FC Gold Pride officially folded Nov. 16, ceasing operations after two seasons. The 2010 FC Gold Pride squad was arguably the best women’s soccer team in history and put together a 16-3-5 (53 pts.) season en route to a Women’s Professional Soccer title. However, it is all in the past now.
Nancy and Brian NeSmith owned the team for the two years it operated in WPS. Last week, Nancy took the time to talk about what unfolded earlier in the month.
Jeff Kassouf: So how did this situation come about? Why has FC Gold Pride folded?
Nancy NeSmith: It goes back to an article in the San Jose Mercury News and I was talking to Elliot (Almond) saying that we were looking for investors and that was back in June, so everybody knew we were looking for investors. I think I had also said something that we were looking at – everybody was reducing costs and we were hoping we would be getting about three to four thousand fans and then the sponsorship comes and nothing ever materialized. And I think that pretty much the nail in the coffin was during the WPS Championship game. We only sold about 2,900 tickets. And then we got no sponsors afterwards and we hardly had anyone sign up for season tickets. So to me that was really telling that the Bay Area, for whatever reason, was not interested. – and it is a business in the end – was not interested in hosting a team. So, we had to rethink because based everything on having three to four thousand fans and sponsors and we didn’t get any of that. So, we felt like we did the best we could. We gave a great product, we had great players, a good staff, we moved to a stadium that basically was a third of the price of Santa Clara – Stanford was never an option. I know that was thrown out there but Stanford never wanted us – never invited us – and we were welcomed at Hayward and we were gratefull that Hayward opened their doors to us. And we thought the facilities were great and we did all these things based on a hope people would come. It’s kind of like the Field of Dreams: You build it and people will come. And no one came. At the end of the day this is not a charity; this is business and you have to think. We reevaluated out business model and that didn’t even work. We weren’t even getting people – if you can’t even sell out a championship game, that’s a wake-up call for us for our front office staff that people just had better things to do or they are just not that interested. So, we had to reevaluate. It’s not like we wanted to make money. We wanted to break even, but we didn’t even see that. There was no light at the end of the tunnel. So we talked to everyone that we knew that we thought might be interested in investing and no one stepped up. We didn’t get one person interested. Not even a little. So, it was kind of like ‘OK, people complain and you said this and that but no one is stepping up to help us. We carried the team for two years. We wanted to do it. We knew we were going to lose some money. We didn’t think we were going to lose this much, but we would have gone forward if we had gotten any kind of response from the public and we didn’t. I think for us it’s just – I don’t know if the Bay Area just can’t handle another sports team or if it’s women’s sports in general, but there just wasn’t the fan base. And I know you need to build after a couple of years, but we didn’t even get a nudge after we won and there was no indication that we were going to get more fans. You know, we didn’t have all these people sign up for season tickets; we didn’t have sponsors calling us. I mean, we just won the championship and we couldn’t get any doors open, so that was like, we just need to cut our losses and say we tried. We wish the league good luck and I think in the markets where other teams are, maybe they have more of a chance. The Bay Area is just notoriously hard for sports and we have so many teams here and it just wasn’t going to work. People just were not interested. I think that’s the bottom line is that you have to – it’s reality. People just were not interested in coming. I mean the championship, my gosh. I know the Giants and I know Major League Baseball and I don’t want to compare. I am going to compare it a little bit, but people were banging down the doors to get one playoff ticket and people were – I don’t know how many thousands of people showed up for the parade they had. And we were getting excuses from people: ‘Well you had it at 11 o’clock in the morning.’ Well no one was complaining when the Giants had their parade in 11 o’clock in the morning and that told me that people didn’t care. And it wasn’t our choice. That’s what Fox Soccer said but if they were true fans people would have come out, they would have come out. And when you can’t sell out your championship game, that tells me that the market is not there. So, again, it’s a business. I’m not like Onofis (?) where this money doesn’t matter. It matters and you have to make a family and a business decision because it was only our family doing it.
JK: So this was all building and then the championship is where you saw the light?
