Can MLS Save WPS?

Today is the day that WPS, lead by CEO Jennifer Sullivan, will make its case before the U.S. Soccer Federation for keeping the league with Division 1 pro status. However, as Equalizer Soccer’s Jeff Kassouf pointed out on Twitter this morning, we’re unlikely to get a decision from U.S. Soccer today.

Jenna Pel at All White Kit has an excellent summary of the situation and proposed solutions to “fix” the WPS, as well as her own take that there “should be a symbiotic relationship in which WPS benefits from support offered by U.S. Soccer while the USWNT benefits from players reared in WPS.”

Pel points out that there are already more than 44,000 signatures in the “Save WPS” petition that’s been spreading around the Internet. “Clearly, people are interested in the league and are very concerned about its future,” she writes.

But U.S. Soccer needs to hear more than that the fans want it next season. They need concrete plans for how the WPS is going to expand and remain financially sound.

One solution I’ve been surprised not to see more talk of is creating a stronger relationship between WPS and Major League Soccer (MLS). So far, MLS does have a relationship with the elite amateur women’s soccer leagues, W-League and WPSL, including women’s clubs for Vancouver Whitecaps, D.C. United, Seattle Sounders, Chivas USA and FC Dallas.

In 2011, the two leagues created a marketing and media relationship between their Philadelphia clubs, MLS’s Union and WPS’s Independence:

Currently, the two teams connect regarding schedules, outreach and promoting each other’s events on game day with different benefits to each team. For the Independence, to add another 100 ticket sales is very important, but for the Union, who sell out anyway, their presence at the Independence expands their reach and market dominance.

The relationship with the Union factored into [WPS owner David Halstead's] awareness of the shortcomings in the Independence’s media relations and led to subsequent improvement. The more sophisticated Union press staff share best practices and raised the bar for Independence media staff and the connection between the two media offices continues to develop.

Philadelphia Independence reached the championship game and head coach Paul Riley was named WPS Coach of the Year for the second straight year. They even played the semifinal match against magicJack at the Union’s stadium, PPL Park. The Independence renewed their contract with Widener University for the 2012 season’s home games, but according to a statement from Halstead on Independence website, “[we] have our sights set on PPL as our home game venue for the 2013 season.”

The relationship between the two clubs is independent, however, and Halstead says few other MLS teams have interest in or knowledge of how to support their local WPS teams.

Beau Dure floated the idea of WPS exhibition games during the 2012 season, featuring national team players who are otherwise occupied with Olympic training and won’t be able to play in many WPS matches anyway. What if these exhibition games were done as a double-header with an MLS game? Most MLS games in major markets are going to sell out anyway, and it could certainly help build toward more interest in 2013, when there won’t be international play and the national team stars can play a full season for their WPS clubs. And it might bring a few extra butts into the seats at regular home games.

Ultimately, though, I’d love to see more than simply a marketing and promotional relationship, but investment from MLS, its clubs and/or players in more WPS franchises, to help it get to the eight clubs required by U.S. Soccer. They have readily marketable players like Abby Wambach, Hope Solo and Megan Rapinoe without a club right now. This seems like a no-brainer to me.

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