Mad about the Freedom? Place the blame on …

Yes, WPS and Washington Freedom fans, I hear you. BigSoccer hears you. The transitional staff hears you. You’re sad that the name may change and that the team may play games in (or eventually move to) South Florida. You’re frustrated that the new owner is talking of upgrading the team to win a championship while having no staff to participate in a free-agent market that has seen much of the team move elsewhere.

What I can tell you is that WPS and former Freedom personnel always stress the same thing in their conversations: Without new majority owner Dan Borislow, this team wouldn’t exist. The league might not have made it to Season 3.

If the doomsayers are correct and 2011 proves to be a sad farewell to what’s left of the Freedom, the blame should fall on the Washington region itself.

Not on the fans, who have supported the team reasonably well given the long drive up I-270 to the Soccerplex. The blame should fall on anyone who had the wherewithal to invest in the team … and didn’t.

It’s not as if this region has no money. Some of the suburbs are the richest towns in the country that can’t be skied or sailed into. Visit sometime, and I’ll drive you past some houses whose mortgage payments make Marta’s paychecks look like sofa change.

But when it comes to soccer, the rich folks and the businesses don’t step up. Ask D.C. United, which really needs a local investor to help out Will Chang, who has put his heart, soul and wallet into the team from across the country. The most prominent local company to step up with United is Volkswagen, the German automaker with a U.S. operation in exurban Herndon, Va.

Washington’s other pro sports teams feature one of the best owners in sports (Capitals/Wizards owner Ted Leonsis, who made his fortune with AOL) and worst (he shall not be named). Leonsis loves his community as much as any owner in the country, but we can’t ask him to buy and finance everything in town.

Two possible reasons why the Freedom eventually turned to an out-of-town savior:

1. Unwillingness to be associated too closely with “Washington.” Everyone wants to live here; no one wants to admit it. The rest of the country hears nonstop chatter from political candidates pledging to change Washington, the supposed cesspool on the Potomac. The region has plenty of big local businesses — contractors, lobbying firms, finance companies, tech firms, etc. — but they make their money nationally.

2. As Kenn Tomasch will surely stop by and point out — this isn’t charity. A lot of investors want to see return on their money.

Maybe Borislow can make his new direction work. If he does, all Freedom fans can do is lament the fact that no one felt strongly enough about the Washington Freedom to help a deeply rooted 10-year-old club turn the corner as it was.

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8 Responses to Mad about the Freedom? Place the blame on …

  1. KT says:

    Thanks for the name-check.

    I’m not sure “blame” is the right word, is it? I know sports fans need scapegoats because their personal circles of life aren’t complete until they have one, but I would challenge you to give me a really good business reason to invest in an enterprise such as this.

    Not an emotional reason – a business reason. I understand that “emotional” business decisions are made every day in this country, but they’re not the norm.

    What in the (admittedly short) history of professional women’s outdoor soccer would lead anyone to believe that it would be good business to invest in a WPS team?

    Obviously, you could make the point (as some have) that Anschutz and Hunt and Kraft made a leap of faith with regards to MLS, and that’s fair enough. Except there was actual valid tangible proof that men’s outdoor soccer in this country COULD draw a crowd and COULD generate revenue. Not EPL-type revenue, not World Cup-type crowds, but crowds and revenue – we have empirical evidence going back 40+ years on that. And, yes, there WAS a point at which it seemed the MLS experiment would fail* and they stayed with it. Because they saw a league much like the one we see today, with the potential to draw crowds and generate revenue like it does today.

    But what would anyone see in the professional women’s game in this country as an upside? They tried spending and going bigtime and lost a ton of money. They’ve tried austerity and still lost money. To paraphrase Pat Williams, I can’t think of another way to spend.

    It wasn’t sexist when Jeff Cooper folded Athletica, as some shouted. There’s no sexism involved in anyone NOT stepping up to save the Freedom (and I know you aren’t claiming there is). In fact, I can’t really blame anyone for not stepping up to save the Freedom. Or Gold Pride. Or the Sol. Or the Red Stars. Because I can’t come up with a rational business decision for doing so.