NN: Well yea I think it was building up to that. We were hoping because people were getting used to us being at Hayward and we were winning games and last year when we were in last place we had more fans. And I know the move to some people was distasteful but for us business-wise we could not have survived in Santa Clara. The amount of money they were asking per game just did not make sense and Hayward opened their doors and gave us a really good deal so that really cut down on our expenses, but it still wasn’t enough that we needed to bring the fans in and they weren’t coming. And I mean, yea, I guess the nail in the coffin for us was right around (the final) but we still had hope. You know, we reached out really strongly to people that we knew in the soccer community and we were like, ‘help us out, we’ve made this initial investment. We don’t need a lot to continue.’ And like I said, we didn’t get one person that said, ‘OK Nancy, Brian, we believe in this and we’re going to step up and help you out. We didn’t get anybody. We got a lot of people that told us why we failed and told us all the big mistakes we made and if we did X, Y and Z then we would have survived, but not one person put a checkbook in and opened up and said, ‘OK we believe in this team and we’re going to write you a check and help you out.’ So, there were a lot of critics and a lot of people that said, ‘you said this and you said that,’ but in the end the fans didn’t come, the sponsors didn’t come and nobody came to support. You know, we have a very small fan base which I love and I love the players and I would have loved to have kept it going because I think we have great players and the fans that came were really supportive and they were great but it wasn’t enough to sustain a business. And we thought it was going to be. We took a risk when we took Marta. Her salary was a little high but we were basically gambling that bringing Marta in would bring the fans and would bring sponsors and that just didn’t happen. It was a calculated risk. We tried to do the best we could and we did. I mean, we won a championship. I don’t know how much more you can ask for from that standpoint but people just weren’t interested.
JK: So you mention that people were saying ‘you said this and you said that.’ A lot of people look at various interviews (one here) saying that you were in it for the long haul. Was that to try to instill confidence?
NN: Well I think naively I thought that that business model would work. Back then when I said it I believed it because I really did think we would be able to get – bringing the championship – I thought we would be able to get three to four thousand people a game. But when we couldn’t sell out – when we couldn’t come close to selling out our championship game, I mean that was like a month and a half later after I said it – the writing was on the wall at that point. You know, I just assumed people would come and I guess that was just me being naïve and hopeful. When I said it I believed it and I thought we would get investors. There were people that said they were interested. When I was talking I had people: ‘Oh yea, yea, we’re interested, this is great, you have a great team.’ So I believed when people said they were interested but it was just talk. Nobody was really interested. And so I had all these thoughts like we are going to bring a championship, we are playing great soccer, we have the World Cup, people are going to show up for the games and if we had sold out or even afterwards when we were selling season tickets and were renewing, if we would have gotten like 3,000 season tickets we would have gone forward. I think we got like 400 new season tickets. Our total was like 800. You just can’t survive. We were checking the numbers and like I said I was naïve thinking that business model would work and it didn’t. I’m not going to be stupid and say just because I said it – nothing came to fruition. You have to kind of look back and say from a business standpoint I am willing to lose money, but how much money can I lose? And at that point it was too much. Like I said, if we had all of those things happen; if we had the three to four thousand people per game, but our average tickets were 2,100 and we had to double that. Maybe that was naïve of me thinking that we could do it and I thought bringing a championship we could do it and I thought going to Hayward where it was a beautiful stadium and it was our stadium, I thought we could do it. We were ready to lose some money but then when you turn it around it’s just like, that’s not going to work.
JK: I was looking at a San Jose Mercury News article from right after the championship game and it asked you about the long haul. You knew the Nov. 1 deadline was there…
NN: I didn’t talk to anybody after the championship.
JK: So that was posted after the championship but they spoke with you before?
