Oct 21, 2010

Top 10 Offseason Priorities for Washington Freedom

Mark Washo
UPDATE! Washington Freedom to Cease Opperations


Recently Washington Freedom President and General Manager, Mark Washo* took time out of his busy WPS offseason schedule to answer some questions from Virginia Online Soccer News.

The following is an attempt to rank the offseason goals in order of importance while giving some insight as to how Freedom management and GM Mark Washo are approaching each task.

#1 - Hire a Head Coach

Most of the 2010 WPS season was filled with drama at the coaching position for the Washington Freedom, spurred by a 10 game winless streak.

Former Chicago Red Stars head coach, Emma Hayes was brought in to assist Jim Gabarra and his staff near the end of the season. The team made the playoffs but lost its first game to Philadelphia and only  9 days later, Gabarra resigned as head coach after 10 seasons at the helm of the Freedom.

In an article by Steven Goff of Soccer Insider both Gabarra and Washo spoke about the resignation:

Said Gabarra:
At this time, I cannot continue with the current management and the irreconcilable differences that are present. There are differences, a lot of them fundamental.
I didn't think I was surprised at all, given recent events,
 club president Mark Washo told the Insider when asked about Gabarra's resignation.
The season concluded earlier than we hoped. Clearly, there was a lot of turmoil. It was a rough finish. Both sides considered things and this was the conclusion that he reached.
Without a head coach, GM Mark Washo has made the search for Gabarra’s replacement priority #1. Although this is an urgent task Washo expressed exactly how important he views this hiring. 

Washo told Virginia Online Soccer News:
The head coach position for the Washington Freedom is a very important hire. We are looking for a head coach that will not only connect with the players but will make a new stamp on the organization.
Washo was adamant about not taking any short-cuts during the hiring process.

As for who is currently being considered for the position, according to Washo it is still “wide open”. He did confirm their interest with rumored candidate April Heinrichts and that Emma Hayes is indeed a candidate as well, following her success with the team last season. All other options are being explored including unnamed college coaches.

Finally, the goal of Washo is to have a new head coach in position by the end of November.

#2 - Expansion Draft, Protected Player List

The Freedom list of unprotected players for the upcoming expansion draft was released October, 20. The three players left unprotected are: Jill Gilbeau, Beverly Goebel, and Christie Welsh.

Each WPS team had to make three players available for the draft. No team is allowed to lose more than two players and once a player is drafted, each team can protect another player.

Along with protected players, free agents may not be selected in the expansion draft.

#3 - 2011 WPS Budget

Very simply to run any business especially a sports franchise, management needs to know what type of budget they have available.

However, with league attendance down from 2009-2010 (5%) and with the economy still struggling along it is safe to assume the budgets will be lower than the previous two seasons. Just how much will not be known until the league announces the official 2011 budget.

#4 - Search for New Investors

John and Maureen Hendricks are attempting to sell their portion of the club or find partners. They have invested heavily in the Freedom for a decade and feel that the WPS is heading in a good direction and it is time for them to step aside.

Connections have been made with possible investors and the process is still ongoing.

#5 - Increase Attendance

With the expectations of a lower operating budget each team, not only the Washington Freedom, will need to be creative and find new sources of revenue. One way could be to increase attendance. Currently the Freedom is comfortable with the ticket prices and is instead focusing on where to direct their efforts to attract new fans.

#6 - Promotions

As part of their attempts to attract more fans, sell more tickets, and increase exposure as well as revenue the Freedom launched the Fight for Freedom campaign. The campaign is a social media campaign via Facebook. Follow the link to learn more and join the Fight for Freedom campaign.
#7 - Add new sponsors

One final piece of the revenue puzzle is to bring in new sponsors. Since the league eliminated its national marketing department the individual teams have been left to focus on more localized marketing.

The list of current Washington Freedom sponsors includes some bigger name companies like Papa Johns, Gieco, and Hilton as well as many local companies like Smoothie King, INOVA Health System, and the Greene Turtle restaurant.

No new sponsors were mentioned.

#8 - Sign Free Agents

The WPS website says a Start Date of WPS Free Agency Period to Be Announced Next Week. A list of WPS Free Agents is also on the website although many of the players listed have already been linked to European clubs. Former Freedom player Sonia Bompastor is set to return to her former club Olympique Lyonnais.

#9 - 2011 WPS Draft

The 2011 WPS Draft is scheduled to take place in January. Whoever the new coach end up being the 2011 Draft will quickly become a main focus but until then it is low on the priority list for the Freedom at this point.

#10 - WIN GAMES!

For most sports franchises the main goal of all the offseason activities is to build a team that will win games. Building a winning team and franchise is not an easy or quick undertaking. It takes focus, clear goals, and support. Mark Washo has started that process by resigning the face of the Freedom, Abby Wambach.

The first move is picking the right coach to lead this new Freedom team. Then together the coach and management will be exploring the free agent market and available players overseas as well as trying to select the best available talent in the upcoming draft.

Fans, players, and management will have to wait until at least the beginning of the 2011 WPS season to see if the moves of this offseason were the right ones.

* Mark Washo also serves on the Board of Directors for DC Scores as well as being the founder of MMW Marketing LLC. Mark is also the Author of the book: 'Break into Sports Through Ticket Sales'.