Lively Tales About Dead Teams

Archive for the ‘Women’s Sports’ Category

1997-1999 Durham Dragons

leave a comment

1997 Women's Professional FastpitchWomen’s Professional Fastpitch (1997-1998)
Women’s Professional Softball League (1999)

Born: 1996 – WPF founding franchise.
Died: October 1, 1999 – The WPSL contracts the Durham franchise.

Stadium: Durham Athletic Park (2,006)

Team Colors:

Owner:

  • 1997-1998: Women’s Professional Fastpitch
  • 1999: Women’s Professional Softball League (re-branded)

 

The Durham Dragons were one of six founding franchises in Women’s Professional Fastpitch, a professional softball league that launched in the southeastern U.S. in the spring of 1997.  All six clubs were centrally owned by the Denver-based league, which was backstopped primarily by a three-year, $4 million title sponsorship from AT&T Wireless Services.

Each WPF franchise carried a 15-woman roster and had a $74,000 salary cap during the 1997 inaugural season.  Clubs typically played in softball-specific complexes or in aging minor league baseball stadiums.  The Dragons played at the 70-year old Durham Athletic Park, which had been unused for professional sports for two years since the minor league baseball Durham Bulls departed for a new state-of-the-art stadium in 1995.

The Dragons drew nearly 2,000 fans on the league’s opening night on May 30th, 1997, but attendance settled in the low hundreds soon afterwards.

Following the league’s second season in 1998, Women’s Professional Fastpitch re-branded itself as the Women’s Professional Softball League.  The Dragons played their third and final season under the WPSL banner in the summer of 1999.  On October 1, 1999, the WPSL contracted four of its six clubs and announced the league would re-organize in a barnstorming tour format for the 2000 season.

 

==Downloads==

1997 Women’s Professional Fastpitch Game Rules Quick Summary

1998 Women’s Professional Fastpitch League Brochure

1998 Women’s Professional Fastpitch Draft Selections

 

==Links==

Softball’s New Cachet Spawns a League of Pros“, Barry Jacobs, The New York Times, June 10, 1997

##

Written by andycrossley

August 15th, 2014 at 12:48 am

1978-1981 Minnesota Fillies

leave a comment

Minnesota FilliesWomen’s Professional Basketball League (1978-1981)

Born: 1978 – WPBL founding franchise.
Died: Postseason 1981 – The WPBL ceases operations.

Arenas:

Team Colors:

Owner: Gordon Nevers

 

The Minnesota Fillies were one of eight founding franchises in the Women’s Professional Basketball League in 1978, which was the first pro hoops league for women in the United States.  The Fillies were one of only three clubs, along with the Chicago Hustle and New Jersey Gems, that managed to survive for all three seasons of the WPBL’s existence from 1978 to 1981.

The Fillies made their debut on December 15, 1978 losing to the Iowa Cornets 103-81 at the Met Center in Bloomington before an announced crowd of 4,102.  That first season was marred by a revolving door of head coaches.  Three different women and two men coached the Fillies through training camp and a 34-game regular season schedule.  The coaches included team owner Gordon Nevers, a former mortician with no previous basketball experience. The Fillies finished the 1978-79 season with a 17-17 record and missed the playoffs.

Minnesota FilliesThe Fillies finest season was their second one.  Nevers hired former University of Minnesota star Terry Kunze to coach the team and the Fillies responded with a 22-12 record.  They defeated the New Orleans Pride in the playoff quarterfinals, setting up a best-of-three series with their arch rivals, the Iowa Cornets, in the semis in March 1980.  The Fillies blew out the Cornets in Game One by a 108-87 margin, but Iowa won the next two games and ended the Fillies’ run.

The Fillies third and final season in the winter of 1980-81 was marred by the financial problems of owner Gordon Nevers and the league itself.  The club left the Met Center in favor of the smaller, older Minneapolis Auditorium, which was better suited to the typical Fillies’ crowd of around 1,000 people a night.  Missed payrolls culminated in a March 21, 1981 protest by Terry Kunze and eight Fillies players prior to a game in Chicago.  The disgruntled team members walked off the court just before tipoff and refused to return.  The game was cancelled and awarded to Chicago via forfeit, dropping the Fillies record to a league-worst 7-25.  WBL Commissioner Sherwin Fischer suspended Kunze and the eight players indefinitely.

