Business plan (Lisa needs braces!) – roots of a WPS conflict

You may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one – John Lennon

I myself have never been able to find out what feminism is; I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute. – Rebecca West

I had been planning to write about the underlying business-model dispute in WPS today, and then I saw that Fake Sigi had already chimed in on the topic of marketing WPS as a “cause.”

I’ve said before that there are plenty of reasons to own a sports team or invest in it. You could argue that Barcelona is a “cause,” and it’s sometimes hard to tell if that cause it the “more than a club” philosophy or Keynesian theory on economic debt. (Yes, econ nerds, I know I’m oversimplifying. Bear with me here.)

What we saw in 2011 wasn’t so much “cause” marketing as a different type of ownership. Dan Borislow and Joe Sahlen differ on a few things, but they had some similarities. They were willing to spend money on talent. And their teams were, in part, outlets of their brands. Borislow named the team after his product; Sahlen bought heavily as a league sponsor with naming rights on their stadium.

So when we ask why Abby Wambach has sworn allegiance to Borislow or why other national team players haven’t spoken up about the current legal mess or Ella Masar’s incendiary blog post, are we really asking what these players believe is possible in WPS?

That idea, beyond anything Borislow has done, is seductive. Just find enough wealthy people who are willing to spend money with little in return — at least for now — and you have a league of people enjoying competitive play and relative comfort between World Cup/Olympic cycles.

The question those investors might ask: How long am I expected to lose money, and how much? Anschutz and company sank tens of millions into MLS, but even with their accounting as private as it is, you have to figure they’ve earned a good bit back by selling a lot of teams as their value was soaring.

And future owners likely will need to spend more on a front office staff and other ancillaries than Borislow has. Critique the league’s front office all you want, but the fact is that magicJack benefited a great deal from having an infrastructure in place and from other teams’ marketing efforts. Abby Wambach would’ve drawn just as many fans to her hometown of Rochester if she had been playing for the Washington Freedom or Atlanta Beat or Chicago Red Stars as she did playing for magicJack.

The league also had smartly reached out through social media, a byproduct of the great decision to bring in Amanda Vandervort. The players’ Twitter presences exploded after the World Cup, but you can thank the league’s former management for building up the efforts on that front.

Now a lot of that infrastructure has been depleted by budget cuts. It’s not exactly going to build up during a season with no games and a lot of legal fees.

So when Wambach goes to Kansas City and speaks to a crowd larger than the announced attendance at many magicJack games, then says the league needs a bunch of positivity and wealthy people, is she dreaming?

Signs point to yes. The Washington Freedom, which once boasted Wambach, Japan’s Homare Sawa and France’s Sonia Bompastor, had to move because they didn’t find anyone willing to do what Borislow did. Not even in the wealthy enclaves of McLean and Bethesda, where the Freedom had done outreach for years with the powerful youth soccer clubs. If you can’t get some D.C.-area tech entrepreneur or Capital One executive to gamble a few million on a pro team that would provide coaches and inspiration for a couple of youth juggernauts, what are the odds of finding someone elsewhere?

And Wambach’s plea for unity may come across as a little tone-deaf. Fans are in an uproar: See StarCityFan2’s comment here saying she didn’t seem to care how her teammates were treated. And league backers could respond to her “can’t build something from negativity” comment by asking, “Wait a minute — who’s suing whom here?”

But should we question Wambach’s desire to dream of a time in which WPS gets such backing? Is it really wrong to hope that some combination of Nike, Ellen DeGeneres and some youth soccer phenom-turned-tech CEO will swoop in to build a better league? Do we have to go to Peter Wilt’s souped-up semipro model already?

Perhaps not. But the question in the meantime is how you keep today’s arguments from sweeping away the platform from which tomorrow’s soccer can be launched.


54 thoughts on “Business plan (Lisa needs braces!) – roots of a WPS conflict

  1. I’m not sure some of your questions are really appropriate to what’s going on. Supposedly WPS already has investors interested in losing money for the 2013 season ( and probably beyond).

    Abby has also said, at the Espn function after the WC that sponsors and investors need to get on board with women’s pro sports and soccer specifically, because it can be a viable business, not just because it’s a cause. Maybe some more wealthy people with business savvy is what is needed. We’ve seen that money and passion alone are not enough.

    Contrary to popular belief, wealthy people live all over the country and while no one from the DC area stepped up to buy in to the Freedom, that doesn’t mean no one was interested. Who knows how it was marketed, or was it?

    I’ll be the first to admit that WPS has a ways to go to be viable, but I also think they can do it. As horrible as it sounds, and I did not advocate suspending the league when the D1 discussion was going on, maybe the lawsuit finally made them take a realistic look at where the league was and what needed to change.

    In another time and in another league(s), Peter Wilt’s model would be fine, but we’ve seen a pro model and going back to semi-pro, no matter how souped up, just wouldn’t be the same.

    No one can convince me that the senior players in this country do not support a pro women’s league. Now whether they think WPS is that league is a completely different discussion.

  2. Right, Diane, and the question here is really whether the Borislow model or the Sahlen model is reasonable.

    Notice in Abby’s interview with Mechelle Voepel that she says, “There could be many costly things that are at least dramatically cut back.” That’s straight Borislow, who spend virtually nothing on a traditional front office and routinely questions the league staff expenditures.

