With FC Gold Pride officially announcing Tuesday that it has ceased operations, many are pointing to Marta’s high salary as a cause. FC Gold Pride did not fold solely because of Marta, but it would be naïve to overlook the four-time FIFA World Player of the Year’s salary when evaluating the situation.
FC Gold Pride took a risk on Marta, signing her in hopes that she would not only bring a championship to the Bay Area – which she did – but that her phenomenal foot skills would put butts in the seat at Cal State East Bay. General Manager Ilisa Kessler knew it was a risk. For whatever reason, the experiment just did not work.
“Well I think a little bit of what we did is we wanted to experiment with somebody like Marta, a player like Marta, to see what the Marta factor would be, if you will,” said a candid Kessler. “We know what it is on the field but we wanted to see what it would be off the field. Honestly, for me, it was a bit disappointing. Attendance wise we never sold out a game and although we did have some great sponsors that committed to our team – such as Amway – because of Marta, it wasn’t as if people were banging on our door begging to sponsor us. It wasn’t rating sponsors and we weren’t selling out stadiums and Marta jerseys weren’t being sold off the racks. I don’t want it to sound like we thought it was something that would be instantaneous, but it was a bit of an experiment for us to see if there was any considerable incremental revenue that could be driven by a player like Marta. And that just did not happen. It’s not to blame Marta. I think it is just where we are at in Women’s Professional Soccer.”
That is a lot to process, but it is telling of where WPS stands. Marta is the best player in the world and packs a punch of entertainment that nobody else can. For what she means to the future of women’s soccer, she deserves anything she wants. But how much is too much?
Kessler could not confirm any figure regarding Marta’s salary, though many sources say it was approximately $500,000. That is over 15-times higher than the average WPS salary, which sits around $27,000.
Similar to designated players in MLS, only a small portion of that number counted against the salary cap for FC Gold Pride. But when you look at the team’s bottom line, Marta’s salary becomes a huge expense that no other team in the league dealt with (except the Los Angeles Sol in 2009, which also folded but for completely different reasons).
In fact, the reported figure for Marta’s salary represents about one-fifth of a typical WPS team budget. The math just does not add up.
Now the question on everyone’s mind is whether or not the world’s best player will stay in the self-proclaimed world’s best league. The reaction is mixed.
Some team officials do not think Marta will stay. If she does, it will require a significant pay cut. If Marta wants to be challenged by some of the world’s best in WPS, she must be willing to sacrifice financially. If Marta made even half what she did in 2010 she would still live a more than comfortable life. Should she have to take a pay cut, though?
Nobody wants money to be the big issue. But wait, this is a business, right? The subject of business v. charity has come up in several conversations over the past week. While everyone in WPS wants to see teams and the league succeed, they can all play hardball as well. Owners are not willing to be charities, as the NeSmith’s said (and showed) in the case of FC Gold Pride.
Nobody is stopping Marta from thinking the same way. After all, she fought through a lot of sexism back in Brazil to get to where she is (see this article in Portuguese) – on top of the world.
Still, serious doubt remains as to whether Marta will stay in WPS.
“We obviously hope to see her stay in the league, but the league is bigger than one player,” WPS CEO Anne-Marie Eileraas said in a conference call Wednesday. “And I think the diversity of our players really attest to that. Obviously we would like to see her stay, but that remains to be seen.”
Eileraas added that Marta and her agent are involved in discussions with teams. Whether or not she stays is up to each individual team trying to sign her, Sky Blue FC President Thomas Hofstetter said.
“Every team in the world would want to have Marta on their team,” Hofstetter said. “She’s a difference maker – a huge difference maker. And yes her salary is high, but this is something that next year, even more so than in the past, each team has to evaluate whether they can afford it or not.”
Hofstetter went on to say that some teams are interested in the Brazilian icon. Sky Blue FC was seriously interested, Hofstetter said, but added that Marta “is above our pay rate.”
Despite common belief, Amway and Puma do not supplement Marta’s salary. Those are personal endorsement deals she holds with those companies. Amway was FC Gold Pride’s jersey sponsor in 2010, but they paid what former owner Nancy NeSmith called just a “fraction” of Marta’s salary to the team (for the jersey sponsorship, not directly for Marta’s salary).
And to be clear, FC Gold Pride’s fate is not on Marta’s shoulders.
“We’re not folding because of Marta,” Kessler said. “That is really short-sighted. I would put it to the people that didn’t come to our games. I’m really adamant about that.”
Still, some team officials around the league said they would not be surprised to see Marta forego WPS to return to Europe somewhere. Prior to the league, she played for Umeå IK in Sweden.
The true question is whether or not WPS needs her to stay. Not having the world’s best player in the league makes it very hard to call WPS ‘the best league in the world.’ Collectively it still could be with the amount of domestic and international talent, but there would certainly be an asterisk added to the statement should Marta not be involved.
By no means is Marta obligated to stay in WPS. She is a free agent now and has the freedom to do whatever she pleases. If she wants, she can take six months off from club ball to train solely with Brazil (unlikely, but still an option).
Marta’s stance has always been that she wants to see women’s soccer grow. The best chances for women’s soccer to truly thrive in the immediate future are in the U.S. and Germany, but Marta will bring attention to wherever she plays. Growth will follow.
So whether WPS needs Marta more than Marta needs WPS really is not the question. Finding a middle ground that satisfies each party is the key. But one thing is for sure: None of the remaining teams will be shelling out what FC Gold Pride did for the Brazilian. Marta’s salary was enough to pay a full starting roster of eleven players. Clearly, as FC Gold Pride’s situation shows, that is not a recipe for success. Whether or not WPS can be the world’s best league without the world’s best player is a question the league could soon face.
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