The Fillies finished out the season using replacement players.  The Faux-Fillies lost their first game by 48 points and finished the season 7-28.

Whether or not Nevers and his partners could have or would have re-capitalized the team for another season became a moot point when the rest of the Women’s Professional Basketball League folded before a fourth season could be staged.

 

==Minnesota Fillies Games on Fun While It Lasted==

Season Date Opponent Score Program Other
1978-79 1/12/1979  vs. New York Stars  W 96-90 Program
1978-79 2/16/1979 vs. Houston Angels L 105-95 Program
1979-80 12/4/1979 @ Dallas Diamonds W 102-91 Program

 

==Downloads==

1978-79 Women’s Professional Basketball League Brochure

 

 

==Links==

Full of Heart in an Empty House“, Sarah Pileggi, Sports Illustrated, March 10, 1980

Women’s Professional Basketball League Media Guides

Women’s Professional Basketball League Programs

###

women’s professional soccer 2.0

3 comments

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 soccerToday 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.
  • Key Events:
    • 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.
  • Ends with: St. Louis Athletica folds midseason in June 2010.  Investor wallets slam shut.

 

Women’s Professional Soccer Year Zero (2011-2012)

  • Starts with: WPS closes league office and eviscerates franchise-level staffs league-wide in wake of Athletica collapse
  • MLS Participation: None.
  • Target Audience:  People who can figure out when & where WPS plays through their own hard work & ingenuity.
  • Secondary Market:  Stadium custodial workers.
  • Venues: Whatever’s cheapest.
  • Uh-Oh: Owners ask: What’s the worst that could happen if we operate in a Darwinian hellscape devoid of any rules or experts to enforce them?
  • Key Events: 
    • MagicJack (see “Uh-Oh”)
    • WPS crowds surge in the wake of the 2011 World Cup, but no staff or marketing dollars remain to exploit the attention
    • WPS folds January 2012
    • WPS survivors join semi-pro WPSL Elite for 2012 season, where World Cup veterans play against high schoolers
  • Ends With: Formation of the National Women’s Soccer League in summer 2012.

 

women’s professional soccer 2.0 (Summer 2012-Present)

  • Starts with: NWSL partnership with the U.S., Canadian & Mexican Soccer Federations.
  • MLS Participation:  Direct ownership in Portland (2013) and Houston (2014).
  • Target Audiences:  Girls youth soccer players & their families & USWNT fans
  • 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.
  • Key Events:
    • 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…

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

 

 

 

Written by andycrossley

March 29th, 2014 at 9:24 pm

Posted in Columns,Soccer,Women's Sports

Tagged with ,

February 9, 1981 – Women’s Basketball League All-Star Game

one comment

Women’s Basketball League All-Star Game
February 9, 1981
Albuquerque Civic Auditorium
Attendance: 3,378

Women’s Basketball League Programs
8 pages

 

Very rare game program from the third and final All-Star Game staged by the Women’s Basketball League (1978-1981).  The WBL was the first nationwide professional sports league for women and this game showcased many of sport’s early legends including Carol Blazejowski, Molly Bolin, Nancy Lieberman, Inge Nissen and Rosie Walker.

Unfortunately, the WBL was on its last legs by this point.  A month earlier the New England Gulls franchise dissolved in midseason – the fourth time a league member failed to complete their schedule in the past two years.  Both of the league’s championship series finalists from the previous season folded prior to the season.  And the WBL’s most popular franchise, the Chicago Hustle, was pegging their future on a stock offering to the public.

Albuquerque, New Mexico played host to this exhibition, but it wasn’t a league city.  The All-Star Game came to the city thanks to the lobbying efforts of disgraced former University of New Mexico basketball coach Norm Ellenberger.  Ellenberger was exploring the viability of bringing a WBL expansion franchise to Albuquerque for the 1981-82 season.  The WBL’s interest in Ellenberger in 1981 was curious and perhaps a further indication of the league’s growing desperation.  Ellenberger was still operating under the dark clouds of “Lobogate”, the 1979 fraudulent transcript scandal that cost him his job and placed the Lobos’ basketball program on NCAA probation.  Ellenberger was investigated by the FBI and by state authorities in New Mexico.  Five months after this game he was convicted on 21 counts of fraud and filing false travel vouchers in state court.  The convictions were overturned in 1983 and Ellenberger’s record expunged and he later returned to coach in the pros.  But it’s telling that the WBL would consider looking past his very public legal troubles in 1981 if he could provide the league with a badly needed expansion fee.