    But the league staff is now down to five people — CEO, CFO, operations, PR and marketing. (By comparison, some MLS **teams** have four communications people.) Cut any more beyond that, and you really would need to partner with someone — maybe MLS, maybe USL.

    Borislow made a few creative decisions that saved money. He shared a lot of resources with Florida Atlantic. Then he made some unilateral decisions about the signboards and so forth. You could call that “cutting elsewhere to spend on players instead” or you could call that “cutting off your nose to spite your face.”

    Some of the cost-cutting moves he made were possible because the league infrastructure could bail him out. He didn’t have a website, but the league did. His home games may not have been marketed and sold by a dedicated sales staff (or, realistically, salesperson) but his away games were.

    So there might be a few issues with the Borislow model. But what about the Sahlen model? Could they unearth a few more Sahlens?

    That, I don’t know. So far, the signs aren’t encouraging. No one stepped up in LA or the Bay Area to do anything like that. Chicago seems content in the WPSL. Vancouver likes the W-League.

    That doesn’t mean, as I said above, that anyone needs to give up or drop to the semipros or the Wilt model. It just means that to keep things going until more people step up who aren’t risk-averse, players might need to accept that the salaries and creature comforts they enjoyed in the Borislow camp might not be there.

  3. Beau

    To date,I thought you got it a little better than most reporters,but wonder what’s with this setback.

    Abby is exactly right,the only way this works is with a large sponsor.It doesnt matter if it is a company or individual giving back and helping Women and/or it’s country.The USSF also has an obligation to help these type of sponsors/owners simply for equality sake besides being good business for the country and it’s citizens.Womens sport is vital for so many things and it will never be profitable without being subsidized.People and corporations give to Cancer,Diabetes,etc and athletics is the main driver of preventive medicine in the World.We must have people with money dedicated to helping this cause.It’s not Dollars and cents and never will be.If a league with top talent is predicated on making money,then they should not even be started.Stop fooling yourselves.The owners must know they are going to contribute to what is in essence a charity.

    As far as what it takes to run 50 games in a season,look no further than clubs and leagues who run thousands of games,not a mere 50.Its done with volunteers for the most part.Go to Sweden and watch how they have 50 games every few hours with hundreds in one day in the largest youth tourney in the world.Field Boards are for TV,we muysteriously were the only team that did not have a TV game all regular season.Don’t believe the hype,we had a web site although it and the league didnt get many hits until magicJacks players did their thang.I venture to say that there wasnt a more qualified organization than a D1 school to run a sports event.After all,they have a 25K stadium and have been doing this for many years.Joe also did a real nice job.Both of our fans loved what we did for them.

    Beau,it is one thing to be a reporter and another to provide commentary.But when you provide an opinion on a blog,we know it’s not gospel anymore.When you report on something,it should be based on facts,instead of accusations.You do a much better job than most and I respect you because your willing to listen and think things out.I know what I have to say is also an opinion,but when it comes to Abby,not only is she courageous,a great role model and fights for her sisters,but she is one of the smartest people I have ever met.There is a very good chance that I am wrong,you are wrong but I doubt she is ever wrong when it comes to knowing what is good for her and her teammates and womens soccer.She is also unbelievable when it comes to fans.She deserves to be on a pedastal and treated that way.

    Thanks for all of you for caring about soccer and wanting to even provide reporting and your opinion.Let’s hope it will be a positive influence at the end of the day.

  4. Well, I’m glad to see Mr Borislow and I agree on one thing and that’s on the quality of Beau’s reporting. Also, I am glad to see a civil response from Mr Borislow..

    But Mr Borislow makes several points which don’t help his credibility. He mentions leagues around the world that run schedules with hundreds of games and they’re largely staffed by volunteers. Well, sure, we even have that here and we’ve had it for many years – like WPSL or the W-League. But obviously that’s not what we’re content with — and by “we” that includes Mr Borislow himself, because otherwise he could’ve or would’ve simply invested his time and money in one of those leagues rather than WPS.

    He says women’s sports can only be run as a charity. He may be right. That’s certainly a constant subject for debate. Many people find that insulting but the only truly relevant point is this – the league was not founded on that premise, the statements of its owners and its executives has always stressed the opposite, so what is Mr Borislow doing coming into the league and essentially telling the other owners to treat the sport as a charity?

    I believe that Mr Borislow sincerely appreciates the sport as a fan and, in his own way, is trying to do something for the sport. But I also believe it is clear that his way of doing it, while some of it has been beneficial, is very damaging to it.
    – Craig

  5. I agree with Dan about USSF having an obligation to step up and help. After all, it was the US women who stole the show last summer.
    A women’s professional league needs a big-name sponsor like Adidas or Nike. Quite frankly, Puma sucks.
    It seems to me that FAU and MJ did just fine last season as far as the venue was concerned. We made a trip up to a game after the WWC and it was a great experience. And didn’t Dan say in earlier interviews that everything happened fast when he bought the team, and he had a limited amount of time to secure a field, etc? So instead of worrying about the stupid stuff, he concentrated in putting together a quality team on the field. If you ask me, WPS was way too nit-picky with some of their demands. Who cares about sign boards? Exceptions could have been made in the MJ case. Say what you want to, but without them, there wouldn’t have been a 2011 season. I understand that rules must be followed, and I probably don’t know half of what went on behind the scenes. But, I’m pretty sure booting the team out of the league wasn’t the solution.
    I’m sure there are wealthy soccer fans out there who want to help the women’s game grow. But, dumping all of the blame on the last wealthy guy who stepped up to the plate isn’t going to help attract any newcomers with deep pockets.

