This was a remarkable find earlier this month – a creased, somewhat frail paper program from the first match in the history of the famed New York Cosmos. I inadvertently picked this up from a Missouri man cleaning out his closet of old St. Louis Stars (1967-1977) programs for $5 a piece. A few hours after it arrived in my post office box earlier this week, a Cosmos collector from New Jersey plucked it away for $100.
The now historic contest was played at St. Louis’ Busch Stadium in peaceful anonymity in April 1971. The Stars, owned by the stalwart Robert Hermann (for whom the NCAA’s Hermann Trophy is named), were one of the North American Soccer League’s more stable operations. Nevertheless, fewer than 4,000 fans showed up to watch the Stars’ 5th season home debut.
The Cosmos earned a 2-1 road victory on this day. Cosmos legend Randy Horton scored the first goal in team history while the game winner came from Ghanaian forward Wilberforce Mfum, a player who wasn’t even listed on the New York roster in the match program. Inaccurate as it may have been, below is the Cosmos roster for the franchise’s first game, at least according to the Stars’ PR department. You can grab the entire program in .PDF format in the Downloads section below.
The Toronto Rockets were a One-Year Wonder in the American Professional Soccer League (APSL), active for the summer of 1994 only. The franchise originally formed in 1987 as the North York Rockets of the Canadian Soccer League, a pro league that operated from 1987 to 1992. After the CSL folded, the North York Rockets played a semi-pro schedule in the Canadian National Soccer League in 1993.
The Rockets moved to Toronto for the 1994 season and returned to professional status as a member of the eight-team APSL. The APSL was the highest level of pro soccer in the United States or Canada at the time, but the league was in terrible shape. For the past three years the league had struggled to round up enough viable clubs to stage a season. 1994 was no different. The expansion Houston Force franchise was kicked out of the league after just one game, reducing the membership to seven clubs.
The Rockets were the weakest entry in the group, finishing in last place with a 5-15 record. The Rockets also had the worst attendance in the APSL, attracting fewer than 1,500 fans per match to Etobicoke Centennial Stadium. The club announced plans to return for the 1995 season, but pulled out of the league and disbanded shortly before the season got underway.
A fellow named Kevin Alexander (@KAlexander03) published a provocative article in Boston Magazine this week. “The Krafts Are the Worst Owners in the League” is an unusual public takedown of the Kraft family in the mainstream New England press. The Krafts are widely lauded in the region for their sparkling stewardship of the NFL’s New England Patriots over the past two decades. But the widespread discontent among New England Revolution fans with the Kraft family’s dispassionate attitude towards Major League Soccer has rarely attracted notice beyond insular supporters’ group message boards.
The entire article is worth a read and I won’t attempt to summarize it other than to say Alexander uses the popular framing device of MLS versions 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0 to illustrate the club’s stagnation. He’s certainly not the first to paint the Revs as a franchise still languishing in an MLS 1.0 mindset while the rest of the league keeps lapping them. I like Alexander’s simple framing of these stages, with a couple of additions from his article commenters added in as well:
MLS 1.0 (1996-early aughts)
American football stadiums awkwardly repurposed for soccer
Youth soccer target audience
2002 Contraction of Florida franchises
MLS 2.0 (early aughts – 2008ish)
Attractive soccer specific stadiums in inconvenient suburbs (Chicago, Colorado, Dallas, New Jersey, etc.)
Rise of supporter’s culture
Resumption of expansion in 2005
MLS 3.0 (2009 – Now)
Soccer-specific stadiums in urban areas on public transit (Houston, Portland)
“Urban hipster” target audience that feeds supporter’s culture
MLS an increasing player on the international transfer market due to the Designated Player Rule
So after that long lead, let’s shift gears now to women’s professional soccer. Today marks five years to the day since Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) launched on March 29th, 2009 with a match between the Los Angeles Sol and the Washington Freedom before 14,832 fans at the Home Depot Center. It was the first women’s pro match in America since 2003.
A lot has changed in the five years since. WPS is dead and gone and so is Fox Soccer Channel for that matter. Marta, the world’s best player and WPS’ flawed tentpole attraction, is back in Sweden. Even the Home Depot Center, with its $11.00 bottles of Bud Light, is now the StubHub Center. But the women’s pro game in America – amazingly, improbably - is in better shape than ever under the auspices of the National Women’s Soccer League, which emerged from the smoking ruins of WPS in late 2012.
For the first time in history, we have an uninterrupted five-year sample size for the women’s soccer, so maybe it’s time to talk about classifying the 1.0 and 2.0 versions and theorize about what 3.0 might look like in the near future.
Here’s my take, with more of a business-side slant. I’d love to hear yours in the comments section:
Women’s Professional Soccer 1.0 (2007- June 2010)
Starts with: 2007 formation of Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS)
MLS participation: Arms length (AEG’s one-year commitment in L.A., SUM struggles to sell league-wide sponsorships)
Target Audience: Girls youth soccer players and their families
Secondary Market: Brazilians who want to see Marta, LGBT, Hipsters but there’s no coordinated effort to reach any of them
Venues: A mix of terrible leases (LA, Chicago), awful turf (Boston, Philly) and great potential (Atlanta, St. Louis at the end)
Uh-Oh: WPS execs, many of whom are former players, capitulate to U.S. National Team representative John Langel and to player agents on a series of salary cap rules negotiations, imperiling cost controls that were key selling points to league investors.
WPS launches March 2009 with 14,382 on hand for the inaugural game in Los Angeles
All eligible USWNT players sign contracts in WPS except for Ali Krieger, who plays on loan
Attendance leader and top regular season performer L.A. Sol folds after one season.
Secondary Audiences: Urban hipsters and MLS brand loyalists.
