After an uncertain off-season in which Washington Freedom fans were taken on a roller coaster of emotions, the USL W-League revealed in late March that D.C. United will enter a women’s team into the league. That team will play at the Maryland SoccerPlex, the former home of the Washington Freedom.
The Freedom, of course, moved to Boca Raton, Fla. and rebranded as magicJack under new owner Dan Borislow. This came after Freedom fans were initially uplifted from the news of their club being saved from the brink of extinction. That initial joy turned to anger as the Freedom, which had lasted through three leagues since 2001, was essentially no more.
Now, D.C. United looks to inject life back into the Maryland women’s soccer market. Tim Schweitzer, owner of the Northern Virginia Majestics, will be part of that venture and serve as general manager of D.C. United Women. Local youth coach Mike Jorden will serve as United’s first women’s head coach.
Last week, Schweitzer took the time to talk about D.C. United Women. The MLS club plans to integrate itself with its W-League team, which will be reaching out to Freedom fans in order to help to help fill the void of their departed team. The subject of WPS also came up in the chat. While a WPS team is not currently an idea on the table, Schweitzer said not to rule it out. Here is the full chat:
Jeff Kassouf: Walk me through how this D.C. United Women’s Team came about.
Tim Schweitzer: We were looking at somebody else coming in and running the territory and at that point I talked with some other people and formed a second ownership group and purchased the Washington Freedom USL territory. It ended up being a good mover because within weeks of doing that, Borislow announced that he was the new owner of the Freedom and he wasn’t necessarily keeping it in the area, so we lucked out in the fact that the we moved quick enough to be able to maintain a soccer presence in the Southern Maryland market.
At the time of purchasing it, I had worked with Win Puffer, the former Freedom W-League coach, before he was fully engaged. I was planning on being a silent owner and having Win coach the team and certainly providing the administrative support we could from our end but not trying to change too much of what was going on. Through over several months process, I know Clyde on the youth side, he kind of went through a redirection and now and I know he and Jim and Win are forming their own girls academy I think – Alliance academy. So their interest kind of went away from what we were doing.
At that point, we still had the territory, we still had semi-rights for the Freedom name, although when Borislow bought it we were probably going to have to contact him to be able to use them – to be the Freedom. So at that point, some of the questions that were still up in the air, that wasn’t necessarily the best thing to do anymore. The Freedom name, to be honest, is probably the most recognizable women’s soccer name in the world you could argue. However, in the Southern Maryland area, you had some people that were still holding season tickets that they purchased for a team that may or may not be playing here. So we decided to completely rebrand at that point. I looked in some avenues and met with United and they met with Volkswagen and some of their sponsors and they all agreed that it made sense, that it was a very good idea. So we basically entered into a partnership agreement with them and rebranded the team under D.C. United’s banner. So that’s essentially how it came about.
The drawback to that is how long it took. It wasn’t really us and it wasn’t really D.C. United. It was essentially getting it through MLS’ legal department. Once that was done, that was basically the biggest hold up in why it took so long for the agreement to be signed.
JK: So this has been done for a while, just behind the scenes?
TS: Yeah, it was probably from concept of proposal to final signature was probably just under three months.
JK: In your conversations with them, what does D.C. United see in this partnership? Why did they get involved?
TS: Well, I think it comes down to – they’ve spent a lot of time, certainly D.C. United has but in larger part MLS has – I think they’ve gone away from this rock band type approach and really looked into their communities and becoming more grassroots. And with their sponsor, Volkswagen certainly has a lot of input into D.C. United’s decision making and for Volkswagen, if they can grab another demographic, which is the soccer mom or the women’s or the girls’ side of the soccer market, than that is another area of exposure that they don’t necessarily get constantly with the D.C. United men’s side. It also gives them avenues to look at. We’ve had some informal discussions about – and again this agreement it s a week old – we’ve talked about joint sponsorships and it gives them another avenue to go into looking at different areas on the sponsorship side. On the community side it gives them the full package. They have the academy on the youth side. They are making a bigger effort this year certainly under Ben Olsen to be more in touch with the community, not that they haven’t before, but I think that the women’s gives them that full perk and that full package of being able to be involved.
JK: What is the term of this contract? How long does D.C. United plan on being involved?
TS: It’s not specified. It is set to be reevaluated, at this point, each year. It’s not a one year term contract. Again, it’s not a contractual partnership agreement; it’s an affiliation partnership agreement. But within that it provides latitude to be able to change things on an annual basis. And I’m sure we’ll see how it goes and we’ll both revisit on each side a year from now. For us, starting this late, it has just been great. The staff members we are working we – I was actually up there [last week] and the idea generation at this point is just phenomenal. It’s very energizing.
JK: So what exactly are the two parties looking to do? Do you want to have cross promotion of games? Share sponsors?
