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Monday, May 11, 2009

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

Posted By on Mon, May 11, 2009 at 6:30 AM

click to enlarge A recent announcement from the Bay Area's FC Gold Pride does not inspire confidence - PHOTO   |   COURTESEY OF PUMA, THE WPS, AND STUART RAMSON. USED WITH PERMISSION.
  • 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


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


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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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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