Venues: No enforced standards. MLS palaces at the top and cheapo high school fields at the bottom.
Uh-Oh: The NWSL’s lack of transparency about its complicated, constantly shifting player personnel policies is exasperating not only to the league’s diehard fans, but to often-confused team executives as well.
The U.S., Canadian & Mexican soccer federations agree to subsidize NWSL franchise payrolls.
The 2012 Portland Thorns turn a sizable operating profit. The first American women’s pro soccer team to do so.
All eight clubs return for the NWSL’s second season in 2014, plus an MLS-owned expansion club, the Houston Dash.
Ends With: ???
So what might women’s pro soccer 3.0 hold, assuming there is one and it marks continued forward momentum, unlike The Troubles of 2011-12? Here’s a few random thoughts…
I don’t think there will be much more Houston-style expansion. The secret sauce of the NWSL is the national federation subsidies of the U.S. and Canadian national team players. Weirdly/brilliantly, the best players are also the cheapest. Since the supply of subsidized stars is fixed and there’s no significant value in media rights, there would seem to be a disincentive for expansion among the existing clubs. In other words, this league doesn’t need to be in the New York, Chicago and L.A. markets for the sake of a T.V. deal as so many past leagues, including WPS, have claimed.
No American women’s pro club has ever been sold, let alone sold for a profit. (Dan Borislow paid $0 to the Hendricks family for the Freedom). Now that Portland has turned the first operating profit in the sport, a profitable franchise sale is the next major economic landmark to chase. Explicitly limiting expansion would help, by reducing the perceived supply of teams. I’d love to see Toronto or Vancouver get an NWSL team. But I’d rather see U.S. Soccer strengthen the league on two fronts by brokering a sale and relocation of Sky Blue, for instance, rather than award another expansion team.
As encouraging as the new NWSL business model is, here’s something that would concern me as an investor: all of the national federation partnerships are reviewed on an annual basis. Mexico already made noise about cancelling their subsidies after year one, which is… whatever. Feel free to take your ball and go home, Mexico. But if Canada or the U.S. ever pulled out, that would present a huge problem. The subsidy program is basically the NWSL’s de facto collective bargaining agreement. Would you buy into a league where the CBA was cancellable every August? Me neither. If the league has another strong year in 2013, it will be interesting to see if franchise owners push for Canada and U.S. Soccer to sign a 3 or 5-year deal. But it’s hard to know where the NWSL ends and U.S. Soccer begins, so maybe this will never happen.
What do you think the next five years will hold for women’s pro soccer in North America? Leave your comments below or on Twitter @AMCrossley.
The San Diego Jaws were a club that lasted only one season in the North American Soccer League in the summer of 1976. The team was owned by San Jose car dealer Ken Keegan, who was a part owner of the NASL’s San Jose Earthquakes franchise when that team debuted in 1974. In October 1975 Keegan organized a group to buy the NASL’s distressed Baltimore Comets club and relocate it to the Aztec Bowl on the campus of San Diego State University for the 1976 season.
The Jaws finished last place (5th) in their division in 1976 with a 9-15 mark under player-coach Derek Trevis. The team had one of the most anemic offenses in the NASL, scoring just 29 goals in 24 matches. Only the St. Louis Stars (28 goals) scored less in the 20-team NASL in 1976. The Jaws averaged just over 6,000 fans per match (announced) at the Aztec Bowl.
In late 1976, owner Ken Keegan moved the team to Nevada where they became the Las Vegas Quicksilvers for the 1977. After one year in Vegas, the franchise returned to San Diego in 1978 under new ownership and this time it stuck. The re-named San Diego Sockers began play in 1978 and lasted nearly 20 years, surviving the death of the NASL in 1984 and becoming a dominant indoor soccer dynasty during the 1980′s. The original Sockers finally went out of business in 1996.
English midfielder Trevor Hockey died of a heart attack on April 2, 1987 at age 43.
Jaws player-coach Derek Trevis passed away on December 21, 2000 at age 58.
The Philadelphia Kixx were a long-running indoor soccer team that enjoyed strong popularity in the City of Brotherly Love for a few years during the late 1990′s. The club was originally founded as a National Professional Soccer League (NPSL) expansion franchise in 1996 by local businessman Ed Tepper.
Tepper was one of the pioneers of the sport of indoor soccer. He more or less stumbled across the sport during a brief stint as owner of the old Philadelphia Wings box lacrosse team that played at the Spectrum in 1974 and 1975. Captivated by the potential of the indoor game, Tepper quickly sold off the Wings to focus on soccer. He was a co-founder of the first pro indoor league, the Major Indoor Soccer League, in 1978. But Tepper had been away from the sport for more than a decade when came back to form the Kixx in 1995. Tepper kept the team until 2002, when he turned over primary ownership to local attorney Jeffrey Rotwitt. Rotwitt would support the club until its demise in 2010.
The Kixx were the top box office draw in the NPSL for three straight years from 1998 to 2000, averaging over 8,000 fans per game. But the team’s fortunes dipped in the 2000′s as Major League Soccer and the rapid growth of the outdoor game relegated a succession of indoor soccer leagues to irrelevance and disarray. The Kixx were further marginalized in 2009 when the Spectrum, their home of 13 years, closed it doors and the team was exiled to the Liacouras Center on the campus of Temple University. The club went on a hiatus at the end of the 2009-10 season, which turned out to be just a euphemism for going out of business.
The Kixx won two league championships during their fourteen-year run, capturing Major Indoor Soccer League titles in 2002 and 2007.
The Kixx host the Baltimore Blast at the Spectrum, March 24, 2007.
The Kixx claim their second and final MISL championship against the Detroit Ignition, April 2007.