The tandem of Athletica and AC St. Louis has been under severe pressure recently after overseas investors supposedly pulled their support of the clubs.
Now, there’s no way to spin this (though WPS will certainly try, as they did when the Los Angeles Sol went under). It may very well be that WPS has seven healthy franchises going forward, but it’s never a good thing – from a competitive standpoint or a public perception standpoint – when you lose two teams in four months.
The people who resurrected the women’s professional game knew this was a fragile thing – and it would have been, even in a normal economy. Maybe they can come through this, get through 2010 and still make a go of it. But unless all of the investors they currently have are united and committed, they’re going to struggle to overcome the perception that they’re Just Another Failed Soccer League.
As for those who would ask, “Why would you get rid of the women’s team that’s cheaper to run than the men’s team?” I would say this: at this moment, they’re looking for investors to try to “secure the long-term future” of the entire enterprise. All you need to do is look at history and see how many people have, over time, invested in men’s pro outdoor soccer versus the number who have, over time, invested in women’s pro outdoor soccer. It may be that they felt they’d have a better shot finding a white knight to invest in AC St. Louis than in finding one for Athletica. There’s no question that a men’s outdoor team or league has a far greater upside (and, yes, a far greater expense, but I don’t think they’re looking at it that way, nor would they sell it that way to potential investors) than its distaff version.
The NASL (of which AC St. Louis is a part) is also in a battle with USL, one that will come to a head (again) over this winter when both sides try to get USSF sanctioning for second division play in 2011. All things considered, it’s very likely that the St. Louis and NASL folks felt that – for now at least – the men’s show must go on.
That’s unfortunate for fans of Athletica – and the women’s game – but it’s economic reality.
EDIT: Here is WPS’ official statement. Their spin is that they now have the same number of teams as last year and that the early years of any new league are a challenge. Both true. But having done so well to launch and to complete season one in the midst of the Great Recession, the appearance of having lost two teams in four months is a pretty big blow to absorb.