  6. Wow – I am absolutely amazed by some of these comments. Dan Borislaw is clearly a very successful business man so I have to wonder if this is actually written by him, or some psudeo Dan. My take on his comments – and as he points out this is just my opinion. Clearly I was the GM of one of the teams that were clearly doing everything wrong and an utter disgrace in his eyes – but here goes anyway:

    I actually agree with him that the league needs a large sponsor – in fact I’ve proposed to several people that they need 2 – one TV outlet like the new NBS Sports Channel, or ESPNW when they are ready to broadcast. I think the league should trade ownership positions for there participation. The second is a major product or retailer that serves the main target audience – someone like P&G or Target. The league should ask them to simply provide a portion (small portion) of their national advertising spend in lieu of cash. These two things combined is the only way the league will get the eyeballs and visibility it needs and deserves.

    The league CAN NOT be a charity – it must be a business – a professional level sports business. If Dan wants it to be a charity than make it a 503(c) and take his product name off the jersey and replace it with Feeding America, or some other real charity. He is right, the owners can in no way expect the league to be profitable in 3 years, or 5 years and probably not for 10 years. MLS is been around 16 years and some teams still aren’t profitable, even with their stadiums. If the owners aren’t mentally or financially prepared for that then they really shouldn’t be in it. Unfortunately there aren’t any more Hunts or Anschuetz’s out there supporting women’s soccer. But wait, maybe that is the position that Dan Borislaw wants to be in? If so, then he can’t also control everything and always have his way. If you look at what Hunt and Anschuetz did – they built something to last – with people that make decisions and a solid base of league operations.

    Where I start to really separate from Dan is on the operational side. You can’t be half pregnant, and you can’t be half professional. You don’t have the best product in the world (the players) and market and display them like the worst. You need a league office, a marketing budget, professional PR and media relations, professional facilities, ticket sales and customer relations. D1 schools aren’t the answer. And comparing the WPS to a youth tournament is pathetic. But then again, I’ve seen the magicJack commercials, need I say more.

    Kind of surprised that a senior executive used the word “thang”, and he makes no mention of asking the players to call him “Daddy”, would love more insight into that one. And what a slap in the face to his fan base when he said “Both of our fans loved what we did for them.” – WOW.

    As for Abby – I’ve seen her around kids and I agree – she is wonderful. My wife and I watched her interact with a group at the hotel during the 2009 All-Star Game and is awesome how engaged she was – and there was no one around and it was from the heart. However, how can she be the player/coach/captain of a team and not comment on the Ella Masar blog – her teammate? Not to mention, Dan had Christie Rampone on his team – yet he never mentions her and lauds her. There is no more professional player and person in the women’s game than Christie – but we have rarely if ever heard Dan speak about her. Why? Does she not agree with him? I have no idea, but I’d like to know.

  7. some thoughts (and thanks to you guys for continuing to care to write about all this Beau, jenna, jeff, sigi, etc.):

    1. sports teams except in VERY rare occurences are not investments in a traditional sense — meaning you can’t run the quant model and figure out why you should put your money in a soccer team vs. a hedge fund or dividend stock. There is almost no scenario where original ‘investors’ in wps thought they would get a good return. Almost to a person we thought it was the right thing to do (not necessarily a ’cause’), the right sport if womens sports were ever going to succeed soccer was it, and a chance to build something over time at an acceptable level of loss. (the first two assumptions hold, but the ‘acceptable’ losses didn’t — losses for a variety of reasons were more than double projected, even after some dramatic right sizing in years 2 and 3).

    2. There is a nice element to the Sahlen model where you do two things that really help the ‘soccer team’ business: first you have an existing infrastructure to run the front office (shared costs with other businesses — unlike the mostly stand alone wps companies with higher front office costs), and second you have a built in sponsor revenue from another ‘sister’ business that can justify spending. These are very important elements for future owners to manage costs and lock in revenues and arguably essential ingredients as we shop for future investors. (note we too in chicago literally had a hundred conversations with investors and suffice it to say most weren’t interested because a) not an investment per se, or b) too small to care about given the effort required, or c) the league looks shaky I think i’ll wait (or risk or litigation etc.)

    3. Yes the economy changed right before launch — the model was conceived in the go go 2006/7/8 when sponsorships were plentiful and other investments were doing fine so this was the right time to attract investors. Based on comparable leagues and the strength of the WNT we all assumed 750k+ would be likely from a sponsor perspective. That was an essential revenue stream that never materialized. In a good year only a few teams were able to achieve half of that goal and most much less.

