An Introduction to Women’s Soccer Initiative, Inc.
The Women’s Soccer Initiative, Inc (WSII) was founded in November 2004 with the support of the WUSA Players Association with the overarching goal of promoting and supporting all aspects of women’s soccer in the United States. One important aspect of this mission is to encourage and enable the creation of a world-class professional women’s soccer league in the United States.
In many ways, WSII is a transition from the WUSA Reorganization Committee, which was formed in September 2003 following the suspension of operations by the women’s professional soccer league, the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA). Comprised largely of volunteers from the WUSA, the Reorganization Committee engaged in a number of activities designed to determine the best means of re-launching a League in the United States including analyzing the operating history of the league and conducting interviews with sports industry experts from across the country. Their activity culminated in a Summit held in New York City in July 2004. The Summit identified and examined the lessons learned from the failure of the WUSA and determined a path forward toward the launch of a viable new League.
Since July 2004, the Reorganization Committee pursued two parallel paths: 1) communicating the lessons learned from the Summit to prospective investors and sponsors and 2) working to establish a permanent entity to enable the creation of the League.
One of the key findings that emerged in the interviews of sports industry executives was the necessity of conducting a thorough market analysis prior to restarting a new League. In particular, research of key issues such as: what are the best markets for teams; what are the demographics of the fan base, and what is the best long-term, sustainable business model for a new League which effectively and efficiently manages costs.
Further, in examining the results of the July 2004 Summit, the founders of WSII came to the conclusion that the success of women’s soccer in the United States requires examination of other, more broadly defined issues as well. For example, how can the large number of girls and women that participate in soccer be activated to support both professional and semi-professional women’s soccer leagues in the United States? How can the soccer dads who support their daughters in countless soccer leagues and clubs throughout the country become part of a larger support base for women’s soccer? What kinds of business models are required in order to activate this potential large fan base? And so on.
In order to act on these findings, it was necessary to establish a permanent organization that would enable the creation of a new League through the research and evaluation of
the critical factors that would enable the creation of a viable women’s professional league. That was accomplished in November 2005 with the establishment of the not-for-profit Women’s Soccer Initiative, Inc. (WSII), and the recruitment of Tonya Antonucci to serve as founder and Chief Executive Officer of the organization.
Tonya Antonucci possesses a unique mix of entrepreneurialism, business management expertise, and knowledge of the soccer world. She brings over a decade of sports business experience to the effort, having spent over seven years with Yahoo, Inc., where she served as the director of Yahoo! Sports and subsequently as General Manager of Yahoo’s partnership with FIFA and the commercialization of the official, global web sites for the FIFA Men’s and Women’s World Cups. Tonya played soccer at Stanford University and following her college soccer career spent 3 years as an assistant coach at both Stanford and Santa Clara University.
Joining Tonya as founding members of WSII are Bob Greenberg and Christopher Markgraf.
Bob Greenberg, a founding partner of G&H International Services, Inc. a Washington D.C. based consulting company which focuses on strategy and program development for a mix of government and private sector clients, has been an active part of the soccer community for a number of years. In addition to coaching girls soccer in northern Virginia, Bob has provided assistance to the U.S. Soccer Foundation and the Women’s Sports Foundation. Bob joined the WUSA Reorganization initiative in the spring of 2004 and led the effort that resulted in the July 2004 Summit.
Chris Markgraf, a former collegiate soccer player at Providence College, brings a financial and investor perspective to the effort, having spent his entire nine-year business career in private equity and Wall Street investment banking. Chris is currently completing an MBA at Harvard. Prior to graduate school, Mr. Markgraf was a Vice President at Summit Partners, a $5.1 billion private equity and venture capital firm. Chris participated in organizing and running the July 2004 WUSA Summit. Chris is also the husband of two-time Olympian and current United States National Team Player, Kate Markgraf.