New women's pro soccer league to launch in 2008
LOS ANGELES -- A new women's professional soccer league, with help from Major League Soccer, will be launched in 2008 with teams in Los Angeles, Dallas, St. Louis, Chicago and Washington.
It would replace the Women's United Soccer Association, which folded in 2003 after three years and attendance that averaged 4,500. Tonya Antonucci, chief executive officer of the Women's Soccer Initiative Inc., made the announcement Tuesday from her San Francisco office.
"We knew we would get one chance at this relaunch," she said. "We spent a lot of time studying and researching. We knew we had to cut costs to get those in line with actual revenues."
A sixth team, which already has financial backing, will be announced once it has chosen a city to play in, Antonucci said. She hopes to add two more teams in 2009.
Backers of all six teams have signed letters of intent to launch the league and have made financial commitments to do so. The projected cost of operating each franchise is $1.5 million to $2.5 million a year, Antonucci said.
The new league is negotiating with MLS' marketing division to handle its sponsorship and marketing.
Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy, retired national team stars and WUSA founding members, enthusiastically endorsed the new league Tuesday.
"The cities they talked about are great soccer communities who I think will really embrace these teams," Hamm said.
The new league will begin play in April 2008, hoping to capitalize on interest generated in the 2007 Women's World Cup, to be held in China in September.
Teams will play a 20-game schedule from April to August, including an All-Star game. Postseason play would extend the season into early fall.
The Los Angeles team will be owned by AEG, which operates the Los Angeles Galaxy men's MLS team, and will play at Home Depot Center in Carson.
AEG Sports president Shawn Hunter said having the new league's teams owned and operated by organizations with ties to MLS, along with established marketing, sales, promotional and operational departments "is a critical and significant component to launching a league that can have immediate credibility and success."
The other teams will play in soccer-specific stadiums. The Chicago franchise has worked out a deal with the MLS' Chicago Fire to play in its suburban Bridgeview stadium, Antonucci said.
The Chicago franchise is a partnership between former Fire president and general manager Peter Wilt, FC Indiana and the Illinois Women's Soccer League. The group is seeking a majority partner.
"The Chicago area is a strong soccer market," Wilt said.
The Dallas and Washington franchises are in discussions with their cities' respective MLS teams, FC Dallas and D.C. United, about sharing a stadium, she said.
Foudy, who along with Hamm was elected to the national soccer hall of fame Tuesday, played for the WUSA's San Diego Spirit from 2001-03 and has been involved in efforts to revive a women's pro league.
"We knew we didn't have nine lives. If we were going to do it again, we needed to do it right," she said. "[Tonya] really believes, and I feel the same, that we've got a great group together in these six owners and investors. There is a great fan base and product out there."
Hamm played three seasons for the WUSA's Washington Freedom.
"We're teaming up with some of the MLS teams and hopefully we'll share costs, which will eliminate a lot of the problems we had," Hamm said. "It'll be much more manageable and you already have the facilities in place."
The Women's Soccer Initiative is a nonprofit organization founded to build a business plan to relaunch a pro league. It is funded by grants from the U.S. Soccer Federation and U.S. Soccer Foundation.