Last week, The Equalizer brought you an eye-opening interview with new Washington Freedom owner Dan Borislow, also the founder of magicJack. His plans include changing the Freedom’s name to some variation of magicTalk FC and moving the team to South Florida. Friday, WPS CEO Anne-Marie Eileraas took the time to offer the league’s point of view on the topics that have Freedom fans irate.
Jeff Kassouf: So you obviously saw last week’s interview with Dan where he talks about his many plans…
Anne-Marie Eileraas: He’s obviously got a lot of energy and enthusiasm for the sport and some new ideas and we welcome that. And what I would say is we have approved in concept the ability of the Freedom to change their name, to in the very short-term for 2011 do a split season – not the long-term – and to move. But all of those things are subject to further exploration. Obviously if you are going to move a team you have to have a venue that complies to our requirements and (USSF women’s) Division 1 standards. So there is a lot of operational stuff that would need to be completed that would actually make those things happen. I expect he will make prudent business decisions. He is obviously a savvy and smart business guy and he is going to work closely with us in executing any of those decisions that he decides to bring about.
JK: So some of the ideas that I spoke with Dan about – when did those get presented to you and the league? I had heard some rumors that these were not revealed to the league or even some Freedom members until after the interview.
AME: He explored those ideas with us right from the beginning and those things that were described to you – the name the ability to explore the South Florida market, moving the team there, all of those things – he discussed with us during the investment process.
JK: Do you worry about what the response will be out of Freedom fans even if it is just one year that they have to deal with a team splitting its games between Maryland and Florida? And are you worried about that Freedom brand?
AME: Well the Freedom is a great brand and a great team and it really is a flagship in our league. Obviously that is one of the reasons that the franchise was attractive to Dan I am sure. And for us, I think he will make prudent and smart business decisions. Ultimately if he is the owner of the team he has to make a decision about how sell tickets, how to work with fans, how to relate to fans as an owner as well as a team related to fans and there are risks whenever you make changes. But those are things that he will have to factor in and those are things we are going to work closely with him on every step of the way.
JK: How much influence do you and the league in general have on these decisions? It is his team but how much of a say do you have?
AME: Well obviously we have approval rights over everything, but more importantly than that I think that when he joins WPS he is joining a group that has its own processes. He is joining a group of owners who have done it before and that is what I alluded to – there is a learning curve. I think that we as a league and our owners operate well together as a team. The owners are terrific at sharing frankly what works and what hasn’t at times. I think that Dan is very savvy and smart business guy and I think he is very open. And I think he will be a good addition to our board dynamic and I think it will be a two-way – it will always be a two-way communication where we will learn from him and he will learn from us.
JK: Given the fact that you have approval rights, what do you think of the potential name of magicTalk FC or some variation? Is that too corporate?
AME: We don’t have any other teams that are so tied to a corporation but certainly other football clubs – soccer teams – in the U.S. and abroad do. And it’s a new thing for us. It’s a change. It’s a change but I’m not worried about it in the sense that it is something that is well-understood in the sports world. I think that he is going to have to do some analysis on how he thinks the name will be received, but ultimately, if an owner were to come to us and want to do it there would be no rule against it and it wouldn’t be something that we would ever reject out of the box. We would say, ‘OK, if that is something that you guys want to do, make it work.’
JK: Do you see the South Florida aspect of this plan happening? It sounds like Dan is very early on in the planning process and there is still a lot of work to be done even for securing a temporary venue.
AME: Oh, yeah, no I think there is a lot of work to do there. South Florida – I think people have different views about whether South Florida is successful or not within soccer. But regardless about your philosophy with South Florida there are a ton, obviously, of clubs and there is a lot of interest in the sport. There is a great community there that I think would be a good fan base. But to move from that conceptually to having a stadium lease and having longer term plans for a permanent home there , there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. And I think it is still in the exploratory phase at this point.
JK: Even for 2011?
AME: I think for 2011 if you are talking about having a few games there I imagine that that could be put together for 2011, but it is still in the planning phase at this point.
JK: If the plans of moving the team to South Florida do come true, could you compare the two markets for me? There is the MLS history down there (Miami and Tampa Bay folding). You would pick up that market and essentially lose the nation’s capital as a market.
AME: Yeah, you know, obviously yes, that is a decision that is going to have to be worked closely with evaluating the fan base there. I think that we are so early in our cycle that we have a lot of upside and potential in all of our markets and I think that if he decides to move the team to South Florida than we have the DC market available for another team. We’re still a start-up. I see up side and growth potential in both places. And I don’t know that – I mean obviously change is something that would impact fans should that happen and it’s obviously something that he is going to have to manage with his fans and his team. I think that at this point in our life cycle, I don’t see a substantial difference between the two.
JK: It sounds like long-term you want to be in that DC or Maryland market. Do you worry that moving this team that has been around for 10 years away from the market and replacing it later would not get the warmest of responses? If it moves, of course.
AME: It’s an interesting question. I think that feathers could be ruffled, is what I hear you saying, and people may be soured by it. I think that that is true. You can’t deny that that could be a factor, but I think it fails in comparison to the appetite to have women’s soccer at the level that our teams play. I would hope that the Washington fans would come back and support any athletes that play there again.
JK: Dan said he came on pretty recently. There is still the question mark with Chicago. Does it run through your head that maybe he is keeping more than just the Freedom around – that it is an even bigger picture?
AME: Well we’ve announced that should we be in the position of having six teams that we are going to move forward as a league. The decision was made a long time ago and there is nothing about the last couple of weeks that has changed that. Should it come to that, we are prepared to do that.
JK: The thought would just be that there is still a pending decision in Chicago and should the Red Stars not return, without Dan there would be just five teams. Does that make you stop an think?
AME: Well we are glad to have solid teams that we have in the league and what we want is obviously from each of them is the ability and the commitment to play in the league not just through the 2011 season but the ability to play long-term. All of our teams have to meet that bar and obviously we are happy to have that situation – with those six teams and with a question mark as you said around Chicago. So, obviously we will have more to tell you on that next week as that comes together.
JK: So if Dan weren’t around right now, where would we be at? Would it still be an extension for Chicago?
AME: Well fortunately we are not in that situation. There are enough real challenges that I try to resist the temptation of the ones that aren’t real. But I understand what you are saying and luckily that is not the situation we have and this is a situation where we have pulled together a set of committed and solid teams. So, that’s how it is looking for 2011.
JK: And quickly, what has the dialogue been with Marta or with her through the Freedom? What effort is going into keeping her in the league?
AME: I know that there are efforts underway at least with the Washington team and I don’t know whether or not she will stay in the league. Those discussions are on-going.
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