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2001-2003 San Jose CyberRays

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2003 San Jose Cyberrays Media GuideWomen’s United Soccer Association (2001-2003)

Born: 2000 – WUSA founding franchise.
Died: September 15, 2003 – The WUSA ceases operations.

Stadium: Spartan Stadium (16,000)

Team Colors: Dark Purple, Light Purple, Orange & Black

Investor/Operators: John Hendricks & Amos Hostetter

 

In the relatively short history and small sample size of women’s professional team sports in North America, I’d hand the Weirdest Name prize to the Bay Area CyberRays of the Women’s United Soccer Association.  After their debut season, in the summer of 2001, the league seemed to realize it was an appallingly stupid name and they changed it … to the San Jose CyberRays.

But anyway, back to that first season.  The team was actually pretty damn good under the direction of former Stanford coach Ian Sawyers.  The big star was the 1999 U.S. World Cup hero Brandi Chastain, but the offense was powered by a pair of standout Brazilians: midfielder Sissi (10 assists) and forward Katia (7 goals).  Australian Julie Murray was the team’s leading scorer with 9 tallies.

CyberRays advanced to the 2001 Founders Cup final and won the first WUSA championship by defeating the Atlanta Beat on penalty kicks before 21,078 fans at Foxboro Stadium in Massachusetts on August 25, 2001.  Murray scored in regulation and converted the final PK to earn Player of the Match honors in her final pro match before retirement.

The CyberRays were unable to recapture their first season form and missed the WUSA playoffs in 2002 and 2003.  (Maybe it’s bad mojo to change your name, however slightly, immediately after winning the championship.)

The CyberRays were somewhat of an orphan club from inception.  The team was jointly “operated” in the centrally-owned WUSA cable TV barons Amos Hostetter and league founder John Hendricks.  Both men lived on the Eastern seaboard and were more actively engaged with the WUSA franchises they operated in their local communities – Hostetter with his Boston Breakers and Hendricks with the league’s flagship Washington Freedom franchise.  According to Sports Business Journal the pair were actively seeking to unload the CyberRays to local investors in 2003, but couldn’t find any takers.  One rumored scenario had the club moving to Los Angeles for the 2004 season under the management of Anschutz Entertainment Group, owners of the Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer.  But instead the entire WUSA went out of business on September 15th, 2003, rendering the matter moot.

Women’s pro soccer returned to the Bay Area with the formation of FC Gold Pride of Women’s Professional Soccer in 2009.  Like the CyberRays, F.C. Gold Pride also won a league championship.  But they too were short-lived and folded after just two seasons.

 

==San Jose CyberRays Matches on Fun While It Lasted==

Season Date Opponent Score Program Other
2001 4/14/2001 @ Washington Freedom L 1-0 Program
2001 6/10/2001 @ New York Power T 0-0 Program
2001 8/25/2001 Atlanta Beat W 4-2 (PK) Program
2002 6/29/2002 @ Boston Breakers T 1-1 Program
2002 8/10/2002 @ Boston Breakers L 1-0 Program
2003 5/3/2003 @ Atlanta Beat  W 1-0 Program
2003 5/17/2003 @ Atlanta Beat  L 1-0 Program
2003 6/22/2003 @ Washington Freedom T 2-2 Program
2003 8/2/2003 @ Washington Freedom L 5-0 Program

==Key Players==

 

==YouTube==

60-second radio spot promoting what turned out to be the final CyberRays game ever played, August 10, 2003.

 

==Links==

Women’s United Soccer Association Media Guides

Women’s United Soccer Association Programs

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September 14, 2002 – Michelle Akers Testimonial Match

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Michelle Akers Boston Breakers

Photo courtesy of Tony Biscaia

Boston Breakers vs. Washington Freedom
Michelle Akers Testimonial Match
September 14, 2002
Nickerson Field
Attendance: 10,279

 

We’re preparing to put our house on the market, so I’ve been rifling some old boxes from my women’s pro soccer adventures in the course of clearing out the attic.  I came across this gem on a beat-up old VHS tape…

This is the in-stadium tribute video created by the original Boston Breakers of the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA) for Michelle Akers farewell/testimonial match in September 2002.  (Scroll to the bottom of this post for the video embed).

Akers was arguably the first transcendent star of the U.S. Women’s National Team program.  A Hermann Trophy winner, Olympic gold medalist, two-time World Cup champion and FIFA’s Female Player of the Century.  The WUSA attracted investors and got off the ground thanks in part to Akers’ heroics during the 1990’s, and the tens of thousands of young girls and women inspired by both her relentless, physical playing style and by her battle with chronic fatigue syndrome throughout her career.

But by the time WUSA launched in April 2001, Akers was 35 years old and retired from international play.  She had had 13 knee surgeries, several concussions, and faced her fourth and fifth shoulder operations in 2001.  She was the only player among 20 so-called “Founders” of the WUSA – top players from the U.S. National Team pool who were given an equity stake in the league – who didn’t play during the 2001 inaugural season.  In October 2001, Akers announced her final retirement from soccer and that she had abandoned her hopes of playing in the WUSA.

Michelle Akers WUSA

Photo Courtesy of Tony Biscaia

11 months later, on September 14, 2002, the Boston Breakers hosted a postseason Testimonial Match to honor Akers’ legendary career.  FOr one night only, Akers would don her old number 10 for the Boston Breakers.  The opponents were the WUSA’s Washington Freedom who brought with them the biggest drawing card in the women’s game – Akers’ former U.S. teammate Mia Hamm.  At the time, Hamm and Akers were the top two scorers in the history of the U.S. National Team.

The exhibition had huge appeal in Boston.  Akers, Hamm and Breakers’ star Kristine Lilly threw out ceremonial first pitches at the Boston Red Sox game the night before.  The Testimonial Match sold out Nickerson Field in advance.  In fact, the crowd of 10,279 was the second largest in the 9-year history of the various incarnations of the Breakers, trailing only the club’s inaugural WUSA game in May 2001.

The Breakers won the match 1-0.  An interesting footnote – the Breakers finished a disappointing 2002 campaign a month earlier and fired Head Coach Jay Hoffman.  The club’s new Head Coach would be Pia Sundhage, the Swedish-born manager who would later lead a restoration of the U.S. National Team program from 2008 to 2012.  It would have been a compelling cross roads – the dominant star of the 1990’s in her final match and the woman who would become one of the key figures for U.S. Soccer in the early 21st century managing her first game (albeit an exhibition) in the States.   But as it was, Sundhage hadn’t arrived in Boston yet and the Breakers were guest-managed on this evening by former Harvard coach Jape Shattuck.

 

==YouTube==

Michelle Akers Tribute Video, played in-stadium during halftime of her Testimonial Match at Nickerson Field.

 


 

 


Written by andycrossley

August 22nd, 2014 at 3:01 pm

1997-1999 Durham Dragons

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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

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Written by andycrossley

August 15th, 2014 at 12:48 am

1978-1981 Minnesota Fillies

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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

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women’s professional soccer 2.0

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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 ,