The West All-Stars dominated the game 125-92.  Molly Bolin of the San Francisco Pioneers was the MVP with a game high 25 points.  Blazejowski and Lieberman pumped in 20 apiece for the West.  The tallest player in the league, 6′ 5″ center Inge Nissen of the Chicago Hustle led the East with 23 points.  The Monday evening crowd of 3,378 was the largest for any of the three All-Star Games staged by the WBL during its short existence.

The final Women’s Basketball League All-Star Game was also marked by tragedy.  Three days earlier the Nebraska Wranglers played their final game before the All-Star Break.  After the game, Wranglers player Connie Kunzmann met a local named Lance Tibke in an Omaha bar.  The pair drove off into the night together.  Soon afterwards, Tibke stabbed Kunzmann, fractured her skull and threw her into the Missouri River.  But no one knew this just yet.  Kunzmann failed to show for practice the next day, drawing an out-of-character fine.  Wranglers Head Coach Steve Kirk traveled to New Mexico as the coach of the East Conference All-Stars and repeatedly called back to Omaha for updates on his player, who was officially declared missing on Sunday, February 8, 1981.

On the early morning of February 10, 1981, a few hours after the All-Star Game, Tibke walked into a Nebraska police station and confessed to Kunzmann’s murder.  Her body wasn’t found for another six weeks.  Tibke was convicted and sentenced to 40 years in prison, but only served nine before his parole in 1990.

Norm Ellenberger never got his Albuquerque expansion franchise.  The Women’s Basketball league folded in late 1981 without launching a fourth season.   Ellenberger later became head coach of a men’s minor league basketball team – the Albuquerque Silvers of the Continental Basketball Association – who played out of the Civic Auditorium for two years in the mid-1980′s.

 

==Downloads==

1981 Women’s Basketball League All-Star Game Program

1981 WBL East All-Stars Roster

1981 WBL West All-Stars Roster

##

Written by andycrossley

March 21st, 2014 at 4:37 pm

May 17, 1974 Baltimore Banners vs. Philadelphia Freedoms

leave a comment

Baltimore Banners vs. Philadelphia Freedoms
May 17, 1974
Baltimore Civic Center
Attendance: ?

World Team Tennis Programs
56 pages

 

Rare program from the very early days of World Team Tennis.  The league was only about two weeks old when the Philadelphia Freedoms traveled to Maryland to play the Baltimore Banners at the Civic Center.  The match featured two of the league’s premier attractions: league founder and Freedoms player-coach Billie Jean King (pictured on the cover of the evening’s program) and Jimmy Connors of the Banners, who was one of the biggest male stars to sign with the co-ed league.

The league was so young at this point that it was still using a problematic match format.  The original concept of World Team Tennis was for each contest to consist of two sets of men’s singles, two sets of women’s singles, and two sets of mixed doubles.  Each game won was worth a single point.  So, hypothetically, if one team would all six sets by a score of 6 games to 4, they would win the match 36-24.  The trouble with this format was that early season games were dragging on for more than four hours in some cases.   World Team Tennis scrambled to fix the format early in the 1974 inaugural season, abruptly dropping the six-set format in favor of five-set contests that involved a single set each of men & women’s singles, men’s and women’s doubles, and mixed doubles.  The league still uses the five-set format today in 2014.

King’s early season appearance was the feature attraction on the Banners’ 22-game home schedule for 1974.  The league itself was in the news and still something of a novelty, Connors was newly arrived in Baltimore, and King was only eight months removed from her 1973 “Battle of the Sexes” takedown of Bobby Riggs that made her the biggest female sporting attraction in North America.

The Freedoms were the best team in World Team Tennis coming in with a 6-0 record.  And the match was something of an ass whipping.  Jimmy Connors’ singles match against Philadelphia’s Brian Fairlie was the only set that the Banners managed to win en route to a 34-20 defeat.

World Team Tennis struggled financially from the outset and lost six of its sixteen franchises after the 1974 season, including the Banners and the Freedoms who both went out of business after just one season of play.

 

==Downloads==

May 1974 Baltimore Banners Newsletter

May 17, 1974 Baltimore Banners Roster

May 17, 1974 Philadelphia Freedoms Roster

 

==Links==

Baltimore Banners Home Page

###