Skip to content

In any sport, new leagues are money pits, and rarely work

Aug 13, 2012, 9:35 AM EST

7T

Everyone hates a buzz kill, so let me apologize straight away.

Since women’s soccer and women’s professional leagues are topical, there’s something that needs to elbow its way into this conversation straight away, something that always gets left behind as the debate motors right into more provocative and polarizing stuff:

That starting a league in this country is damn near impossible.

When we start talking about soccer leagues, the prospects of success or failure almost always becomes a referendum on whether Americans like soccer. But that’s not where the conversation needs to start. It needs to start here:

Most professional sports leagues that didn’t start more than 50 years ago are doomed the day they open a front office. In this way, it has nothing to do with a sport’s popularity.

(MORE: A breakthrough moment for women’s soccer that wasn’t much of a breakthrough)

Even pro sports with well-established domestic roots struggle mightily to find their way in a league upstart. As I’ve written before, the graveyard of busted and bankrupt leagues are littered with corpses from American football – and I think we can all agree that football is a popular sport here.

XFL, r.i.p. Same for you, U.S.F.L. (Ask your father. Or his father.)

We keep hearing about some rich guys starting another pro football league to compete with N.F.L. – but presumably those guys went back on their meds and ditched such a  cockamamie notion.

Properties with no recognition, with zero history from which to draw, without any brand equity are massive money pits.  They are mostly failures waiting to happen. (All of this is why Major League Soccer, even though it continues to lose money, is a pretty amazing success story. This is MLS season No. 17.)

Think of it like this: so many of expenses of an upstart league are the same as with a recognized one, although on a much smaller scale. (Player salaries, front office salaries, stadium costs, event expenses, marketing budgets, travel, etc.) But the income disparity in receivables is outrageous, mostly because there’s so much less TV money (or none at all) coming into a freshly dug league.

So, any conversation about whether a U.S. women’s professional soccer league needs to begin there, with the no-BS recognition that it’s a long, brutal, uphill slog, no matter which sport we’re talking about.

Latest Posts
  1. VIDEO: QPR’s Chris Ramsey “genuinely sick” after loss to Arsenal

    Mar 4, 2015, 10:51 PM EST

    Queens Park Rangers v Arsenal - Premier League Getty Images

    Charlie Austin played well, and the club truly appeared unlucky not to find an equalizer in the 2-1 loss. They were a step off all night.

  2. No. 1 seed DC United out of CONCACAF Champions League despite win vs Alajuelense

    Mar 4, 2015, 10:00 PM EST

    concacaf-champions-league

    The aggregate loss leaves the Montreal Impact as the lone Major League Soccer hope in the CCL semifinals.

  3. Neymar brace puts Barcelona in Copa del Rey final vs Athletic Bilbao (video)

    Mar 4, 2015, 9:16 PM EST

    Neymar, AP

    The clubs have played in 36 finals, second-most to Real Madrid’s 39.

  4. MLS, union come together to avoid calamitous work stoppage

    Mar 4, 2015, 7:58 PM EST

    New MLS logo Getty Images

    Clearly Nick Mendola’s open letter last night did the trick. You’re all welcome.

  5. Spitgate: Did Evans and Cisse spit at each other at St. James Park on Wednesday? Yep.

    Mar 4, 2015, 7:48 PM EST

    Newcastle United v Manchester United - Premier League Getty Images

    The short answer is, “Yes. Yes they did.” Manchester United and Newcastle United had two more spits on target than actual goals on Wednesday.

  6. 2015 MLS Season Preview: D.C. United

    Mar 4, 2015, 7:15 PM EST

    DCUnited

    Last season a one-hit wonder? Not a chance. D.C. United is here to stay.

  7. Lloyd’s brace helps USWNT to winning start in comeback versus Norway at Algarve Cup (video)

    Mar 4, 2015, 7:14 PM EST

    Carli Lloyd (ussoccer.com) Carli Lloyd (ussoccer.com)

    The USWNT is looking to rebound from the 2014 Algarve Cup, where it finished in 7th after drawing Japan and losing to Sweden and Denmark.

  8. 2015 MLS Season Preview: Columbus Crew

    Mar 4, 2015, 6:30 PM EST

    Crew

    Columbus needs to build on last season’s success or see it flutter away in the winds of time. Can they seize the season?

  9. Rodgers, Henderson know Liverpool’s in form at the right time. How high can they climb?

    Mar 4, 2015, 6:19 PM EST

    Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Liverpool v Burnley - Anfield AP

    And all parties are sounding quite confident, almost in the cavalier “of course we won” tone we heard so much last season.

  10. Jose Mourinho says his Chelsea team “were brothers on the pitch” in crucial win

    Mar 4, 2015, 5:52 PM EST

    Blues battle to hard-fought win at West Ham, as Mourinho hails his sides display.

  11. Van Gaal hails win over Newcastle as “maybe our best match of the season”

    Mar 4, 2015, 5:38 PM EST

    Britain Soccer Premier League AP

    Manchester United needed a gift from opposing goalkeeper Tim Krul, but Louis van Gaal loved his club’s performance on Wednesday.

  12. Roberto Martinez blames fatigue for Everton’s struggles; have “10 cup finals” to survive

    Mar 4, 2015, 5:37 PM EST

    FBL-ENG-FA CUP-EVERTON-WEST HAM Getty Images

    After their 12th defeat of the season, the Toffees after sinking towards the bottom three.

  13. Liverpool 2-0 Burnley: Reds cruise with Henderson at the helm (video)

    Mar 4, 2015, 5:10 PM EST

    21a48a639b225b2f6c349a47a6799b1d Getty Images

    Burnley’s loss leaves them 19th, in the drop zone with 22 points.

  14. Tottenham Hotspur 3-2 Swansea City: Lloris saves it late for Spurs (video)

    Mar 4, 2015, 5:00 PM EST

    Britain Soccer Premier League AP

    Swansea sit ninth with 40 points, while Spurs sit 7th place. Tottenham is four points behind No. 5 Liverpool.

  15. Stoke City 2-0 Everton: Moses, Diouf pile more misery on the Toffees (video)

    Mar 4, 2015, 5:00 PM EST

    Potters continue to climb up the table, as Toffees head in the opposite direction.

  16. Queens Park Rangers 1-2 Arsenal: Red-hot Giroud helps Gunners to win (video)

    Mar 4, 2015, 4:50 PM EST

    Queens Park Rangers v Arsenal - Premier League Getty Images

    It’s now five goals from his last five games for the Frenchman.