Women's football league turns to fans
Corporate sponsors are few and far between. The state can’t spare the funds. So with only two weeks to go before their first game, the Pacific Blast Hawaii’s sole surviving women’s professional football team is hoping its fans can help save its season. In addition to a family-friendly fundraising event on Sunday, the team hopes to sell 4,000 “booster tickets” before noon on Monday, which would allow them to play this year.
BLAST BASH 2003
WHERE: Volcanoes Night Club at 1130 North Nimitz Highway
WHEN: Sunday, July 20, 2003 from 4 to 9 p.m.
WHO: All ages are welcome (18 & over only after 9 p.m.)
COST: $10 (children under 16 free) at the door or by calling 286-5150.
“These women are not looking to make millions, they just want to play football, and the only way to do so is to play in a League, which costs money,” team founder and owner Nicole Wylie said.
The $10 tickets would be good to attend any game, and if supporters can’t make it, their ticket can be donated to the YMCA’s Camp Erdman. They can be purchased online, over the phone at 286-5150, or at the all-ages concert fundraiser tomorrow night at Volcanoes Night Club.
The team’s first game as part of the Women’s Professional Football League (WPFL) was scheduled against the Houston Energy for Aloha Stadium on Aug. 3, a contest that would’ve been the first to be played on the facility’s new $1.3 million FieldTurf surface. But the same day the Star-Bulletin reported on the inaugural event, Wylie announced that it had to cancel its appointment at the stadium.
Wylie said the rental costs were too high considering much of the money needed to play this season just wasn’t there.
“The stadium management and staff have been very supportive in their efforts to help Women’s Football become a more prominent sport in the Hawaii athletic scene, but right now we must focus on increasing financial support for the Blast,” she said.
Even without a venue, Wylie estimates the Pacific Blast needs to raise $60,000 in the next few days.
“Although we have received quite a bit of media coverage this week, we still don’t seem to have any businesses stepping up to help out, so the game against Houston, or even the entire season is not looking to good,” she said. “We have several people working on it so hopefully by Monday that will all change.”
In recent days, the Blast have netted noteworthy backing in the way of donated supplies and services, including promotional consideration on local radio station Star 101.9. But the team mostly needs cash to cover expenses, including WPFL fees and travel costs for both away games and to bring in league opponents.
Wylie is at a loss to explain why the team hasn’t been able to raise money.
“The only other pro team here are the Hawaiian Islanders football team, so you would think that we would both get a little more support,” she said. “I realize that UH sports are huge here, but other, smaller cities support several sports teams including college and pro, men’s and women’s.”
But attempts to secure some funding from the government have proven futile.
“We were hoping to secure sponsorship through the Hawai`i Tourism Authority and Office of Economic Development this season, since they have a budget for sports marketing and tend to sponsor large amounts of cash,” Wylie said. The OEDB seemed willing, she said, but was still reeling from budget cuts. And the response from the HTA left her frustrated.
“The HTA told me they don’t have the money in their budget, and also (noted that) we don’t any national TV coverage,” she said. This was, she observed, despite the fact that national television coverage isn’t stipulated as a requirement in its funding program, which already backs dozens of sports, including several golf, fishing and surf events most geared toward male athletes.
“They also sponsor events such as Sunset on the Beach, for which they donate $25,000 to two events each year, neither of which promote any tourism or get National TV coverage,” Wylie said.
She estimates that WPFL games particularly visiting teams and their families could generate about a half million dollars in local business. “Wouldn’t $25-50 thousand be a wise investment for these state agencies, or for businesses that know they will profit from it?”
Women’s football teams on the Mainland have landed sponsorships from companies such as Nike, Gatorade, Yamaha, Budweiser, and Bank of America. Several have also found backing by way of NFL teams, including the Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, and the San Diego Chargers.
The Pacific Blast website lists three “Platinum Sponsors,” most made in trade rather than cash, according to Wylie. They are Andy’s Performance Service & Parts, Island Printing Centers of Hawai`i, and Marc Resorts Hawai`i.
“Generally a Platinum sponsorship is worth about $10,000 cash, but the sponsors receive a significant amout of advertising in return,” Wylie explained. “Right now I would need at least one cash Platinum sponsor for each of our five home games and one cash Gold sponsor ($5000) for each home game in order to secure the season.”
So far, women’s football teams have primarily funded the sport out of their own pockets, including covering the airfare needed to bring in other teams to play.
TRY, TRY AGAIN
Women’s football in Hawai`i took root about four years ago with the Hawai`i Wave. An ownership change the next year turned them into the Hawai`i Storm. The year after that, they became the Hawai`i Legends. It was under that name that Wylie, a native of Westmoreland, New York, first played.
“After my first season I was hooked,” she said.
She soon decided to start a second team here, in part to create more opportunities to play and to save on travel costs. The Legends played as part of a small Arizona-based league, and the Blast played as an independent. Last year, the two teams squared off in an exhibition match, but the veterans trounced the rookies 72-7.
“The Legends killed the Blast,” Wylie said. “The 1,200 fans didn’t seem to mind though… they stayed and cheered throughout the match and at the end we heard nothing but compliments about the quality of the game, and the professionalism of the athletes.”
Both teams had aspirations to compete nationally in the WPFL. But this year, the Legend, similarly hobbled by sparse funds, had to shut down after its four-year run. Many of its players joined forces with the Blast, and Wylie is confident that they “are the team to beat in the WPFL” if they ever get to play.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR WOMEN
Wylie’s committment to play is a personal one.
“I was discouraged from playing football in high school and was convinced by the tennis coach to quit soccer and play tennis,” she recalled. “As it turned out, though, I was a natural at tennis I played six years at the Varsity level and went five seasons undefeated.”
Despite several college offers, she decided to compete in the USTA. “But at that time, sponsorships for tennis players, especially women, were practically impossible to get,” she said. “I was forced to leave my dream behind, and have only picked up a racquet two times since.
“I guess that heartbreak never really left me, because when I had an opportunity to be on the brink of something that is growing so quickly in Women’s sports women’s football I jumped on it,” she said.
Today, Wylie is a tireless promoter of her team, but she’s driven mostly by what its success or struggle says about girl’s and women’s sports.
In fact, if the Pacific Blast have to call it quits this year, she has vowed to spend the several hours a day she currently devotes to the team to touring local schools and talking about women’s sports and Title IX a widely-cited federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in schools that receive federal funds. Notably, the late Hawaii Rep. Patsy Mink was one of the architects of Title IX, and one of its most outspoken advocates.
“I guess you could say my passion for Title IX has come from just being fed up of watching women’s dreams get squashed,” she said.
Indeed, Wylie said she’s heard from a number of people upset about inadequate support for Title IX in Hawai`i.
It seems that there are some real issues here, on every level,” she said. “There are people, and students, and even lawyers ready to fight here in Hawaii… it’s just a matter of getting them all together.”
Wylie said she’s ready to take on the world, if it comes to that, but right now she and her teammates just want to take the field against the Houston Energy on Aug. 3. And win.
“The fan support is great here in Hawaii,” she said. “I’m just hoping for a miracle so that we can give the fans the exciting season of football that they are looking for!”