    4. Personally I never blamed the economy for lower attendance, we did and still do relatively well from an attendance standpoint, but our assumptions were wrong. Even thought we have 31,000 womens youth players in IL we couldn’t consistently get more than a couple thousand paid for any game. Yes we got up to 8,000 but on bad weeknights or holiday weekends it was under 1500 paid. It only took a few ‘bad gates’ to ruin your season average. (and yes we have good business people, creative ideas and please don’t underestimate the efforts that various teams made to get fans). We still have a core issue to get over regarding attendance. Women don’t by sports tickets for most families — it is the men. And men have women’s soccer somewhere well down the list of priorities when they have the time to do an outing (family or otherwise). One of the most frustrating facts is that even our most senior WNT players spend far more time watching EPL and mens soccer than other womens soccer leagues. So except for the core daddy/daughter fans and a few other niche segments we just aren’t in the sweet spot for male-decided family entertainment (or guys night out). But we have a steady 1500 to 3500 that is ready to go for multiple games per year. Why do you think USSF has the WNT play in different cities all the time — because the wnt/womens soccer fan knows the top players and will turn up ONCE to see them in a great while. Most fans in wps were 1x per year fans — the 1000 or so season tix were in 1/2 the cases donations to the ’cause’ only 500-750 each game came back multiple times per year — the core suburban soccer family is just too busy to do much more. (and yes we want and went after other segments hard).

    5. All that said, what we have learned in Chicago is a great deal about a sustainable model, we haven’t lost faith but we have right sized to reality. We can get a couple hundred thousand dollars in revenues every year (through camps, tickets, sponsorships). Over time this will grow as the brand/quality is steady and builds. Take your revenues add an acceptable annual loss and that is the budget. Anything beyond that stretches the investors to a breaking point and the team disappears. So can you have a ‘pro’ league for a budget like that — surprisingly yes with many caveats (some I don’t have the time to type here). But it takes will, creativity, and very low overhead. Owner operator model with another business to absorb some front office costs, some steady sponsors to supplement, etc. But it starts with will and the right kind of owners who are in it for the right reasons. We have many more ideas and there are some great lessons learned from other pro and semi pro leagues.

    6. I can’t go into it all here, but know too that there are VERY different needs out of the league for the handful of well compensated senior national team players and the couple hundred others who want to keep playing to stay on the radar for national teams or just because they want to keep playing. WNT senior players have some very good contracts (and sponsorships) that can let them play or not play for the year without additional income — in an olympic year for instance wps is more a hassle than a financial need. They have very different needs and expectations out of the next WPS/L/WLeague. So are you fundamentally designing a league for the next 200 players or for the top 15 players? Does the players union fundamentally need a contract that represents the 200 even though it may not do much for the 15? These are real issues that cause real tension. As with everything else it starts with a clear goal — is the goal of the league to win the next olympics? or is it more broadly to have a sustainable platform for US player development (does that then de-emphasize the internationals?). Is it primarily for revenue generation or player development? Each of these answers take the league/teams/finances in slightly or major different directions. We have our answer and a clear plan for the future, not all owners have the same answer hence some of the friction. Do we need Marta? (I’ll answer that privately).

    Rest assured plenty are still working to make sure we have an elite environment for women to play post college and build long-term fans of the womens game. We have to stop the circular firing squad that keeps taking owners out and preventing others from joining.

    As you know there is much more to be said, just hard to do it all in this format.


  8. Gerry

    I am a mother of 2 young girls (soccer players). I also have far better punctuation than Mr. Borislow. And, is my girls played for his team of course I wouldn’t want them calling that 50 year old man “Daddy”. However, keep in mind that Ella is still the only person to come out and say that as far as I can tell. One person’s experience doesn;t define a team.I had to explain to my devastated girls why we can’t drive up to Boca and watch Abby and Becky Sauerbrunn play in the league next year. So I started researching the issue (thanks to Beau mainly) and have come to the conclusion that i can see both sides of the argument. It’s just my opinion of course, and I respect the opinion of others: I think Dan needed to stop the name calling and communicate in a civil manner, but the WPS could have given some wiggle room on the stupid, irrelevant stuff.

  9. The story of Phil Anschutz propping up MLS in its early years gets a lot of play in WPS articles. As in: women’s soccer needs a Phil Anschutz figure who is willing to backstop massive losses over a long period of time for it to be viable at a world class (rather than a semi-pro/purely grass roots) level.

    But there is a key distinction here. Even when MLS was in its more perilous stage, Anschutz and others could look to a model of success elsewhere in the world. Men’s soccer franchise values appreciate and change hands frequently in various leagues around the world. There was a road map to success and a marketplace existed, even if MLS was the equivalent of penny stocks in world soccer at that time ten years ago.

    But in the women’s game there is no franchise market outside of expansion fees. The model in the women’s game is: start league…collect expansion fees…teams fold…league folds….start new league…collect expansion fees.

    This is a really important point and one which is often overlooked in the over-emphasis about how much money women’s teams lose on an annual operating basis. The L.A. Sol lost $3 million or so in their only year of operation. Some NBA teams lose much more than that. Some observers say: this is evidence of sexism. Owners are willing to plow much more money into a money-losing men’s team than they are into more efficient women’s teams that are cheaper to operate. But the difference is that there is a clear precedent that the NBA/NHL/NFL/MLB (and now MLS) franchise itself tends to appreciating substantially in value, even while the team may be in the red year after year. An NBA owner might lose $25M operating a team for five years – but then sell that club for $100M more than he paid for it.

    No women’s pro soccer team has ever changed hands in the U.S. for any sum of money, not even trading at a loss. Dan did not pay for Washington Freedom membership itself by reliable accounts…he agreed to take on the obvious economic burden of operating the team in 2011 and in return he was handed the keys by the Hendricks for a sale price of $0. WUSA reportedly had several investors who wanted out BEFORE the league folded (Comcast in Philly, Time Warner in New York), but could not find buyers. No existing WPS team ever sold to a new owner.

