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Sol setting in Los Angeles Part 3: FC Gold Pride and the western frontier

With Thursday’s announcement of WPS losing the Los Angeles Sol, FC Gold Pride now stands alone as the lone team on the Pacific.  The next closest teams sit in Saint Louis and Chicago – not exactly a bus trip away.

One really has to feel for FC Gold Pride here.  The team was the last of the original seven to enter the league after Dallas pulled out of the inaugural season (essentially making the Pride one of the original eight, but that is really technical).  FC Gold Pride had the least time of any team to prepare for 2009, and now are a part of some really sad irony.  Take a look at this excerpt from a July 2008 interview between WPS Commissioner Tonya Antonucci and my friend and Set Piece Analysts colleague Kartik Krishnaiyer:

Krishnaiyer: So you’ll begin with 7 teams or 8 teams next year? I know Philadelphia is going to come into the league when that stadium’s done, which should be the year after, but are you….

Antonucci: Yes, Philly will come in in 2010 and they’re working through… the discussions are just going great with the MLS Philly ownership group. That new stadium to your point, that’s where they’ll play in 1010. Again, a partnership around other aspects of operational efficiencies and sharing costs with that MLS team. It’s really shaping up to be a model partnership, which we really love. They’ll come on board in 2010.

We’ll launch in 2009 with 7 teams. We are giving ourselves another month or so, we’re trying to sneak in maybe one more team as a team for 2009. We’re really focusing on the West Coast, particularly San Diego and the Bay area. It adds a national footprint balance for us, it helps reduce travel costs, and there’s this big gaping hole on the West Coast right now with LA out on its own. So we’re really trying to see if we can… we’re talking to a lot of potential investors and a number of people have made verbal commitments to us, so we’re just trying to get the rest of the way there. We hope, and if it won’t be 2009, then we’ll get it done for 2010.

As of now, FC Gold Pride is the team “out on its own.”  In 2009, FC Gold Pride ranked sixth of the seven WPS teams in average attendance (3,667 per game), and it now has even more pressure to generate revenue in anticipation of every road trip being a long one.

Credit goes out to Pride General Manager Ilisa Kessler, who issued a statement reacting to the LA news almost immediately on Thursday night.

“The recent changes that have taken place in the league are in no way a reflection of our team’s fiscal status,” she said.

This makes Western expansion more critical than ever.  Over the summer I explored the various expansion options facing WPS. San Diego, Vancouver, Denver and Seattle were among those in consideration then.  None of those (possibly save San Diego) sounded very possible for 2011.  You can bet that this will speed that process up.  Of course, the top priority needs to be getting the LA market back as well.

Only time will tell how these changes will affect FC Gold Pride, but they may be forced to cram some games in on East Coast road swings, avoid road games on holidays and peak travel times (which come with peak prices) and make various other adjustments.

Again, it is important not to overreact with this situation, and that includes implications on FC Gold Pride.  It is, however, something that obviously needs to be monitored.

Listen to the Set Piece Analysts Women’s Podcast on the subject here.

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2 Comments… read them below or post one
Anonymous said…
Good points. I think that the bigger issues here (though the travel is a big problem) are 1) Regional Rivalries but, more importantly, 2) It is tough to call yourself a national league with a national footprint given current geography of teams. LA is also one of the two biggest media markets (let’s put these NFL comparisons aside for now). – Jeff
Anonymous said…
I agree that western expansion is essential, preferably San Diego or Seattle (or LA if they can find an ownership group that doesn’t think of the WPS as a one year hobby). However, in reality, Los Angeles being out of the league will only affect one or two of Gold Pride’s road games per year. I’m more worried about potentially losing some larger crowds at home due to the draw of Marta and the Sol, plus the fact that some Sol fans made the trip north to watch their team. Those are ticket sales that will be hard to replace. I think Gold Pride has a good group of people running their team and that will help them make it through this.

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