The WPS, the top-flight women's soccer league, is applying for a waiver to remain a division I league with US Soccer. This is due to them having only five teams, where eight are necessary. While admitting that this is of little concern to be rejected, this displays the weakness of women's soccer in the United States and given my predisposition to hypothetical situations offers me time to pose a question to Sporting KC fans. Would you be in favor of having a professional women's team in Kansas City?
My two cents (or two bits) after the poll and jump.
As the poll might imply, this is not a simple yes or no question. For every pro, there are cons in this situation, and I would say at this moment the cons are more evident.
Women's soccer has always been an interesting outlier in the American sports arena. Women's sports have made great advances since the introduction of Title IX in the United States, but from a commercial aspect have not made up much ground on any men's leagues. This is why I feel women's soccer is an outlier; it's has at least on a nationalistic scale garnered attention that other sports have not.
While they may not have capitalized on the success of the 1999 World Cup (for so many reasons it is not practical to dive into here), last summer's World Cup final drew the highest ratings ever for a soccer match on ESPN, and the sixth highest ratings for a match ever in the United States.There is an appetite for women's soccer in the sports arena. For hot-blooded young men like me, the interest is both obvious and admittedly somewhat juvenile; their has always been an allure to beautiful women also being incredible athletes. For young women, it gives the opportunity to see women as athletes outside of the typical gender roles. They are fading more and more in society yet still dominate the male-oriented sports world.
There are obvious concerns to both the league and us as fans that can't be ignored.The WPS has had the unfortunate trouble of starting during a double-dip recession. They also don't have many benefactors with the patience the Hunts and AEG showed during the crisis-contraction years of MLS development. For fans, the problem may be that we are already stretched too far financially to support another team, but I would imagine there would be some overlap between the Sporting KC and women's teams. There has to be a dedicated ownership group; we have one but this is a huge risk. It must also be done in earnest, not as a sideshow like Jeff Cooper made the Athletica in St. Louis.
As for the benefits, the WPS enjoyed a surge in attendance after the women's World Cup. This is somewhat hollow, as attendance outside the Abby Wambach return game boosts the numbers. However, attendance was poor before the World Cup as well. Also, the problems of women's soccer in other nations are strikingly similar, except that women's soccer has room for growth that it doesn't have in England, for example.
When the name change re-branding occurred, I envisioned a process that would include a women's team as the Sporting brand is not only confined to men's soccer, but to other sports and women's soccer as well. As much as the Livestrong deal, this would be a place where Sporting might be taking a hit for the greater good. While the player's certainly don't get paid much (Average salaries are around $25K), it still has been a losing business for the past decade with teams folding in markets like Washington, Chicago, St. Louis, and Los Angeles.
The league has shown a desire to partner with MLS in the past, but as of this moment have no teams playing in MLS stadiums (Philadelphia's team does play at a college stadium in Chester, PA, so they are at least nearby). I would imagine that if MLS came to an agreement you could have doubleheaders where WPS games preceded or followed MLS cup games, like the Rugby matches last year or the Gold Cup doubleheader.
The reality may be that for the second time the league was mismanaged enough that it will never be viable. As a fan of women's soccer, that disheartens me that a league cannot find ground at a time where women's soccer not only is peaking in its general appeal, but the quality of play is developing into a much more fluid style than that we saw in 1999. As always this may just be another case of me dreaming of impossibilities, but as dreams go, this one might actually have a slight base reality. I'm not saying we should have a team tomorrow, but that in the future it should be part of the Sporting KC business plan. Then again, it's much easier to hypothetically spend others money than to make the commitment yourself. It may also be selfish, as I wish to see these players some before my inevitable Canadian excursion for the 2015 Women's World Cup.
I know at least one Sporting KC player is in agreement.