October 4, 2010
Q&A with WPS CEO Anne-Marie Eileraas
By: WPS - Staff Report

In-coming WPS CEO Anne-Marie Eileraas officially took over on Friday, October 1 and caught up with the league’s new chief during her first full week on the job after WPS Commissioner Tonya Antonucci stepped down following the 2010 WPS Championship presented by Citi. What will you be doing in your first week?
AME: [Laughs] I don’t think in principle things will be all that different for me, as the Commissioner and the Board have been transitioning me in over the past month. I think the benefit of my having been here in the league office since January makes for a shorter adjustment period certainly then if I was starting new. At the same time, there are some league discussions and functions now as CEO that I will be part of which I might not have touched earlier as General Counsel, such as calls with GMs or technical committee issues, for example. What were your thoughts on the WPS Championship?
AME: I loved it. I thought it was everything that we are trying to be in WPS with a family-friendly, intimate venue with a great, boisterous crowd, a near sell-out and exciting action on the field, including an impressive performance from the regular season champions FC Gold Pride, who became the first WPS team to complete the WPS Regular Season/Championship double.  Speaking of the double, was the deck stacked too heavily for FC Gold Pride with the brutal schedule for Philadelphia coming in? Is the playoff format going to be revisited?
AME: The league reviewed the playoff schedule after last season so it’s natural that we will be reviewing it again this season regardless of what did or didn’t happen in these 2010 playoffs. When the playoff format was first devised, the owners that approved it did so with the very notion that the No. 1-seeded team would have an edge. They’ve earned it by performing so well over the length of the regular season. I think it was also made more difficult by the fact that it was a cross-country flight for the opponent. Last year it was, as well, and the underdogs won – so people were making the exact opposite argument: that the “bye” week was a disservice to that No. 1-seeded team. I think it’s fair to say that no playoff format is perfect. If we decide to change the format – which we may very well do – it will have its pros and cons just like the current format. It’s worth pointing out that you have four key constituents that matter in the playoff discussion: coaches/players, venue operations/ticketing/team budgets, television/scheduling and fans. You want to find the best playoff format that all sides will like. I happen to like the storyline of an underdog coming in to play the No. 1 team, but there’s also a great argument to be made for a format like the NCAA College Cup in which we make a WPS tournament festival-type weekend with four playoff teams or other potential formats that could work. Is there a timeline on this?
AME: The board has been working hard on the 2011 schedule. It’s one of their biggest priorities and that would include figuring out the 2011 playoff format. I’d like to think we’ll have this out by the end of the month or November for planning purposes and to begin our scheduling process. Any idea what the schedule will look like?
AME: We’re expecting for it to be a shorter season next year and to end earlier – more like we did in 2009. And I do think there will be some sort of break during the 2011 World Cup. Teams are expecting to play fewer games. Also, it’s unlikely that there will be an All-Star Game since the players who typically play in our All-Star Game will be stretched so thin with their national team commitments. We’ll revisit an All-Star Game for 2012 again. How will the 2011 World Cup impact the league?
AME: Well there’s no question that the 2010 World Cup on the men’s side hurt the league in terms of visibility, TV ratings, attendance and such. So much focus went to that tournament and while it helped soccer in the U.S. on the whole, it didn’t directly benefit WPS. I think that it will be different in 2011, when I would expect many WPS players to be showcased in the tournament.  There will be star-building for our players and getting some stories out there in the mainstream media that might not otherwise be told. Also, it will be a great way for some of our young internationals, as well as top young American players, to make a name for themselves with their performances in the World Cup. If a fan sees a star play well in the World Cup tournament, we hope to turn those fans into paying fans at WPS games later in the summer.

WPS: Is there any goal for attendance for 2011?
AME: I think it’s too early to set a goal range. It’s worth pointing out that total gross attendance in 2010 was down only slightly from 305,000 fans in 2009 to 301,000 fans in 2010. If you adjust for the extra eighth team that we had (St. Louis) for two months, that comes out to 288,000 fans through the turnstiles. That’s just about a 5% drop from last year in total. We happened to have more games, and that caused us to spread out our fans across more home games and led to a bigger drop than we would have liked to see in attendance per game. We’ll be looking at this closely in the off-season and set a target sometime in early 2011.

WPS: What’s the latest on sponsorship?
AME: The league’s previous goals were always around five or six national sponsors for a season, and I’m proud to say that I think we will get there for 2011. This has come from building up our partnership base, from hard work by the outgoing Commissioner and from our product being out there on the field now for two years.  It’s a lot easier for a marketer to partner up with something that’s tangible and that they can see out there. I spent a lot of time with our partners at the 2010 WPS Championship and they were all incredibly pleased with the demographics we provide them and being associated with our league and world class product. And I like that each national brand has a different goal: PUMA is about promoting its women’s soccer and fitness lines; for Coast Guard it’s about recruiting and outreach; for Citi it’s about the grassroots soccer activation, supporting opportunities for women and kids; MedImmune activates around flu season for its FluMist product; and Playtex is aligned with us to reinforce its message of empowerment for women and girls.

WPS: What are the biggest challenges for 2011?
I see challenges as opportunities, and for 2011, our biggest opportunity is to grow our fan base. This means reaching out to fans in our existing teams’ markets, and adding new markets like Western New York. It also means reaching more fans online and on television. We have a unique opportunity to connect with the audiences who will be watching and following our players in the World Cup. They can continue to follow those players and see the same world-class play in WPS, whether that’s in person in intimate soccer stadiums, soccer camps and clinics, or on TV and the internet. We will be working closely with our sponsors, teams, and players to extend our reach to more and more of those fans. 

WPS: If you could have one wish for WPS now that you are CEO, what would it be?
Nothing would make me happier than to see my young nieces trying out for WPS teams in 2025!


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