October 8, 2012
By Charles Cuttone
NEW WOMEN'S LEAGUE
Gulati says 2013 launch possible
Talks on a new women's professional league have progressed to the point where it is possible a new circuit, with the backing of U.S. Soccer and under the management of the United Soccer Leagues, could kick off in 2013, according to U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati.
|Plans in work for a new women's pro soccer league include the possibility that US Soccer will cover the salaries of Women's National Team players such as Abby Wambach, Amy Rodriguez (center) and Shannon Boxx (top).
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
U.S. Soccer has had discussions with 11 groups representing 10 cities. The groups include former teams in Women's Professional Soccer, which folded before it started its 2012 season, as well as MLS teams and current USL teams.
"We’ve asked them for their own operational plans, their own budgets and so on, and we’re starting a process to vet them through an auditing process to make sure that they’re up to the level that we’d want for this league," said Gulati.
"We are talking about the possibility for sure of a launch next year. That’s the goal, and that’s what we’re seeing if we can work toward.”
The plan taking shape would appear to have U.S. Soccer picking up the tab for salaries of U.S. National Team members who would play in the league.
"There is every possibility that we would have a more active role in the management and funding of this league," said Gulati. "What form that takes is still being discussed but a big part of our participation would be that the National Team players would play in this league and perhaps be funded directly by U.S. Soccer."
Player salaries and travel costs were two of the biggest expenses for the two previously failed women's leagues, with the high salaries commanded by National Team players proving particularly onerous for team owners, who also needed to have those players in their squads in order to sell tickets. The WPS got a boost when national team players returned to the league following the 2011 Women's World Cup, but not enough to keep it together for 2012. It’s perhaps thought the buzz generated from this year's Olympic win could help launch another league next year, although that was the thinking when the Women's United Soccer association was launched in 2001 on the heels of the 1999 Women's World Cup.
Gulati did not specify which markets were interested in the league, but did say it included groups on both coasts and in the Midwest. It's possible the league would be split geographically in order to cut down on travel costs.
“In terms of national and regional, it may well be that it’s a combination of the two," he said. "What I mean by that is a national league…which has a schedule that is more regionalized so you don’t necessarily play everyone the same number of times. That’s clearly a national league. I’m not saying you wouldn’t play people in the other coast at all, but if we have conferences, for example, you would play people in your conference, which would be on geographic grounds, more often than the opposite. But that’s probably a little early for me to comment any further than I just did.”
While Major League Soccer teams are involved in the discussions, it is on a team-by-team basis rather than centrally through the men’s league itself. A number of MLS teams, including the Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps, currently field women's teams, while several others have affiliated women's clubs, but there are no talks underway that would see MLS form a women's league in the way that the National Basketball Association established the WNBA.
"Clearly MLS has to approve any of their owners participating in another league with the women’s team," said Gulati "It’s really case-by-case. There are some situations where individual MLS investors are enthusiastically looking at this possibility, others where they’re very much focused on their MLS team or the stadium situation, or they don’t want to do this now and see how this starts. This isn’t a discussion that’s taking place with [MLS commissioner] Don [Garber] and we have 19 teams looking at this in a unified way."
Gulati said the federation will have discussions with the Women’s National Team players regarding participation in the league, and those talks could come later in the month when the team reconvenes for games in Chicago and Hartford.