    *I’m sure you covered some of this in your book, which I haven’t read, but which I’ve heard is very good.

  2. Beau Dure says:

    And that might be the ultimate bottom line: It just won’t work, and this area’s potential investors see that.

    I’m still an optimist, and I think there’s some way some sort of pro or semipro women’s league can work, particularly with the NCAA loosening a few restrictions on college players. (On the latter — I have to admit I don’t know exactly how the NCAA’s changes will affect soccer leagues such as the W-League, PDL, NPSL and so forth. We might have to wait and see.)

    But yes — the main point here is that Borislow, whatever anyone thinks of his decisions on naming, locating and managing the team, has to be recognized as the one who stepped up when no one else would. Perhaps “no one else” is correct, perhaps not. But that’s what it is.

  3. KT says:

    Borislow is proof of two things:

    1 – There’s almost always SOMEBODY who thinks they can make it work.
    2 – Too often, that person is a nutjob.

  4. Bev says:

    I want to like Borislow, I really do. I want to embrace the new era. But he’s been the majority owner of the Freedom for over a month now and all I know is that he says he’s going to play half the season in Florida, he’s hard over on signing Marta, and the team will improve. But what I *see* is that all of last year’s staff is gone, we still don’t have a new coach or GM (or any evidence of progress being made, other than Scurry as GM rumors), and one-by-one last year’s players are signing with other teams and the Freedom have signed nobody.

    I realize that there is a lot of talent out there with Chicago and Bay Area folding, but it’s not waiting for us to call. And maybe we are more out of the loop than we think we are, but I can’t imagine there are a lot of free agents out there thinking “I sure hope the Freedom calls, that seems like a great place to work!”

    I just want to see some sign of something positive happening, somebody going in the door instead of running (or being thrown) out.

    I paid for my 12 game season ticket passes months ago … I doubled my packages from two to four for no good reason other than that’s as much as I can afford to do. I’m in. Do I want to be the Jacks? No. Will I still go? Yes, if it’s a WPS level team. Do I want them to move to FL? No. Will I still go to DC-area games? Yes, if it’s a WPS level team.

    Is it? Not now it’s not.

  5. StarCityFan says:

    I think that if I have to choose between supporting the WPS Magic Jack FC and the WPSL Maryland Pride, I will go with the latter. At least I’ll have some self-respect left.

  6. Bart Weaston says:

    Just some Thoughts on the women are game!

    1. Consider the model used by the WNBA is it possibly a model for the WPS: It could be if the men’s game would support the women’s game

    2. Loosing NCAA Rules and allowing athletes to play professionally or semi professionally prior to graduating is a mistake; it diminishes the professional level (Find and develop players don’t just move them up)

    3. Associate developmental level teams or 2nd level teams with Professional Teams this doesn’t mean the owner has to own both but association would be a positive change.

    4. There is a market for the women’s game; more attention regionally and locally is the key. Focus by the league to promote in the local markets will grow national awareness and bring attention to the league

    5. Stop the bickering, squabbling, whining, crying, bellyaching, complaining and be a part of the solution. Instead of whining about why it doesn’t or won’t work, step up with some positive input, and don’t take your ball and go home if your idea(s) are not selected but rather ask where you can have positive impact on the game for women.

    I don’t know but it seems that other women’s sports find the niche: I suspect it is because there are less of those things in #5, and they don’t have any illusion that the women will have the same return on investment as do the men’s side. Let’s face it men’s sports is big business, its corporate, it major markets, it is what it is. However, women’s sports do have a place and there is a loyal fan base; however, business wise, you just cannot approach it like approaching men’s sports.

  7. Bart Weaston says:

    excuse my spelling as I tried to type it quickly and post so I can get back to Christmas…

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

  8. Pingback: Could D.C. fans find Freedom in W-League?

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