    The telling moment for WPS was when the L.A. Sol could not attract a buyer, despite the major market, the superstar, the best-in-league revenue numbers, and the smashing on-field success. The “sale” that fell through at 11th hour was – again – not a cash transaction. It was a zero dollar sale to a charitable trust that initially appeared willing to underwrite losses for a while.

    The Sol franchise cost $470,000 at inception. Had the club sold for $1.5 million after that strong first season, that alone would have been a game changer for WPS. It would have helped the Red Stars immeasurably in the 100 fruitless conversations they had with potential investors, mentioned by Arnim above. It might have attracted a savior for Athletica, who had two great assets: an attractive stadium deal and Hope Solo.

    Even when it looked like that Sol transaction would go through in late 2009, I remember one Boston investor saying: “So this means OUR franchise value is effectively zero.” In other words, if the league’s flagship team trades at $0 and no other teams trade at all, then all of us effectively own worthless franchises. Once this mindset takes hold, you are basically a prisoner to the patience and good will of the original investors, who see no way out of their predicament. The clock starts ticking.

    I’m less concerned that WPS – or whoever – comes back with a model that allows teams to break even year to year. There is such a thing as sustainable deficits. I’m more interested to see who can make a market for trading women’s soccer franchises.

    The next benchmark moment for women’s pro soccer will be the first time someone sells a club for more than what they paid for it.

  10. Thanks to Gerry, Arnim and Andy for always adding so much background to the conversations.

    To Dan thanks as well, but remember Beau mixes both reporting and opinion on this blog and I think it is made pretty clear by his writing style which mode he is in, in each article. If this was a story on ESPNW or another news site I could understand the pointed remarks, but his personal site has never portrayed itself as one.

    Just a knitpicky comment to all posters, if you are going to point out Dan’s punctuation and spelling issues or word choices, spell his last name right, it ends in -LOW not -LAW. BTW I notice this everywhere.

  11. Rachel… some wiggle room on the league standards for operations ?

    As far as Ella, She has not been one to make up anything and her word is good…. I don’t know her but I know people who do

    and no one has come out and stated she is wrong… In fact Daddy Dan refuses to talk about her in any way.

  12. As someone who has worked in both WPS and MLS. I wonder why no one discusses Soccer United Marketing. That is the real “genius” of MLS. They have a steady stream of income coming from the Mexican National Team, US Soccer, and other endeavors that allow them to take more risk with their MLS teams as well as keep a hand in every aspect of soccer in the US. I’m surprised people are unaware they essentially run and profit from every soccer game in America. World Football Challenge, Gold Cup, Man United tour, Barcelona tour, SuperLiga, the Mexican League (in the US), the 2006 World Cup viewing rights, etc, etc. It keeps them involved, gives them leverage in working with other sports and potential clients.

    So instead of finding our “Philip Anschutz” (who I’m sure loves women’s soccer and their large LGBT following), why don’t we find our version of Soccer United Marketing? Sure there is no Mexican NT cash cow equivalent in women’s soccer, but there must be a portfolio diversify opportunity out there.

  13. excellent andy.

    one other angle on anschutz (AEG). Even though LA Sol lost $3M or so that year — AEG made money on LA Sol. the stadium rent was certainly no cheap deal that sol paid to AEG. Further in MLS launch AEG migrated over time to stadium operations/ownership as primary revenue driver instead of team ownership — even when they sold teams they often had the stadium revenue locked in as part of post sale recovery for costs. Others can amplify these points but if the exit strategy was all along to get municipalities to help underwrite stadium construction (to lower the cost of the asset) and then to lock in long term contracts for playing in the stadium it was also a way to monetize the initial investment in the team franchises. Bottom line is we don’t have as many ways to monetize the womens soccer investments/assets if at all.

    In my more cynical moments I was going to tweet: Name the top 10 people/companies that benefited most from WPS while the league was struggling? #aretheyreallyinvestedinWPS

    But I didn’t. Some on the list would have to include the stadiums, the uber compensated players, some of the execs, the league-wide mandated vendors, etc.

  14. For those who think that Borislow should have been allowed some slack on WPS rules, I’d like to point out that he didn’t have a trainer on the team staff, i.e., the team practiced and played without a medical practitioner available to take care of any injuries that might occur. (Not only Ella Masar but several other sources have confirmed this.) I don’t know about you, but i find that appalling.

  15. I honestly can’t believe that some people are still defending Dan Borislow’s actions over the past WPS season. His long list of league violations/misconduct/poor management includes…

    -not displaying sponsor field boards (alienating those businesses willing to put money into the league is insane and destructive)
    -not allowing media access to players (how do you promote the players and the league without media access? Women’s soccer fans are begging the media to take notice of the league.)
    -discouraging players from using social media (same as above)
    -refusing to give players access to a trainer (irresponsible and inexcusable)
    -not meeting minimum stadium/broadcast standards (you can’t complain about not getting on television when you don’t meet the minimum standards for hosting matches, much less broadcasting them. And what would those spurned sponsors think if they saw mJ games on television with no ad signage?)
    -not uploading game footage to the league’s match analysis system (not giving the league tools to efficiently track team and player stats, and refusing to allow other teams access to valuable scouting footage that they all regularly provide)
    -not having an operational team website (lazy, and once again works against promoting the team and the league)
    -harassing, abusing. and intimidating his players (I have a feeling we’ll hear much more about this in the weeks to come; and notice that no one has disputed Masar’s claims, but many have praised her for speaking out…)
    -making disparaging comments in the media about players, owners, and league staff (effectively proving that he cannot maintain the level of professionalism required of the role of owner, and in the process creating a “soap-opera” atmosphere that is damaging the reputation of the league)
    -refusing to pay fines levied by the league (insolent and arrogant)

