Building a Professional Water Polo League in the US: Part 2

Joan Gould
Water Polo Planet

For several years, players and their fans worldwide have lamented the lack of a professional water polo league in the USA. In Part 1 of this series, we looked at a preliminary Branding Strategy for a Professional Water Polo League in the United States. Part 2 contains the second half of the Branding Strategy (click on the green link at the bottom of the page) that includes the results of the surveys used to arrive at the conclusions and presents possible League Graphics and Logos. This report was completed by a group of Marian University business students and faculty advisors as part of a business internship program at the university.

This information is being used as a starting point for the promotion and discussion of a Semi Professional League we hope will begin competing in January 2011.

The work we are doing on this league is designed to illustrate to the water polo community how individual professional teams might be organized in order to break even. Our vision for our own role is NOT to dictate terms to teams but to provide a “toolbox” of strategies, graphics, legal documents (by laws, player contracts, release of liability and sponsorship agreements) website, financial models and ideas to assist individual teams arrive at whatever solutions best fits its own needs. Each team owner will need to arrive at whatever operating paradigm best fits his/her/their own budget and ROI requirements.

As we envision it, the Professional Water Polo Association (the League) will provide a very small number of centralized services which are designed ONLY to establish and maintain a league image designed to assist individual teams (1) sell tickets and (2) raise money. This will include little more than the following;

There is currently a topic on the WPP message board that is discussing the league. This, as well as much personal correspondence has brought to light several questions that I am addressing in an FAQ format. Any other questions, feel free to post them on the message board or email me directly;

Q: What will be the Pro Season?
A: January to May. This will allow NCAA players with no remaining eligibility but are still in college to play after their last NCAA game. It will also allow Pro players to coach high school water polo teams in the fall for additional income.

Q: What Rules will be used?
A: Initially, FINA rules and interpretations. Team owners may choose small rules changes in the future to make the game more spectator friendly.

Q: How will the league regulate player salaries to make it fair?
A:  At the beginning, the least of our problems will be limiting spending on player salaries. I cannot envision any team having sufficient capital to pay players much of anything. Fair? It is not designed to be fair, it is designed to implement a professional league with 6-8 individual businesses (teams), each with the goal of winning and at a minimum, breaking even financially to live to play another season.

Q: How will the teams pay for travel cost?
A: That is up to each individual team. The working model has between 1 and 4 geographically divided divisions (combinations of East, West, North and South) in order to limit travel distances and costs. Teams will play a double round robin against teams in their own division and 2 weekend crossovers. Scheduling will be done to limit travel costs as much as possible at the beginning.

Q: Can teams from other countries participate in the league?
A:  Sure, why not? As long as they are willing to travel to the US locations OR fit into an existing geographic division. For instance, the Canadian National Team is based in Calgary. If they wanted to participate, they may have to travel for every game but Canadian teams based in Toronto or Montreal could easily fit into Midwest or Eastern divisions and have their own home games. The Mexican National team trains within driving distance of San Diego so that is another possibility which would fit into existing divisions.

Q: Where will the teams be located?
A:  We have no idea. That will be entirely determined by people stepping forward and asking to compete in the league. A team might come from Duluth, Poughkeepsie, or LA… we do not care. We hope that this series of articles will give organizers enough information and/or ideas to be able to identify their own area as a team location no matter where they are located. Our first team commitment is based in the Central USA with one rapidly forming on the East Coast.

Q:  How do you get to have a team in the league?
A:  Any organizing group can do whatever it wants to do to have a team. Its only absolute obligation will be to contribute whatever will be the minimal centralized costs (construction-maintenance of the web site and the referees and event official).

Q: What is the Organization Chart of the League?
A: There is no league yet, just a few people with some good ideas and the willingness to share them. I will probably take responsibility to be the unpaid or underpaid league clerk answering the phone, running the website, doing fundraising and the behind the scenes clerical work to keep things moving. Other than that, we anticipate only needing part time, unpaid League Commissioner and Director of Officials. Each team will have their own organizational structure that they determine themselves.

Q:  Who is making all these decisions?
A:  At this point, there are no decisions. We hope to be able to generate enough interest that a core group of prospective team owners can come together during the spring of 2010 and THIS GROUP will make all the necessary decisions. These decisions will include, but not be limited to: season length, schedule structure, number of games, championship structure, and roster size-fluidity. There is no reason for this to be done any differently than in any current pro league: the individual owners are the stake-holders and (via collective decision-making) they determine how the league can best operate. After that is done, the league owners determine how best to execute this operation. The success of this league is almost entirely in the hands of the individual team owners.

Q: Who will the coaches be?
A: That is up to each individual team. NCAA regulations will probably disqualify current college coaches so we will probably see a combination of recently retired National Team players, coaches imported from Europe, retired NCAA coaches and club coaches.

Q: How much will the coaches be paid?
A: That is entirely up to each team. Each team will budget for their own coach and players salaries.

Q:  Who will be commissioner the league?
A:  I have no idea. Initially, the commissioner will be a volunteer, selected by the owners, who is willing to be the neutral party who adjudicate protests, manages the officiating, is able to make a decision and can be counted on to answer his or her emails.  

Q: What can I do to help?
A: We will gratefully accept all the help we can get. Anyone interested on joining the planning group, shoot me an email at [email protected]

We need all comers of all skills and backgrounds, not limited to

Professional Water Polo Association: Part 2