TS: Those were some basic tenets that were in the agreement. Some of those things we are going to do automatically. The wider scope of things – right now we are kind of in quick react mode based on the fact that all of this happened so late. When we signed and took the territory in November that started, in all sense of the soccer world, extremely late for starting something. Now we are just starting the branding and trying to get our social media sites up, our full-blown website up, our ticket sales up and going, community involvement – all of that and then the overlying thing right now is we are currently making coaching decisions and planning out the player and the game day operations side of things right now as well. So that is the reason we are sort of drinking from a fire hose right now.
JK: You already own the Northern Virginia Majestics. Will that experience help you pull this off quickly?
TS: Yeah, if you look back for myself and my staff 10 years ago when we were running the Majestics, or certainly when we started it 13 years ago, the one thing it has given me is that it saves time going down the wrong paths, if that makes sense, in an adventure like this. I think a lot of people who are passionate about the game get involved in the USL side of the game – the PDL, the W-League and certainly USL PRO with the mindset of being passionate for the game and it’s just a learning experience. You find that some things work. I am going from team operations down to game day promotions down to sponsorships down to marketing. There are just some things that work and some things that don’t work on the minor league soccer level and if one thing I have right now I think, certainly for this area, I have a better sense of what I think is going to work and what I think is not really efficient to spend a lot of time doing. Anything can work if you really work at it, but it’s just that you have to be selective with your time and selective with your financial expenditures to get something set up.
JK: So the big question a lot of people are wondering about is WPS. Could this be leading to anything bigger with WPS?
TS: Sure, I mean we’re not going to be close-minded to any opportunities. Melanie Fitzgerald at WPS, I know her through the USL and certainly I have had discussions with her from [the announcement] as well. We don’t rule anything out. Again, it goes back to where we are and how much work we have and we are going to evaluate in August when our minor league season dies down here. So it is something to reevaluate and see where just to go, see where the opportunities are and see what really makes sense. I think the sentiment is shared across the WPS from other teams, in their evaluating a new team coming in they need to see where WPS is; who they are. Right now it is in kind of a regional league mode and we kind of want to see it grow back into a national league. And again, the Vancouver’s possibly, I know the Seattle Sounders have a women’s program, so the D.C. United Women certainly are not the first to do this. However you can look at those two clubs and they were both the W-League and men’s professional side when they were both USL entities. But I think – I don’t know the year – but the Chicago Fire had an entry into the W-League. I want to say 2005, maybe.
JK: So has D.C. United talked to you at all about potentially going to that next level on the women’s side?
TS: Specifically with them, no. We haven’t had discussions on that level. And certainly if it was a move we want to make, it would have to be decided jointly. It wouldn’t be something to do without United’s involvement. And to be honest, there have been discussions on sidebar things. I am certain that they have discussed it themselves, but I don’t know where their opinions fall on that issue at all yet.
JK: They have discussed WPS amongst themselves you are saying?
TS: I am assuming they have. There have been a lot of discussions. And if not, certainly they have read all the electronic media that has been out there and the speculation on that side, so I am sure they are aware of the option.
JK: As someone in that market, where do you think the market is at? There is a lot of resentment toward how the disappearance of the Freedom was handled.
TS: It’s been an excitement. I was hoping for a positive reaction but to be honest, it’s a lot more than I have expected and I think it is a great market for women’s soccer. I think WPS would be foolish not to have a target in this market, with what Dan [Borislow] is doing in moving to Florida. I don’t think resentment is quite the right word to use with the Freedom. I think it is probably more disappointment at this point. So if we can fill that niche, and again I just think it is a great market. I am certainly surprised by the positive response we have gotten.
JK: Are you going to try to tap into Freedom fans?
TS: Absolutely. The majority of our initial promotions – we would love to pick up those people and especially find a way to recognize the people that tried to buy the season tickets when the Freedom was trying to maintain itself last fall with their season ticket drive to try to keep a team in D.C. So that’s a fan base we want to tap directly into and pick up right where the Freedom have left off. And it is funny: I look over the history of the Freedom and both what Mr. Hendricks has done in starting off that venture and with Jim and Clyde and Win and all the hard work they have done over the years, the positive market that is here is primarily based on the hard work that those guys have done over the past 10 years. I think a lot of the positive response that we are getting on the D.C. United Women’s side is primarily based on what these guys have done for 10 years.
JK: I know it is a very sore subject for Freedom fans.
TS: Oh, absolutely. It’s hard. I certainly don’t want to be critical of what Dan is doing on the basis that I think he is a passionate guy about the sport. He is being passionate about it in a way that fits him and in a way that he wants to take the organization and I certainly appreciate the disappointment of the fans here. Like I said, you look at the list of the female players that have come through the Freedom and there is no bigger A-list than the people who have come through on the Freedom. And it’s just been a great club; it’s been a great organization; the SoccerPlex has been a great venue.
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