Author Topic: Canadian cities cool to women's pro soccer league  (Read 728 times)

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Canadian cities cool to women's pro soccer league
« on: March 02, 2007, 10:04:22 AM »
VANCOUVER – A group planning to launch a women's professional soccer league in the U.S. wants to include some franchises in Canada, but spokesmen in potential Canadian cities seem cool to the idea.

The new league hopes to begin play in 2008 with teams in Los Angeles, Dallas, St. Louis, Chicago and Washington. It would replace the Women's United Soccer Association, which folded in 2003 after three years.

Tonya Antonucci, chief executive officer of the Women's Soccer Initiative Inc., said Thursday her group has also held talks with potential owners in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal.

"We absolutely have an interest in putting franchises in Canada," Antonucci said in a telephone interview from her office in San Francisco. "Some of the best players in the world come from Canada on the women's side.

"As an international league it makes good sense that we are working closely with Canada in terms of the geographic territory."

Bob Lenarduzzi, director of soccer operations for the Vancouver Whitecaps FC, said he has spoken with Antonucci.

"We're not saying we're not interested, we're not saying we want to commit at this point either," said Lenarduzzi. "We need to figure out where the dust settles over the course of the next year or two."

A spokesman for Toronto FC, the new Major League Soccer team, said the organization is concentrating on getting ready for its first season, which begins in May.

"It (the women's league) is not even on the radar at the moment," the spokesman said.

Patrick Vallee, a spokesman for the Montreal Impact, said that franchise is content to operate a women's team in the W-League.

Lenarduzzi said one problem in Canada is most of the best women players are committed to a national team residency program.

This program could continue through 2008 if the Canadian women qualify for the Beijing Summer Olympics. The Olympic qualifying tournament is expected to be held next March.

"It could well be the players are unavailable for two years," said Lenarduzzi. "That being the case, if we were to look at the new league, it wouldn't make a lot of sense to look at it without having the availability of your best players."

Lenarduzzi also wants to study the league's viability.

"We'd also want to look more closely at the financial model and determine what the chances are of it being financially viable," he said.

Backers of the teams in the new league have signed letters of intent and made financial commitments, Antonucci said. The projected cost of operating each franchise is $1.5 million to $2.5 million (U.S.) a year.

The league is negotiating with MLS' marketing division to handle its sponsorship and marketing.

Antonucci said the previous WUSA operated as an independent league, which incurred significant start-up costs. The new league is looking for owners that already operate a team and control or have access to a soccer specific stadium.

"The previous league was a completely stand-alone model," said Antonucci. "You had an office staff that was fully dedicated to running a women's team.

"In our business model we're looking at creating synergies and efficiencies, sharing overhead and resources with other soccer franchises that can help our owners manage those costs, especially in the early years."

The women's Whitecap team won the W-League championship last season. The amateur league is part of the United Soccer Leagues and has Canadian teams in Toronto, Sudbury, Ont., Laval, Que., Ottawa, Hamilton and London, Ont.

Lenarduzzi said the Whitecaps will play in the W-League this season despite losing 14 players to the national team residency program.

The new league will begin play in April 2008 and hopes to capitalize on interest from the 2007 women's World Cup being held this September in China.

Teams will play a 20-game schedule. Playoffs and the championship are planned for late August and early September.

The league will have a salary cap but how much that is has yet to be determined, Antonucci said.

Lenarduzzi said he supports the idea of a professional women's league but said it has to make financial sense.

"If it's going to be a fully professional league the numbers need to work," he said. "I think there needs to be enough of an assurance you can get to the point where teams can become financially self sustaining."

http://www.thestar.com/Sports/article/187315