Ladies, it’s time to stand in solidarity with your soccer-playing sisters.
If you spent even a moment cheering last summer when the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team competed in the World Cup finals against Japan, you need to know that those internationally renowned sportswomen may not get to play next year.
If you’ll recall, women’s soccer reached a fever pitch in July and made front-page news. The final was seen by 13.5 million viewers, making it the most-watched and highest-rated soccer telecast on an ESPN network, and the second most-watched daytime program in cable history, according to the Nielsen Co.
But the three-year-old Women’s Professional Soccer league (WPS) is anxiously waiting to hear from Chicago-based U.S. Soccer, the sport’s governing body, about whether they’ll be able to move forward in 2012, buoyed by an unprecedented fan and sponsor interest in the sport.
Not surprisingly, before last summer’s blockbuster performance, women’s soccer hadn’t exactly taken off. Women’s professional sports and soccer don’t exactly seem like a profitable combination and the economic climate the league was launched in — the first WPS game was played in March of 2009, three months before the “official” end of the Great Recession — made instant success all but impossible.
Our WPS team, the Chicago Red Stars, suspended operations almost exactly a year ago due to lack of funding, though the team averaged the second-best attendance in the league in both 2009 and 2010. Then South Florida’s team, MagicJack, went under this past October, bringing the league down to an anemic five teams — one each in Atlanta, Boston and Philadelphia and two in New York.
That’s the crisis: U.S. Soccer’s bylaws require all professional leagues to have a minimum of eight teams, and though WPS had gotten annual waivers, U.S. Soccer might not take that leap of faith this year.
“We were in Chicago last week to make our case to the U.S. Soccer task force, who will then make a recommendation to the entire board of directors, for why we should be granted another waiver and we will continue those discussions until they’re ready to make their final decision,” said CEO of Women’s Professional Soccer, Jennifer O’Sullivan.
“There’s a lot more at stake here than just professional women’s soccer. The league provides a place and an opportunity for the U.S. to develop that next generation of national team players who can compete in the Olympics and the World Cup,” O’Sullivan continued.
Though last summer’s excitement led to many new franchise investment and sponsorship opportunities, O’Sullivan said, there just wasn’t enough time to add three new teams in time for the 2012 season. And while the Chicago Red Stars had hoped to resume operations next year, she said, they’re still a few investors away from starting up again — if there’s league play.
I had not heard of this drama playing itself out in the world of professional women’s soccer until an old friend tipped me off, but it turns out that women across the country are doing all they can to get U.S. Soccer to give the ladies just a little more time.
So far, more than 47,000 people have signed an online petition, at change.org, asking U.S. Soccer to allow WPS to remain a sanctioned league.
Electronic advocacy might be the least one can do to support a worthy cause, but sending a Tweet, posting a link to Facebook or signing a petition might spark a little of last summer’s magic when the world watched the United States women soccer players shine.