NN: Yea, I think so. I talked to Elliot (Almond) before and this was a while back. I had a long conversation. But I don’t think I talked to anybody before and again, you hope for something and you wish for something. That doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. I hoped after the game we were going to get kind of like a snowball effect. People would get excited, people would come on board, we would get a couple of – we were looking for minority investors. We weren’t looking for majority investors just to kind of help us through the cycle and nothing happened. And I mean nothing. We didn’t get a peep from anybody. So at that point you’re like, OK. I don’t know what to say. We tried and I don’t see anyone else stepping up and putting in $6 million to women’s soccer and not asking for anything in return. All the people that want to criticize, let them open their wallets and make a statement. Or buy a season ticket, which no one did. And that’s what we asked all the time. If people bought season tickets we would be here and they didn’t. I don’t want to criticize our fans, because I think our fans are great. This is no criticism and our fans were phenomenal and they showed up, but there weren’t enough of them to sustain a business. I wish there were, because the fan experience and the players and everything, they were really great. But you can’t run it with 1,500 people to 2,000 people a game. It doesn’t – you just can’t do it. So, I mean that’s kind of what happened. And I wish the league success and they are kind of hunkering down and we also had the big issue of our travel. Our travel was three times what everybody else’s is because we were the only West Coast team. So, with all the other teams they could take buses, they could take trains, they could come home overnight and we were flying back and forth and that was hard on our players and it was just really, really expensive. So I think what you are going to see the other teams are not going to have that. They are not going to have the expense of coming out west. It’s going to be a regional kind of thing and I think they are doing a good job. I think Anne-Marie (Eileraas, WPS CEO) is doing a great job. I think everybody on the board they are doing the right thing and I wish we could have stayed in. I wish we had a little bit more financial help but we don’t have the wherewithal to lose that much more money. We can’t do it and when we asked for people to step up and help nobody wanted to do it so it was like, I don’t know what to say anymore.
JK: The article I saw was with Matt Schwabb. They have it dated Sept. 29 but it sounds like you were speaking before the championship.
NN: Yes, I talked to him about a month before the article came out, so it wasn’t something that – I don’t remember talking because I didn’t really talk to the press afterward because we were really thinking about what are we going to do and everybody was scrambling and the league was scrambling, we were scrambling trying to find people and there were a lot of people that said, ‘oh we want to help,’ but when you come down to it no one wrote us a check to help us out for the next couple of months.
JK: So what happened with the potential move to LA?
NN: They were not vetted and they did not pass the financial test that the league gives. I think that they want to do it and I think you just need to have a certain net worth because you know, again, you don’t want teams closing. You have to have a certain amount of money in the bank to run the team. I am not sure what the certain amount was that the league required but they didn’t meet that. So I think that they wanted to do it but they just didn’t have the money to do it. We were happy. We wanted this to happen. We would have loved to have taken the Pride and kept the players together and moved them down to LA. We fully supported that, but in the end the league has to make good financial decisions but in the end, as much as you want something in the end there was a minimum and you had to have that minimum amount in the bank to run the team so they knew you had that minimum amount to run the team and they just couldn’t pull it together. And maybe they will. Maybe they will come back next year and have that fund, but you have to have a minimum amount of funds in the bank to run the team.
JK: So you mention travel and there is also the Marta angle. This is not solely due to Marta, but how much of a factor was her salary?
NN: Yea but even – I mean Marta brought a – Marta helped us win the championship. We would not have had – I don’t think we would’ve had a championship or it would have been a lot harder without Marta. Let’s put it that way. So we gambled. Yes her salary was a little bit more than everybody else’s but what we gambled and we though – and we were wrong – is we thought with Marta and with winning, we would bring in packed crowds. If you had talked to us at the beginning of the season, we had estimated that with Marta we were going to get sold-out crowds and it didn’t happen. It never happened. And we thought we would get more than a front of jersey sponsor, which was a fraction. I know a lot of people were saying it was the majority of her salary. It was not. It was a portion of her salary but it was not a big portion of her salary. But we thought we could offset that, but you know you take a risk; you take a gamble. You’re like, oh we think this is going to work. Because last year we just were dismal and people were complaining. We were in last place, we lost all these games, the stadium was too big, we were having things on Sunday afternoons – people didn’t like that. We tried to make all the changes – you couldn’t tailgate – we tried to make all the changes that were asked of us, which was Saturday night games, winning, exciting soccer, a nice venue, tailgating. We did all of that and we saw thought that things were going to change and they didn’t. They actually got a little worse, which everybody said second year of a pro team things get a little worse, but we didn’t see them. Towards the end of the season I thought they would pick up as we were winning. We won the league and then for the championship I thought they would really pick up and they didn’t.
JK: So you are an owner and you have experience with this. In talking with other owners, do you think Marta will stay in WPS? Will anyone pay her that much money?
