New U.S. women’s pro league: No need to forget this first non-impression

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The release was sent out on 12:26 a.m. Eastern on Thursday – the day the U.S. Women’s National Team was set to take on Japan in the Olympics’ gold medal game. A rematch of the heartbreaking 2011 World Cup final, the only story in the U.S. women’s soccer world on Thursday was going to be the result at Wembley. Win, the country’s soccer fans would be euphoric. Lose, and they’d be disconsolate. Either way, nobody was going to care about a new league until Friday, at the earliest.

By Friday, the story had been picked up. ESPN had drafted a few paragraphs on Thursday, putting the story in the middle of their headline rail. An AP story asking what’s next for the U.S. women included one clause on the new league. By then, all the people who cared had already read about the story from the usual places: Equalizer Soccer, All White Kit. Perhaps the Soccer America note reached a few more people.

So it was that the diehards were informed the U.S. would once again have a professional women’s soccer league. This group of national teamers who continue to transcend the often narrow world of soccer fandom will have the chance to build on the mistakes of Women’s Professional Soccer. They will get the opportunity to maintain that connection on a weekly basis through next spring and summer. Next year, somewhere, we might be able to buy a ticket to see Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Abby Wambach and Hope Solo.

That’s pretty big news. It probably deserved more than a 12:26 a.m. press release. It probably deserved a coordinated roll out, some outreach to major media outlets (which wasn’t done), and some lead time and access for the likes of Beau Dure and Scott French – people who have consistently provided strong, mainstream coverage for women’s soccer – to give the development the attention it deserved.

Instead, the announcement was buried, predictably, as everybody focused on Wembley.

If it’s true that you never get a second chance to make a first impression, than the latest attempt at a professional league got lucky. Amongst what should be their target audience – those crucial, potential customers who’ll need to be converted to make the league more viable than WUSA or WPS – the league failed to make an impression, good or bad. Announced while most of their potential customers slept on Thursday, the new league is neither on the radar nor below it.

Three former WPS teams (Boston Breakers, Chicago Red Stars, and Sky Blue FC) will join a new team in Seattle (not the Sounders’ women) and four promised (but not identified) teams, with the league set to start play in spring 2013. The press release cited five firm commitments but failed to name a fifth team. At least one of the four other teams will be on the west coast.

At first blush, the release looked hasty, between the odd timing, the five versus four discrepancy, and an inability to identify its full lineup of clubs. The league doesn’t even have a name. Bill Predmore (who will own the new Seattle club) said “the brand is something of tremendous importance, so we’re going to take our time with it and [make] sure we get it right.” It’s a level of care inconsistent with launching a unnamed league in the middle of the night. Why publicize something if people won’t know what to call it?

The league’s organizers seemed intent on announcing the league on gold medal day, apparently under the assumption U.S. success could create momentum. Unfortunately, it didn’t. The people who know about the new league are diehards who would have known about it regardless of the day it was announced, people so well connected with the scene and each other than a single tweet on the Red Stars’ Twitter account would have informed the fanbase within hours.

The announcement was poorly executed, but if the organizers’ aspirations come to fruition, this bad start could go down as a cute footnote league’s history. It’s the context of that mistake, however, that’s most disturbing.

Organization and decision making will be as important to a new league as its financing and quality. One of the criticisms of previous attempts to establish a sustainable professional league was organizer naivete: That having loyal fans and recognizable stars would be enough to bring in more money, build enough notoriety – to make up for the little things.

After the failures of WUSA and WPS, we know the little things matter. When a group decides to announce a league that doesn’t have a name, can only identify half its teams, and goes public hoping to share the news with the U.S. Women’s National Team, those little things come into question.

Why couldn’t the announcement wait? If not until eight teams and a name could be finalized then at least until the U.S. Women weren’t playing for a gold medal? Where organizers really under the assumption they could share the podium with the national team?

Thankfully, most people won’t notice those details. The announcement made so little impact, the new league will get a mulligan. Later this summer, when all the details are finalized, they’ll have a chance to organize a proper media push that will get their message out. They can have a home for the league. They can have a spokesperson. They can invite U.S. Soccer representatives as well as a few name players they can assure fans will suit up come March 2013. They can have interviews set up, pieces in the can. They can have a website, Twitter account, and Facebook ready to go.

They can do it right. And thankfully, nobody will say “isn’t that the league that tried to do something on gold medal day?”

For me, one of the diehards, a 12:26 a.m. press release is fine. And the people who’ll need to be converted into diehards? They didn’t even notice the news. But in terms of avoiding the mistakes of the past – in terms of doing something right rather than merely doing it – Thursday was not a good start.

Disclosure: Two sites mentioned in this post have connections with ProSoccerTalk writers. I maintain a relationship with Equalizer Soccer, while Jenna Pel is the managing editor of All White Kit.