Congratulations, WPS. You're legit.
Back in the fall, the economy went all fustercluck and the international player draft list was being derided as wishful thinking. Marta herself was gainfully employed, in a league that had the advantage of existence. Had she told the Sol that they were, well, S.O.L., the WPS deathwatch would have begun in earnest. Loudly announcing the arrival of the most famous player in the world, then failing to deliver said player, would have looked awful. "Yes, but, Shannon Boxx and Aly Wagner and Stephanie Cox!" would have completely failed to wow the Los Angeles market.
Now it can be told - WPS was as dumb as a kosher cheeseburger for not having locked down Marta, Cristiane, and the rest of the big name players before allocating them to their teams. It was a violation of the most basic of tenets - do not wear the skin before you've killed the bear. Yes, they avoided awkward conversations about who plays where after signing (cf., Paul Caligiuri vis a vis Columbus, Ohio). But they also risked a very public embarrassment. It's fortunately in the realm of the academic and the hypothetical, but I firmly believe that if Marta had remained in Sweden, WPS would not have finished its season.
"Gee, way to go out on a limb with your controversial but completely unfalsifiable guess, Dan, you freaking sub-genius. You willing to say that signing Marta guarantees the league's success?
Meh, why not.
The Arena Football League called it quitski despite a salary structure that - excuse me, what?
Oh, my mistake.
The Arena Football League decided to "develop a long-term plan to improve its economic model" - by setting revenues to zero for an entire year - despite a salary structure that would have drawn pitying looks from Nat Turner and Spartacus. They had an existing fan base in over a dozen cities, existing marketing plans, existing arena deals, television contracts, big name investors, and brand recognition. And they folded like the final table of the World Series of Origami. (Their estranged stepcousin is still around, though, to the relief of Fever fans throughout the Tri-Cities area.)
WPS, meanwhile, is a go. Tonya, Peter and the rest are either excellent bluffers, or they're pretty comfortable rolling out the new model year. And adding the luxury line to boot.
Do you comb through press releases for tidbits? You should, it can be fascinating.
Who gives an aphid's ass-crack about Umea, you may be saying, or words vaguely to that effect. Because that's who your vaporware league outbid. Because that's what WPS thinks they can draw.
(EDIT: Although see comments below, which effectively calls Tonya and the gang out as a bunch of gosh-darned LIARS. I mean, off by an order of magnitude?)
For comparative purposes, WUSA in 2003 averaged 4,500 paid fans per game. The average attendance in its inaugural year was a little over 8,000.
So the Sol are taking on teams bigger than the WUSA ever was, and outbidding them. Somebody thinks they're onto something.
I think they're correct. We all laughed at the puny numbers the WUSA revival festivals had in Blaine and Carson in 2004, but the fans themselves? Hardcore. They love these players, they love this sport. It's a foundation canny businesspeople and committed believers can build on...you build churches on rocks, after all.
It is, of course, possible that Women's Professional Soccer, Anschutz Entertainment Group, Puma and so forth are each and all being very, gloriously stupid. The next women's team professional sports league to succeed will be the first, after all. And while you'd like to think that this group of women's soccer investors couldn't possibly make the same mistakes so recently made, that doesn't preclude the possibility of new and wonderful mistakes heretofore undiscovered.
That's not what I think is going on here. I think, despite the doubters, despite WUSA, despite (or maybe because of) silliness like FC Gold Pride...Tonya Antonucci and Mary Harvey and the rest know what they're doing. I think this one makes it.
And they survived their first big miscalculation - giving Marta a chance to name her own price at the cost of the league's credibility. The fact that the league survived that particular clumsiness says a lot. When the league kicks off, no one will remember or care that Marta was announced and signed in the wrong order. All that matters is the result...and I think WPS signing Marta will be a turning point in the history of women's sports. The US didn't start World War II very well, either, but that ended up okay for us, didn't it?
MLS wasn't a thing of beauty, either - still isn't in a lot of ways. A LOT of ways. WPS won't be able to make as many mistakes as MLS did, but they will be able to learn from a lot of what MLS went through. You can see far, standing on the shoulders of giants. But standing on the shoulders of midgets eventually produces the same results.