Bad Omen: Bay Area Women's Pro Soccer Team Announces Reduction In Ticket Prices -- And Size of Stadium

Photo | Courtesey of Puma, the WPS, and Stuart Ramson. Used with permission.
A recent announcement from the Bay Area's FC Gold Pride does not inspire confidence
Don't get us wrong: We love soccer of all sorts. The final match of the 2006 World Cup haunts us to this day. We'd love to see flourishing men's and women's pro leagues and strong U.S. national teams. But we're also realists.

So when the Women's Professional Soccer league's Bay Area team, FC Gold Pride, announced last week it was slashing ticket prices -- and halving the capacity of its home stadium -- only three home matches into the league's existence, we took it for what it was: A very bad omen.

With unusual forthrightness -- in the sporting world it's still de rigeur to claim you resigned to spend more time with your family after leading the team to a 1-15 season -- the announcement from Gold Pride general manager Ilisa Kessler admitted they were charging too damn much for tickets: "As a business, we cannot ignore the state of the national and local economy and recognize that we are all making decisions on where to spend our entertainment dollars."

As a result, the team noted that its average ticket price has been reduced from $30.75 to $23, and day-of-game general admission tickets will now start at $15. And yet, here's the rub: That's still not that cheap. Late last year, when the San Francisco-based league went public, we noted that its speculative ticket prices were higher than the San Francisco Giants' -- and league officials' claims that the paltry salaries they offered their players would actually draw fans was extraordinarily wishful thinking.

And yet, the forthrightness about the team's ticket prices did not continue when explaining why the home capacity of Santa Clara University's Buck Shaw Stadium will be reduced from 10,500 to 5,680. The team claims this will create a "more intimate fan experience." Perhaps the seats the team will no longer attempt to sell are actually resigning to spend more time with their families.

Now, back in November, WPS Commissioner Tonya Antonucci told us that the league's business plan was "reverse-engineered" to be profitable with anticipated crowds of 4,500. Unfortunately, the Gold Pride haven't come close to that of late; after an opening-day attendance of 6,459, its last two games have seen 3,321 and 2,533 fans pass through the turnstiles.

So, the fact of the matter is, there were far more empty seats than filled ones -- and, when you willingly forfeit the opportunity to sell thousands of seats and place a tarp over them, that speaks volumes -- and not about how much you respect the intimacy of your fans' experience. Teams -- including the Oakland Athletics -- tarp over large swaths of seats because, quite simply, they can't sell them. The demand is not there. And row upon row and section upon section of empty seats are an open wound, a festering sore that gives everyone watching the games in person or on television the impression that this is a small-time, rinky-dink endeavor. That's why you tarp over whole sections.

Antonucci told us that the path to profitability for her league was long-term; perhaps in a decade the league will make money. If so, she'd be pulling off a feat that men's Major League Soccer hasn't been able to accomplish even after nearly 15 years and hundreds of millions of dollars in losses. According to Forbes, last year 10 of the league's 13 teams lost money and the league dropped $20 million overall. And that was before the economy tanked.

The WPS' organizers are to be commended for their tenacity, and we'd love to see them pulling a profit -- and soon. But inaugurating a women's pro soccer league in this economy was like wandering into the Sahara with a leaky canteen. And the announcement the Gold Pride just sent out -- that's the first vulture.
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