USA | Taking a second chance at building women’s premier league

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Such positive feelings should help the new Atlanta team scheduled to join the Women’s Professional Soccer league in 2010. On the other hand, owner T. Fitz Johnson will have to provide his team its own identity, notwithstanding his obvious affection for the team name (“it’s a great brand”) and for ritualized components of a women’s fixture in these United States: screeching pre-teen girls, Smashmouth blasting over the tannoy and face painting.

An important difference between the two league structures is that Johnson, without the backing of the Cox media conglomerate that financed the original Beat and San Diego Spirit, will be able to negotiate with players and control daily operations free of a league-dominated infrastructure. Team publicists and longtime members of Atlanta’s soccer community at a Georgia Aquarium press event earlier this month expressed frustration that the Beat had excelled on the field and in attracting crowds but had to go along when investors abandoned the league on the eve of the 2003 Women’s World Cup.

Persistence from Tonya Antonucci, who formed the Women’s Soccer Initiative in 2004, and that of other believers has seen franchises formed, or re-formed, in Boston; Chicago; Los Angeles; New Jersey; Saint Louis; Santa Clara, California; and Washington, DC. The first season begins Mar 29. Atlanta and Philadelphia are planned as expansion teams in 2010. The second chance for women’s pro soccer might be its last according to Marilyn Childress, a strong advocate for the game who helped secure its introduction as an Olympic medal sport in Atlanta in 1996:

This is a chance to be able to survive. I’m concerned with the economy starting out a new league, but this is going to be a chance that I don’t think will be available down the road. We need to take it by the horns and try to get it to go. It’s very important for the sport. It’s very important for women’s sports.

Maribel Dominguez target=Unió Esportiva L’Estartit, also in Catalonia. She is now 30.

In a retracting economy that has seen the loss of one team (Houston) in the Women’s National Basketball Association and layoffs in the National Football League and NBA, Atlanta and the WPS hope to trade on the sport’s intimacy and to offer advertisers unique value. Puma already has signed on as a league-wide sponsor. Playing in small venues—Yurcak Field at Rutgers University in New Jersey, for example, will seat 5,000 for home games of Sky Blue FC—the WPS might be the perfect downscaled sport for downscaled times.

Franchises in the women’s league cost $1.5 million compared to $40 million in Major League Soccer. The Wall Street Journal continued a prospectus on Dec 15 by concluding that the WPS “will more closely resemble minor league baseball than Major League Soccer” (Matthew Futterman, “Women’s Pro Soccer League Scores Deal with Puma,” subscription only). As for the “beer an inning” challenge that sometimes prevails at minor-league ballparks, perhaps we could substitute a beer for every throw-in?

One person touting the league’s revised economic plan was Leslie Gaston, a former Beat player who deserved steadier nerve from investors than what she and colleagues got in Sept 03. Having persisted as a defender at the University of North Carolina despite 11 knee surgeries, she was selected 10th overall by the Atlanta Beat in 2003. She says she “was devastated when the league folded because I loved playing and hoped, given that I continued making rosters, that I was going to continue playing for another four or five years.”

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