You have to hand it to Women's Professional Soccer (WPS). The league, which kicks off its inaugural season tomorrow, not only has its heart in the right place, but it is working to raise its profile. (Kobe Bryant's unabashed support for Brazilian star Marta gave a big boost.) If the economic climate wasn't making major sporting entities such as the NFL and NBA sweat a little bit, it might even seem like a good idea.
It should be noted the Women's United Soccer Association (WUSA) lost about $100 million in three seasons before folding in 2003. With the sharp economic downturn since then, it's hard to imagine how this project got greenlighted. But the reality is there has been extensive planning for this moment almost since the minute the WUSA folded. They're keeping the tickets cheap and will hold the league's eight teams to a very well-defined $565,000 salary cap. Plus they have an exclusive television broadcast deal with Fox Sports Soccer Channel.
Today's Houston Chronicle offers an interesting take on the state of women's sports. Houston knows a thing or two about the topic. Although the city has not been represented in the WUSA or WPS, it was home to one of the most successful WNBA franchises (Houston Comets) until they folded in 2008 when a new owner could not be found.
The new league's chief operations officer was upbeat in her interview with The Chronicle, talking about the chance to create 200 jobs for talented women and urging people to wait until they see the product on the field before making judgements.
But it's not that easy. Despite all the league has going for it, it will be a minor miracle if this league can entrench itself in a sports landscape that continues to struggle. People in this country support women's soccer, maybe even more so than men's in a lot of ways. But they also seem content to save their passion for major semi-annual tournaments like the Olympics and World Cup (thanks Brandi Chastain). The evidence of the consistent support this league will need is not there. There is no reason to believe Americans will open up their wallets to support this effort.
It's a shame, but women's soccer fans need to enjoy the WPS while they have the chance. I know Kobe will.