    And for people who insist on calling him a savior, remember that without Sahlen and the WNY Flash there probably isn’t a 2011 season. Oh, and don’t discount the decision of the other 4 owners to proceed with a third season despite losses over the first two seasons. There were 6 owners/ownership groups that “saved” WPS in 2011, not 1.

  16. Wow. This has to be the most civil, informative, comment thread I have read anywhere in a long time. My biggest take-away is that each comment has it’s share of truth & wish-it-was-truth.

    @Beau – Agree that more sacrifice by named players may be needed to sustain the league by way of salaries, creature comforts, but basic needs have to be met, like medical. Sometimes I think the other owners were pissed b/c Dan beat them at their game and used others’ assets to promote his team. My question to you now is: Why does it have to be either/or with Sahlen/Borislow model? Both had enough similarities that a hybrid would seem to be the answer.

    @Arnim – Thanks for all the insight. There are more sides to this than a family feud at Thanksgiving, but you do a great job of breaking it down.

    @Andy – If a model doesn’t exist we have to create one by making the league accountable enough that it fosters confidence in an investor. That has been sadly lacking up to this point.

    @Gerry – Love you, Gerry, but you might get more positive responses to your queries if you didn’t sound so bitter. Your knowledge and experience are valued assets, but your snark has turned sour. Come back to us, well me. I miss the old you.

    @Natlaie – That hasn’t been WPS’ style up to now..maybe they can change.

    I truly hope that the “league” is having the same kind of discussions.

  17. Gerry Marrone #callingyouout

    I’m suprised you have the guts to come on here and show your face and talk about professionalism when you conduct yourself in such an appalling manner, the way you talked about our national players on your twitter feed is frankly disgusting and childish. To resort to name calling and putting them down because they won’t say or do what YOU want when YOU want them to is simply childish. Who do you think you are? To think you were a previous GM says it all really about the WPS and about some people who are/were running it. Oh and by the way it wasn’t a ‘free education’ at a cheap college, it was UW with one of the best soccer programmes.

    The further away you stay from womens soccer the better – we don’t need people of your character around thank you!

  18. @STLAthletica

    exactly… and people seem suprised at where the WPS is. As people have said, there is a place for a womens pro soccer league in this country, the problem is the people that are running it.

  19. Folks, I said in the last thread, and I’ll say it again — watch the personal attacks. Say something substantive. Not just “You stink.”

  20. @Beau Dure

    I agree but I think it is beneficial to everyone to make people aware of what kind of characters were running the WPS. It is all facts, go look at his twitter feed. He acts all high and mighty, I’m simply making people aware of how he is conducting himself. Future GM’s can learn how NOT to conduct themselves.

  21. First of all, he hasn’t been “running the WPS.” Second of all, what are your actual complaints? If it’s saying mean things about players … yeah, that’s not going to hold up very well.

  22. ok not running it but a GM nonetheless. It is more than simply ‘saying mean things’ – it is the manner in which he is conducting himself. He held an important position at a WPS club and should know better. It reflects badly on the WPS and shows what kind of character he is-to go on these twitter rants is unprofessional especially coming from an ex GM that is my point. He then has the nerve to call other people out….what do they say? people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

  23. I kind of like the snarky remarks. Especially because they are from someone who knows what he is talking about. And Hope can take it. That is why she is so awesome.

  24. @tracie
    she is awesome but that is not the point. He held the position of a GM at a WPS club, he should act professionally and keep those opinions to himself. As you said he was being snarky and not adding anything beneficial or positive to the conversation.

  25. “uswnt fan says:
    she is awesome but that is not the point. He held the position of a GM at a WPS club, he should act professionally and keep those opinions to himself. As you said he was being snarky and not adding anything beneficial or positive to the conversation.”

    Kind of like you, eh?

    Can we please return to the discussion about business models and such? I find it extremely interesting.

  26. Wasn’t one of the problems with the Sol situation that the AEG departure was last-minute? I’ve long wanted to know more details (having been one of the team’s fans, in the stands!).

    Right now, from the perspective of a fan (so no direct insight into management, business models etc) – question doesn’t seem to be profitability of the WPS (who invests in a nascent sports league expecting returns in anything like a near future?) – it seems the more urgent issue is perhaps competency at various levels of management? Or is that what we mean by business model? Anyway, from here it looks like too much is happening last minute, decisions made under duress – league has been limping along with lots of emergency temporary patches… of course, I live in California and work in public education. So that’s what everything looks like these days.

    Masar’s blog post is heart-breaking.

  27. WOW – I’m really feeling the love! I’m not going to get into a debate – if you don’t like me, sorry – but I am simply providing my – let me say that again – my personal opinion. I am a FORMER GM – so yes I have some insight into what was happening when I was there. I have very limited knowledge of what is happening now. What I do have is an opinion – as a fan. As far as being snarky – again, sorry that’s just my style – direct, honest and sometimes cynical or sarcastic. I always thought the beauty of social media is the same as the radio – you can simply change the channel. Head over to Twitter and unfollow me – I’m fine with that.

