On this day exactly one year ago, Women’s Professional Soccer kicked-off its first-ever match at The Home Depot Center when the Los Angeles Sol hosted the Washington Freedom in front of 14,832 fans.
A lot has changed since then; most of it for the better. Ticket sales and sponsorships are up league-wide. Teams are adding partners, including presenting jersey sponsors, and the league has even added Citi as a founding partner. A stadium built exclusively for the Atlanta Beat will open in Georgia in May, with Atlanta being one of two expansion teams alongside the Philadelphia Independence.
The downside obviously involves the Los Angeles Sol, which folded in late January after being unable to secure a new owner. Charles Cuttone reported last week that WPS has “two and possibly more groups that have indicated an interest in bringing LA back in 2011,” according to Commissioner Tonya Antonucci. That is encouraging for the league, which has to have Los Angeles near the top (if not first) on its list of expansion candidates. The only team currently on the West Coast is FC Gold Pride, based out of the San Francisco Bay Area.
While Denver, Vancouver and Dallas are in the running for expansion teams, Seattle and San Diego, seem to be the most natural fits for teams in 2011. Sunday’s attendance of 3,069 to see the U.S. Women’s National Team take on Mexico is surely disappointing, although Set Piece Analysts columnist and San Diego native Richard Farley does not think that is indicative of the support a team in San Diego could have. He said the venue (Torero Stadium) combined with March Madness and the one-time nature of the event could have caused for the low attendance.
“My feeling is that a WPS, NASL or USL team would do well in San Diego, but because of the demographics of the community and the fragmentation of the market, the marketing needs to be grassroots, and when you have a one-time hit like a USWNT event, you don’t have time to establish much of a grassroots presence,” Farley said.
The attendance still seems concerning, but San Diego was fairly well supported in the days of WUSA and a guy like Platini Soaf seems like he would be a good leader for such a project. Seattle Sounders FC is also doing some incredible things in MLS, so for a WPS team to build off that success on a smaller level could be massive for women’s soccer. They seem to be the two most sensible options for 2011 to stay on track with the league’s ’12 by 2012′ plan.
Regardless, the true news is that WPS celebrates its one year anniversary today, and while it is not time to proclaim the league as one of ‘the big four’ sports, there are considerable signs that point in the direction of success for the best women’s soccer league in the world (just look at the number of Twitter followers for WPS). As we continue to landmark the date of March 29, 2009 in the coming years, there should be even more positive things to say. This off-season was filled with buzz of all sorts and WPS is a name that is already relatively well-known (stress on relatively – nobody is expecting NFL-like numbers).
Expect the league to improve on that 4,600 fans per game mark and continue to establish credibility in 2010. As the 2011 Women’s World Cup approaches, the next 18 months could be the time for women’s soccer to breakout, especially with the way ticket sales are going for Germany 2011.
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