Interview with WPSL’s Sean Jones on the Evolution of the Largest Women’s Soccer League in the World
With a rich history in women’s soccer and a proving ground for players who want to become professionals, the WPSL is part of the fabric of American soccer. Many of the United States’ most accomplished women’s players have played in the WPSL, including household names such as Alex Morgan, Abby Wambach, Megan Rapinoe, Julie Foudy and Brandi Chastain. In fact, 12 former WPSL players helped the USA win the 2019 Women’s World Cup.
The 2019 Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL) regular season has come to a close and under the new leadership of President Sean Jones, Vice President Brad Lund and Vice President DeBray Ayala, the largest women’s league in the world is flourishing.
“I am very impressed with the extremely high level of competition in the WPSL this season,” said Jones. “I couldn’t be happier with the progress we have made.”
With a professional approach to managing the league, Jones and his team are bringing structure and league-wide policies to the WPSL organization.
“Most of our clubs are doing a tremendous job, but I am disappointed with some teams not stepping up to meet the minimum standards we all agreed on — and it is not a question of financial ability, it sometimes is a question of effort,” said Jones.
For example, Jones was astonished that teams might not provide a chest of iced water when hosting their competition. “90% of our clubs do an outstanding job. Most of the people in the WPSL are passionate and work hard to exceed our expectations and run their clubs professionally. We want teams that are proud of the product they put on the field.”
This is an exciting time for the clubs in the longstanding national all women’s league.
The 2019 WPSL Playoffs featuring 16 clubs begins this week, with the semifinals for each regional taking place on Saturday, July 13 with the WPSL Regional Finals the following day.
The WPSL Semifinals takes place on Friday, July 19th with the Final played on Sunday, July 21st. These games will be played in Neal Patterson Stadium in Stillwater, OK.
119 teams competed in this year’s WPSL season and last year, the champion was the Seattle Sounders. Who will lift the Jerry Zanelli Cup in 2019? Only time will tell.
What is key to a successful run at the WPSL Championship title?
According to Jones who also owns Oklahoma City FC, the key is consistency. “The teams that perform the best are those with consistent line ups with the same 20 to 25 players,” said Jones. “A successful club doesn’t need to have the star power of three All-Americans but their players have to be committed to the team. It is a short season and players need to share camaraderie. Fire and Ice and Pensacola FC are both great examples of clubs that accomplishes this.”
THE LINE UP FOR THE 2019 WPSL REGIONALS
Each of the four 2018 championship finalists — defending champion Seattle Sounders Women, Pensacola FC, Fire & Ice (Saint Louis), Chicago Red Stars Reserves — qualified for regionals as well as former WPSL champions San Diego SeaLions and California Storm (Sacramento).
Joining these traditional powers are six expansion clubs — Charlotte Eagles, Chattanooga Red Wolves SC, FC Golden State (Los Angeles), NJ Wizards SC Cedar Stars (Newark), Salvo SC (Saint Paul, Minnesota) and Utah Royals FC Reserves (Salt Lake City).
Thirteen of the 16 clubs competing in the WPSL Regionals are from the top 30 USA TV markets, including the four biggest markets (New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia). Fortuna Tulsa (No. 61) which also qualified for the playoffs is one of the few clubs from smaller markets.
The WPSL has a tradition of rotating who hosts the four Regional competitions and because of the high level of competition in the league, the location is often not determined until the end of the season. While this is good for the triumphant club earning the right to host, it can result in higher than anticipated travel costs.
This year hosts are: Motor City FC (Detroit) is hosting the East Regional, because of the predicted tropical storm impact in the Gulf Coast, Salvo SC is hosting the Central Regional, FC Golden State is hosting the West Regional and Charlotte Eagles will replace Pensacola FC for hosting the South Regional
NEW TRAVEL FUNDING FOR WPSL TEAMS
This season, and for the first time ever, the WPSL has a fund to help offset the high costs of travel for the teams that earn a berth in the WPSL Regional and National competitions. The further a team advances, the more funding they will receive to cover part of travel expenses.
While the $52,000 in the travel reimbursement fund will not cover the costs completely, it is another example of how the new leadership at the WPSL have created a professional environment designed to help teams thrive. The fund is a collective pool — and every WPSL team contributed $350 at the beginning of the season and the league kicking in the remaining 25%.
Some clubs simply do not want to, nor can they afford to compete in WPSL Regionals and the National Final even with financial assistance. These are the smaller clubs that have predominantly collegiate players and do not have the financial resources to cover travel costs.
To avoid teams financially unable to participate after being slated for the Regional competition, the WPSL asked clubs to confirm their ability to participate in the playoffs before June 1st. The business-like approach, especially when combined with the leaderships’ transparency, has brought the WPSL a distinct aura of efficient professionalism.
Jones admits his passion for the beautiful game inspires him every day and said, “I love soccer and would work hard whether or not I made a dime,” believes that many of the WPSL teams are breaking even and that a significant percentage are making money.
“My goal is for 80% to 90% of our clubs to be breaking even and an estimated 40% to 50% to be making money, which they can reinvest in their clubs and women’s soccer in their community,” said Jones. “I know we are not near that yet. Today, we have approximately 30% to 40% breaking even.”
“We are always looking for more ways to monetize a team,” said Jones who has several projects in the works that look very promising.