League Expansion – Does It Grow Or Hurt the Women’s Game?
Sean Jones is the WPSL’s President of the largest women’s soccer league in the world. Is the WPSL expanding too fast? Or is the WPSL expansion a positive change for the league that was founded in 1998 by Jerry Zanelli?
The Women’s Premier Soccer League, often known simply as just the WPSL, is not only the longest thriving women’s soccer league in America but the largest women’s soccer league in the world. Kicked off twenty years ago by the late Jerry Zanelli and handful of women’s soccer clubs, the WPSL has always expanded carefully, often providing ‘exclusives’ in territories. Those days are gone and perhaps the WPSL is embracing the changing landscape in women’s soccer and solving one of the most daunting of challenges — the high cost of travel.
We wanted to ask the WPSL how the expansion was impacting their existing clubs and if there was resistance to this growth.
SoccerToday Interview with WPSL President Sean Jones
Diane Scavuzzo: As women’s soccer continues to grow popularity, the WPSL is expanding for 2019 season. How many new teams should we expect to see in this upcoming season?
Sean Jones: The WPSL has been contacted by more than a hundred new women’s soccer teams and while several are just requesting information for the future, we probably have 40 teams seriously interested in joining our league.
My expectation is that the WPSL will be welcoming 20 to 25 new teams for the upcoming season.
Diane Scavuzzo: As President of the WPSL, are you concerned that selected markets may have too many multiple WPSL teams?
Sean Jones: That’s an interesting conversation — we really look very carefully at each and every market. Clearly, there are some markets that can’t handle additional teams but strong growth benefits everyone.
One of the big benefits of multiple teams in a market is significantly reduced travel costs for all those teams.
In the past, when the WPSL was the only league — the only option, and we could provide geographic exclusives to teams in specific areas and limit the growth of women’s soccer in certain markets.
This was not always in the best interest of growing the women’s game and providing opportunities for players to play.
Today, there is more competition than ever before, and if a team asks to join the WPSL and we turn them away, they will just apply to another league and they will still be competing in that same market for players — they will just be playing in a different league. And, then the big difference will be that our existing WPSL teams will not compete against them on the field, but will compete off the field against them for everything else.
If teams are competing for sponsors and players, as well as for fans, but they are in two different leagues, they are competing in every matrix except actually on the field.
So, we look very carefully at every potential new team and ask, ‘How strong is the candidate? How strong is our existing team in the market? What would be the best solution? How can the WPSL continue to help grow the women’s game?’
Diane Scavuzzo: Have you approached any of the other leagues to participate in a women’s soccer showcase or a multi-league playoff?
Sean Jones: No, we have not and I would love to sit down and talk with the leadership of the UWS or the UPSL and see if there’s a way we can possibly work together.
We have spoken to John Motta regarding potentially bringing back the USASA Open Cup for women, or perhaps an amateur championship.
Diane Scavuzzo: The San Diego SeaLions are one of the founding WPSL teams and used to be the only WPSL team in that city. They have been joined by LA Galaxy San Diego and San Diego Parceiro Ladies, and for this upcoming season, ASC San Diego and San Diego Surf SC’s will both be kicking off new women’s teams in the WPSL.
There will be a total of five teams playing in America’s Finest City in the 2019 WPSL Season and while the benefit is clearly reduced travel costs, can that market sustain so many women’s teams?
Sean Jones: Yes, San Diego is a great example of an area that has very strong clubs.
ASC San Diego and Surf SC are both fantastic soccer clubs, with a strong history of player development and a large pool of alumni returning from college who want to play soccer in the summer. These professionally run clubs probably will not need to recruit players outside of their own clubs or reach beyond former alumni to field a team. These clubs are great examples of expansion teams that will strengthen the competition level of the WPSL’s Western Conference.
Travel costs are huge issues for our WPSL teams so league expansion benefits everyone.
Diane Scavuzzo: How serious are travel-related expenses for WPSL teams?
Sean Jones: We have had WPSL teams refuse to travel due to financial challenges.
We have learned a lot in our first year and we plan to implement a travel pool where each team will contribute a relatively small fixed amount of money that will go into a pool to help fund travel costs at the end of the conference season. We do not want teams to be concerned about competing in the WPSL Final because of travel costs.
This has been a big problem but I believe it’s something we can solve. I don’t think we can solve it 100% of the time, but if we can solve it 95% of the time, it increases the league ability to have a professional atmosphere and do it the right way. The WPSL is committed to being a professionally run league and growing women’s soccer in America.