NN: I don’t see how you can’t keep Marta, because she is the best player in the world. I’m sure – I shouldn’t say I’m sure because I’m not privy to what is going on because we are no longer part of the league and we’re not on the board so I don’t know what goes on there – but I would assume that there is going to be somebody willing to pick her up. I don’t know if they will renegotiate her salary. I don’t know how that will work, but I’m sure there are people that want Marta. There is going to be somebody out there. She is a phenomenal player and she definitely is a game changer.
JK: So how would you sum up the two years that you had?
NN: A lot of highs and lows. You go from the excitement of buying a team and then basically learning so much and then being in last place, which was really tough, to turning around and winning a championship and being so excited again and then realizing that your dream and what you had planned is not going to work out and you have to go ahead and close the door and really saying goodbye to a lot of people. I’ve met a lot of wonderful people and worked with a lot of wonderful people and I can’t say enough about our front office staff, Ilisa Kessler, our GM, Albertin Montoya and all of our players. We got really close to the players. The players were really – that was a special group of young ladies. We had a really good time and it’s going to be really sad next year when the league starts up and we’re not a part of it and it’s going to be hard. But you do so much with your heart and then you have to – you know, it’s reality. You have to look at your finances and look at what you can afford and what you can do and we have done pretty much all we can do financially and we cannot do anymore so that is where we are at.
JK: What about coming into the game late? FC Gold Pride only joined WPS late in 2008. Did you feel rushed?
NN: Yes, we definitely rushed the first year and we learned a lot the first year. I thought we made some changes and big strides, but it wasn’t enough and I just think it’s the area that we are in and the appetite for sports and the economy. You know, I don’t blame people for not wanting to spend their dollar. Everybody is really looking how to spend their dollar wisely and the first year was really hard because we were almost in a depression. And this year it’s not that much better, so I can’t blame people for not coming out to the game because it’s expensive. You have to pick and choose what you can spend and when people lose their jobs and they just don’t have money they are not going to go to a pro sports team. So I think we had a little bit of bad timing and bad luck, but we just didn’t have – we didn’t see a future fan base right now to support the team, which is sad but it’s true. Because in the end we just didn’t have enough to support just the infrastructure to pay for just the basic things. I would have loved to have kept it going but it is a business and it’s not a charity.
JK: So you said you had 2,900 tickets sold for the final? Were the rest comps?
NN: Don’t quote me on that, but I know we didn’t sell 5,000 tickets and I know we didn’t sell 4,000 tickets. It’s probably anywhere between 2,900 and 3,200 but I think Ilisa would know that. But like I said, if you can’t sell out your championship game – and I don’t, you know, I think that there is a problem. That is a bigger problem than where we are at or where we are located or anything. If you can’t sell it out, there are so many other things that go along with that.
JK: So if the league were to grow stronger and come back west, you just think the Bay Area market isn’t ready for it?
NN: In a couple years, I don’t know. You look at the CyberRays and the Monarchs, the women’s basketball team that folded, and so many good teams are competing. You have the Giants, the A’s, the Earthquakes. You have the 49ers the Oakland Raiders, the Warriors and you have the Sharks. And then you have Triple A and I think people grew up with these teams in the Bay Area and I don’t know if there is an appetite for women’s professional sports. I don’t know. I don’t know what more we could have given. I mean, we had the best team in the world, playing on our backdoor. Our prices were not outrageous. You could get a $10-$8 ticket. We played at a nice location, so I don’t know what more people wanted. I don’t know what we could have given.
JK: Do you find your frustrations similar to those of other owners in the league in speaking with them?
NN: No, I think because we’re the only team that’s folding right now and I think the other owners, they are not so much frustrated. I think they are excited. I think they are really excited about the World Cup. I think they are excited about the press that they are going to be getting that their players are going to be playing in the World Cup and I think they have a different kind of momentum and they are excited for the future. They have an expansion team. Buffalo came on and I think they are hoping that they will get some more. I don’t think they are so much as frustrated because they are looking at players. I think they are actually salivating right now because they are going to be getting some of these players from us, so I think they are actually excited for – they get some world class players.
- The Matt Schwabb interview was done some weeks before the championship and posted Sept. 29, following the championship.
- The official attendance for the final was 5,228, which is just short of a sellout at Cal State East Bay. The 2,900 number mentioned above refers to paid attendance.