As August approaches, so too does the stretch run of the 2010 Women’s Professional Soccer season. With just two months left in the season and playoff positions to be determined, it is tough for many fans not to be worried about off-field happenings in the league.
Attendance is down considerably and the disappearance of the Los Angeles Sol and Saint Louis Athletica has been well-documented. It easy to be negative in these dog days of summer, but there are also signs of life from WPS. Here are some things for fans to think about as they try to figure out exactly how pessimistic or optimistic they are.
Since the offseason we have been hearing about season ticket sales being up about 15 percent. That had many, including this guy, wide-eyed about the possibility of increased attendance across the league and seeing some better stadium environments.
While season ticket sales are up, walk-up sales are down. Attendance as a whole is down about 17 percent and it is now a rare occasion that a crowd over 4,000 appears anywhere other than Harvard Stadium. The Washington Freedom drew 4,809 for Saturday’s match against FC Gold Pride, but such numbers have been few and far between at the Maryland SoccerPlex and other venues this year.
Goal-scoring is up with 2.45 goals per game in 2010, a rise from last year’s 2.14 goals per game. Marta already broke her own single-season scoring record from last year with her 13 goals thus far this season and Amy Rodriguez is hot on her tail with 11 goals.
These goals are being scored in front of very few people. FC Gold Pride is drawing a measly 3,097 fans per game to see perhaps the best women’s soccer team in the world. Second place Philadelphia Independence is last in the league in attendance with 3,008 fans per game, dangerously close to dipping into the eye sore that is a four digit number beginning with the number two.
WPS is talking about 2012 expansion to Dallas and Los Angeles and has a list of several other markets with interested investors.
Expansion was supposed to come in 2011 and the initial plan called for 12 teams by 2012. The league will fall well short of that. Expansion in 2011 could have squashed the lingering and still fresh memories of Saint Louis and Los Angeles folding. It also could have helped FC Gold Pride at least have even one short road trip next season. What happened to an immediate return in LA? And I still stand to my thoughts on a regional league being beneficial to WPS.
If you are looking for a sign of life in 2011, season tickets are one good measuring stick. The Boston Breakers, Chicago Red Stars and Philadelphia Independence have announced plans for 2011 season tickets already. While the information is pretty basic and preliminary, it at least shows signs of 2011 plans.
Notice that there are no direct mentions of venues for Chicago or Philadelphia, the two teams most in need of a venue change. Chicago even has a picture of what looks like one side of Toyota Park, but never directly mentions the name of the stadium. Excessive rent at the stadium is a pretty well-documented issue and the Red Stars are searching for different venue options. Let’s hope something gives. Meanwhile, having been to West Chester University twice now for Philly games, I can tell you it is anywhere but Philadelphia. It is about 30 minutes out of the actual city. For the most part, teams need to be in downtown areas. There are a lot of other factors that go into Boston’s superior attendance, but just ask the Breakers what being downtown can do. People walk to the stadium. It’s easier for fans, media, staff – everyone.
There is also the recent league restructuring that shows things clearly are not working with the current budget. So, are you more pessimistic or optimistic now than you were at the beginning of the season or even ten minutes ago? Perhaps for now, a hopeful middle ground is the best option.
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