Women's Professional Soccer League to Launch in 2009

<strong>Abby Wambach (center) says that a league was important in getting her ready to play at the next level</strong><br>AP Photo/Kyodo News, Daisuke Suzuki
A new North American women's professional soccer league--under the temporary working title of Women's Soccer LLC--has been formally established in the United States by seven investor groups, with play beginning in the spring of 2009. Initial teams will be based in Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New Jersey/New York, St. Louis and Washington D.C.

Though funding could have allowed for a 2008 start date, team owners finalized the 2009 launch date based on a number of factors, including the 2007 FIFA World Cup and 2008 Olympic Games.

Launch Timing

"Careful consideration was taken in timing the launch of the league, as team owners are being judicious to ensure that this league is sustainable and successful in the long run. It's a simple matter of preparation and operational readiness," said Tonya Antonucci, newly named league commissioner.

League Leadership

After two and a half years as CEO of Women's Soccer Initiative, Inc (WSII), Antonucci will transition to the role of league commissioner. Antonucci brings over a decade of sports business experience to the effort, having spent more than seven years with Yahoo, Inc., where she served as the director of Yahoo! Sports and subsequently as general manager of Yahoo's partnership with FIFA and the commercialization of the official, global web sites for the FIFA Men's and Women's World Cups.

Antonucci played soccer at Stanford University. Following her college soccer career she spent years as assistant coach at both Stanford and Santa Clara University.

"Tonya's vision, knowledge and tenacity have been the consistent guiding forces that have allowed women's soccer to return to the professional sports landscape," said Peter Wilt, president and CEO of Chicago Professional Women's Soccer, LLC. "Her background in soccer, marketing and business leadership make her the ideal candidate to lead this league through its critical birth and infancy."

A New Business Model

The seven ownership groups are comprised of the following: AEG L.A. Women's Soccer, LLC; Boston Women's Soccer, LLC; Chicago Professional Women's Soccer, LLC; Hendricks Investment Holdings, LLC (Washington D.C.); St. Louis United Soccer, LLC; Sky Blue Women's Soccer, Inc. (New Jersey/New York); and Sting Soccer Group LP (Dallas).

League operations will focus on cost-containment and shared infrastructure efficiencies, as guided by a conservative business model developed by not-for-profit WSII officials under the legal counsel of global law firm Shearman & Sterling LLP. The league will implement a comprehensive 18-month marketing and branding campaign leading up to the 2009 launch date.

The league has also entered into agreement with Soccer United Marketing (SUM), the commercial affiliate of Major League Soccer, to serve as the league's exclusive representative for the sale of corporate sponsorship and consumer product licenses. Several of the teams will play in MLS' new, soccer-specific stadiums. Team owners also look forward to continuing their relationships with both the United Soccer Leagues W-League and Women's Premier Soccer League (WPSL).

Player Perspective

"I am thrilled and elated that a professional league will be coming back in 2009. I know from my path to the national team, a league was the most important component to getting me completely prepared to play at the next level," said Abby Wambach, current star of the U.S. Women's National Team. "What this means is that more women will have more opportunity to not only play at the next level, but also fulfill life-long dreams of being a professional athlete. This is what may be most important; to make dreams come true, and today, I feel like many women's dreams are coming true."

Women's Soccer in the United States

According to the U.S. Soccer Federation, soccer continues to experience unprecedented growth in the United States--particularly among America's youth, with more than 3.2 million players registered with the U.S. Youth Soccer Association and 4.5 million adults involved with the organization as parents, coaches, referees and administrators.

In addition, up to 250,000 U.S. adults play soccer at the amateur level. Meanwhile, MLS teams are seeing consistent increases in attendance and looking for ways to cater to their ever-expanding fan base, including the construction of more soccer-specific stadiums.

"The start of a women's professional league in 2009 is further evidence of soccer's continued growth and potential in the United States," said MLS Commissioner Don Garber.

"For years, the U.S. has been home to some of the world's best female soccer players. They and their international counterparts deserve to play on a professional stage, which will make this league a coveted destination for elite athletes from around the globe," said Antonucci.

The Future of Women's Soccer

"Much has changed since the WUSA took to the field in 2001. Most notably, there has been rapid growth in the number of people in America who play soccer and consider themselves soccer fans, thanks in large part to the collegiate opportunities afforded by Title IX and the growing success of the U.S. men's national team and MLS.

Soccer's popularity has exploded in this country and a women's league is a logical byproduct of the sport's ever-expanding fan base and following," said Antonucci. "We also now have a range of digital and online capabilities that allow us to put women's soccer front-and-center among fans and sponsors. But ultimately, it all comes back to the fact that our league will boast the world's greatest athletes playing the world's greatest game.

"At the same time, we'd be remiss in not examining the operations of the WUSA and learning from their experiences, particularly in the realm of operational efficiencies," added Antonucci. "The new league is taking every step to ensure that this league is a permanent fixture on the nation's professional sports landscape. We are not expecting overnight success, but are committed to long-term growth and profitability."

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