By Alfred Branch, Jr.

Four years after the previous league folded, a group of six investors is backing a new professional women’s soccer league that will debut in 2008 in the U.S.

Five of the six league cities have been determined, Los Angeles, CA; Dallas, TX; St. Louis, MO; Chicago, IL; and Washington D.C. The league will decide upon a sixth city at a later date. Sponsoring the teams will be AEG; John Hendricks, Freedom Soccer LLC;
Jeff Cooper, St. Louis United Soccer LLC; Soccer Initiative, LLC; Jack Hanks and Brent Coralli, Dallas Franchise Group; and WGLSI, LLC and an additional as yet unnamed investor.

The new league has yet to name itself, but is being spearheaded by the Women’s Soccer Initiative, Inc. (WSII), a non-profit group that promotes female athletics, and which was charged with creating the league’s business model. Ticketing information was not yet available, but each team will play a 20-game regular season schedule beginning in April 2008 and stretching until August. There also will be an all-star game and playoff games in the early fall. The new league’s schedule is similar to that of Major League Soccer but with fewer games.

From 2001 to 2003, the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA) fielded an eight-team league that averaged about 4,500 fans per game, according to published reports. The league was created with an initial investment of $40 million but ended up losing close to $100 million, in part because it tried to do everything itself and could not support the weight of its own operations. WUSA players’ salaries averaged between $25,000 and $85,000.

“The new business model significantly reduces overhead while taking advantage of efficiencies and synergies with existing MLS club owners and other professional sports teams,” said WSII’s founder and CEO Tonya Antonucci, who spent seven years with Yahoo, Inc., where she was director of Yahoo! Sports and later became General Manager of Yahoo’s partnership with international soccer governing body FIFA, for which she helped coordinate the global websites for the FIFA Men’s and Women’s World Cups. She is also a former college soccer player at Stanford University, where she was also an assistant coach.

This time around, the league is hoping to keep individual team operating costs to between $1.5 million and $2.5 million, according to Antonucci. With its ties to Major League Soccer teams, the new league hopes to use the MLS’s marketing department to help spread the word.

“This is an important benchmark in the process to bring high-level professional women’s soccer back to North America,” Antonucci said. “We have taken both the lessons and the successes of the WUSA and applied them to create a business model that makes good economic sense.”

The eight original WUSA teams were located in Philadelphia, PA; Boston, MA; New York, NY; Washington, D.C.; Cary, NC; Atlanta, GA; San Jose and San Diego, CA where not all the teams played in soccer-specific stadiums. The new league, which hopes to add two more teams in 2009, will have all of its games played in soccer-only facilities.

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