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Arrivederci, Athletica

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch confirms and Women’s Professional Soccer is supposed to officially announce soon the demise of Saint Louis Athletica for financial reasons.

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.

9 Responses to Arrivederci, Athletica

  1. According to Brian over at Inside MN Soccer, two more WPS teams have financial issues.

  2. Sorry, “are rumored to have…”

  3. Wouldn’t we be stunned about almost any soccer team in WPS or USSF D2 that DIDN’T have financial issues?

  4. It always seemed like Athletica was an afterthought to Cooper, a political cog in the proposal for the theoretical Collinsville stadium (and MLS). An excuse to show the utility of the stadium, and his commitment to soccer. I guess this decision confirms it.

  5. […] involvement in the always-unsteady world of North American minor league soccer thinks it’s more about economics than sexism, especially given the stormy split between the USL and the NASL that is far from being […]

  6. Pete, how can an afterthought come first? Sequentially, I mean. :)

    Those who are holding their breaths until they turn blue and kvetching about the unfairness of it all and saying that Athletica merited saving rather than AC are just ranting to rant.

    We don’t know, for instance, how much Steve Ralston’s (supposedly prodigious) contract plays into this. If it’s guaranteed or not, any of that. And we don’t know if AC St. Louis won’t be next, in which case it really doesn’t matter which happened first, does it?

  7. It sounds like Pete isn’t saying that Athletica was an afterthought compared to AC St. Louis, but rather that it was an afterthought compared to Cooper’s MLS hopes.

    Could it be that WPS is going without a dispersal draft because it knows that there are teams who would prefer to be as quiet was possible about the fact that they can barely meet their current payrolls?

  8. Obviously Cooper’s primary goal was always to have an MLS team playing in the Collinsville stadium. My feeling was that all along, he only founded Athletica as a means to help get that stadium/team.

    By having a WPS team, he could claim to fill more stadium dates, while also proving that he was serious about the market and the sport. Unfortunately, when he couldn’t get an MLS team, he was stuck with Athletica.

    The fact that he kept the NASL team afloat shows that he, or the other NASL owners desperately want to keep their seat at the USSF table.

  9. […] then we have the it’s-just-plain-old-economics theory, from Kenn Tomasch: As for those who would ask, “Why would you get rid of the women’s team […]


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