    @uswnt_fan – you name says it all – it’s clear where your loyalties lie – and good for you. I not only have the guts to make my feelings known – I do it with my real name and have even put my real email address on line. I don’t hide behind a screen name – I could. No matter what my previous job was I am entitled to my opinion – and you are entitled to disagree with it.

    @Diane – yes I agree the past couple of weeks I have turned more to the bitter side – that I will work on. I put two years of my life into WPS – and as I’m sure Andy will attest – the days are long and you don’t see your family nearly enough. It’s a grind, and for significantly less money than I earned before or now in my career. But I hear you and I will work on the bitter side and get back to being simply snarky.

    Hope everyone has a great evening.

  28. Natalie, you may no better than me having more of an inside view – and Arnim, Andy and Gerry would better know, too – but my understanding was that SUM didn’t want much to do with WPS when they were involved in the early stages. I understood that it was a real money pit for WPS.

  29. Jeff – that isn’t entirely true. WPS had a deal with SUM and terminated it. SUM provided a guaranteed revenue stream in their agreement, however, did put roadblocks in place on the local level. The relationship was far from perfect and the league chose to go in a different direction. In my experience with SUM – they never really presented WPS on it’s own to potential clients – it was always an add on to everything else they were pitching, and I believe WPS wanted a situation where they were the primary focus.

  30. Which brings us to the classic argument of whether MLS affiliation would help. Being the “second team” in a portfolio can be a bad thing — ask New England Revolution fans or pre-Sporting Kansas City Wizards fans.

    Yet it’s a moot point because there’s very little to suggest MLS teams are interested at this point. Maybe they’ll feel differently with another five years of MLS growth and another interesting Women’s World Cup?

  31. Thanks for clarification, Gerry. I knew it wasn’t the best of situations. Beau, don’t get me going on MLS hype. I know we’re on the same page. MLS interest in WPS is one of the most sensationalized talking points surrounding WPS.

  32. @fromaleftwing: My understanding has always been that AEG only guaranteed that they would support the Sol through the first year. WPS spent a lot of time looking for someone to take over and (according to a high-level member of the Freedom front-office staff) were very close to having an agreement but couldn’t finalize it in time to be ready for the 2010 season.

  33. Sahlen was smart to move his team from Buffalo to Rochester, NY, a city with an already established soccer tradition and fans. Rochester’s fan base was solidified in the 1970’s by the NASL Rochester Lancers. Those Lancer fans and their kids continued to dominate the Rochester soccer scene for the next decade and then made up the big crowds for the Rochester Rhinos when they started in the mid-1990’s. The thing is that Rochester soccer fans are very savvy, and they will support quality soccer, which is why the WNY Flash did well in Rochester with players like Marta that the Rochester fans can appreciate. The WPS needs to find other soccer gems like Rochester and build their league that way, and then when stronger in the future supply and demand will take over and larger sponsors will come calling.

  34. Thanks @StarCityFan. Yeah: one year of support for the lead team in the first season of a new league is not enough to constitute support. Thanks for the reply. Am staying out of the fray, keeping my opinions about all that on my blog. But thanks Beau D. for getting a very animated conversation going….

  35. Arnim,
    I think you should keep soccer to soccer people. The Red Stars had many good people behind it but like all the rest the non soccer people brought it down. Now you sold out to a club. Why didn’t you keep the team independent and run it? Why because it easier and you thought you would win the great WPSL championship. So the club uses the name to bring players in and make money. You sold out women’s soccer.

    I never saw the Red Stars in the community unless they were getting paid! Why was that?

    Gerry I have told you before just because you talk about something it doesn’t make you an expert. But keep trying to tell everyone that you have the answers. Your SB team did not run a clean house for years!!

    Dan by the way you kiss AW ass it is so obvious that the team was in the crapper. AW yes may be a good person and have good PR skills but its teammates first and she failed. She choose to stand with you for gain and lost.I am sure she will end up on your payroll!

    As far as the others looking for sponsors…………WHERE are they and WHY would they touch a league with this bunch of owners?

  36. Beau:

    Besides all the fools behind the scenes you have to ask, “is there a market for pro women’s soccer?” I also think because the word Pro also means entertainment and not development…..Is there a level of the women’s game that reaches the pro arena.

    Sponsors: If they sink tons of money into the game how much more will they get out of it that they are already getting from the mens game?

  37. Beau you write:

    That idea, beyond anything Borislow has done, is seductive. Just find enough wealthy people who are willing to spend money with little in return — at least for now — and you have a league of people enjoying competitive play and relative comfort between World Cup/Olympic cycles.

    Wasn’t this just done? Egotistic bunch of jerks–Where is the WPS now?

  38. Ben, I hope you’re feeling better with all that off your chest, but could you perhaps tell us what you’re talking about?

  39. Beau the questions are plainly written. Way to jump!

    Take on some hard questions Beau..

    Look at Sky Blue and the coaching abuse. Did you ever write about that?
    Everyone jumps on the Magic Jacker but did you ever write about Sky Blue?

  40. Beau you ask………..Does Sky Blue have an issue that is as much of a threat to the league’s future as this lawsuit? If so, please let me know.

