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USA Soccer plans new women's league, but can Sky Blue make green?

ussoccer062710_optBY JOE FAVORITO
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM
ON N.J. SPORTS MARKETING

Last week USA Soccer announced yet another attempt at a professional women’s league for 2013 as a way to grow the game and most importantly keep its stars playing in anticipation of the 2015 World Cup. The clubs will be located in Boston, Chicago, Kansas City, Portland, Seattle, western New York Washington and New Jersey, some of the areas where both WPS and the WUSA have tried before.

This business model as federations, USA, Canada and Mexico, bankrolling some front office and the salaries of many elite players, but the teams will be privately owned. USA Soccer will also help lining up a key sponsor or two and will put in place a TV deal that makes viewing and financial sense. The teams will still be privately owned and will be responsible for their own P and L, including stadia and front office duties, as well as signing non-elite players.

Will it work? Hard to say. The involvement of USA Soccer to absorb cost makes sense, and playing on the right dates in key cities will also be worthwhile (could you play doubleheaders with MLS for example?) but is there an ultimate model that could turn a profit or is the goal to have a subsidized “league” that helps keep elite players in shape and in country around World Cup, Olympics and other key times? Even the best marketed women’s teams like Sky Blue FC in New Jersey couldn’t crack the code with fans, sponsors and media to be viable in the New York region, so why should this work?

If it is the goal to have a subsidized league to develop elite players, great! If it can provide jobs, ancillary sponsorship and creative promotions ala minor league baseball (but with Major League talent), terrific! If it serves as good content for TV and digital properties, even better!

However to do the league because “it’s needed” is a dangerous idea. Developing a healthy sport that is valuable at the grassroots is important. If that is what the new league does, great! Soccer with any gender is an amazing sport, especially at the highest level. Maybe with this new financial structure women’s soccer on the pro level can somehow be viable for a lifespan that will supersede its two previous tries, both of which started with great fanfare and very quickly flamed out in a sea of financial losses, ill will and damage to the game.

It their star-crossed history, Sky Blue won a title and found a good grassroots base in central New Jersey, a soccer hotbed for girls and boys. They had a solid mix of national and local names who both were invested in the community and understood the value of marketing, the biggest of which was Monmouth University star and three-time Olympian Christine Rampone, who, as a 38-year-old mom, probably won't return but could still be a very valuable asset for the franchise. Sky Blue didn't overspend on the marketing side; they understood the community sweet spot and took advantage. Can they be a leader as a franchise in this third-go round for women's soccer? The men's professional game with the ever-changing Red Bulls have vastly improved their outreach and the Union in Philly are growing their business model.

Hopefully, if Sky Blue is successful, it will be a nice bump for New Jersey and its soccer hungry audience that is enjoying the MLS game more now than ever.

Joe Favorito has over 24 years of strategic communications/marketing, business development and public relations expertise in sports, entertainment, brand building, media training, television, athletic administration and business. Visit him at JoeFavorito.com.

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