteran players put pressure on the younger players to not play in the league this year, under some convoluted reasoning that, “gee, if Borislow is willing to play National Team players stupid money, then other owners should be as well.” For the older players, like Wambach, Hope Solo, Christie Rampone, Heather Mitts and Shannon Boxx (all unsigned by the WPS), it may not matter. They have been paid well through careers that are now winding down.
But for players like Amy Rodriguez, Alex Morgan and Sydney Leroux, if there is no WPS in 2013, there may be no league for them ever again.
That's why Monday was a bad day for American soccer.