    Beau I would say they put the first black eye on the face of the league. Do you even know what happened? Are you telling me that what happened at SB didn’t hurt sponsorships? Ask the players in the team at that time what they thought. Very similar to MJ.

  41. Ben –

    We are privileged to have Beau covering this sport and provide a forum for some reader comments. We are all guest here. Please behave like one. Don’t be so rude, demeaning, hostile towards the host. Thank you

    re Abby Wambach:

    I wish I had said something earlier about this when Mr Borislow trumpeted her endorsement of him. I’m a fan of hers but all of this makes me very uncomfortable. I’m sorry to say I think she’s in an uncomfortable spot. Both her defense of Mr Borislow and her subsequent silence (such as on Twitter) are highly conspicuous and having Mr Borislow parade her support just makes it even more conspicuous. He is thrusting her into a position of spokesman — and I don’t think that’s where she wants to be. As a fan I can say it’s not where I want to see her.

  42. Ben – what would you like to know about Sky Blue? In fact, why don’t you identify your self so we know who we are “answering to”. You talk like an expert – please educate us on where all your expertise comes from.


    What happened at Sky Blue from a coaching perspective year one was not good – but it was dealt with – swiftly and effectively with coach #1. Coach #2 resigned for her own reasons, and reasons for things that went on behind the scene’s. And somehow those players still won a championship – no matter what the issue was I would be willing to guess that there were 6 other teams of players that would have happily changed places to get the ring we got.

    As far as sponsorship goes – you have no idea what you are talking about. I personally sold all sponsorship for the club – our sponsorship revenue increased by over 40% year one to year 2. At year three prior to when I left we had renewed every sponsor from year 2 – I do not know where they ended but I know we were at pace when I left.

    I asked every player about 2009 in exit interviews – and look at who came back for 2010 – VERY little turnover – except what we lost to the expansion draft and who we chose not to bring back. The situation was absolutely nothing like mj.

  43. I think Beau Dure has been very professional in reporting MJ vs WPS news. He gives each side’s story and a chance to comment and leaves his own opinion out of it. This is personal writing so Mr. Borlislow should not expect it to be the same. He has his opportunity to comment too.

    There is no Borislow model. It won’t work if the whole league is run like that. Forget TV then, no marketing and who knows what if any sponsors, just forget it.

    I’ve tried to be fair to Dan, I said I thought WPS never ought to have terminated and gone to court. I think however Dan needed to fix most of the issues ( nobodies perfect) listed here by Greg in order for MJ to stay in the league and move forward. I thought perhaps due to a quieter period leading up to MJ’s termination that had happened. MJ had a coach ( Wambach for better or worse) and it seemed as if Dan was willing to make changes for the better and his interest in continuing had increased. It seems not now.

    Certainly inappropriate for someone who spent zero on marketing or even SEATING for his fans, then benefited from publicity from the World cup from then on to sell more tickets just bitched about his attendance. Actually, that is preposterous. I’ve been to “FAU soccer stadium” it isn’t a stadium.

    The league has been downsizing costs, they need more revenue and they need ESPN. ESPN will advertise minor sports ceaselessly if and only if they have a financial interest in them. Getting TV coverage from ESPN is part of the step forward to a division 1 league.

    As far as Beau Dure trying to moderate/encourage peace love and understanding amongst commentators, I post on a few sports message boards and well…….good luck!

  44. Gerry when I stated sponsorships it was said as in hurting the league with sponsorships. If you tell me that negativity like that doesn’t scare off sponsors you are not being truthful.

  45. Ben – on a local level what happened at Sky Blue FC in 2009 with the coaching situation had absolutely zero impact on sponsorships. Our jersey sponsor renewed for a 50% increase in the value of the deal, and we increased all other sponsorships. So please, since you are an expert and had so much inside knowledge, tell me where the sponsors that were scared off are.

    Did Sky Blue FC’s coaching issues year 1 hurt the league sponsorship? You are giving way too much credit to the situation. Sponsorship increased from year 1 to year 2 league wide. More teams got jersey sponsorships and league increased in sponsorship overall. So again, I ask – what evidence do you have that the situation hurt anything.

    One thing I think you could say, is we got decreased mentions and support from one ESPN announcer who was personally effected by the situation – that I will not argue with you on.

  46. Gerry,

    Your logic kills me..The way you figure salaries and the way you look at sponsorships is wacked.

    So you are telling me that because your sponsor sales increased you didn’t lose sponsorship opportunities..So if your coach was a positive charismatic winning coach you wouldn’t have had the opportunity to increase sponsorships more then you did? You are telling me that a negative abusive coach had no affect? Are you kidding me?
    You are also telling me that companies were not scared off and didn’t want to be associated with this type of publicity? Please!

    Get off your high horse.

    The ESPN announcer is terrible and if she had any class would walk away from the mic.

    What evidence do I have. Well if we look at the league year to year it never got better only worse. Well and now its gone. So one negative issue after another killed this league. They had major changes every year that contributed to killing the league.

    If and when the league comes back why don;t you leave your job to sell sponsorships in the WPS. If its that great why did you leave?

  47. i answered someones comments posted to me. If you want please email me and let me know what is yelling. If you were sincere about your comments to me then you would have had a comment for Gerry before I answered. Tell me where I am wrong please.

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