Freedom Heads South

He’s renamed the Washington Freedom Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) team the MagicTalk FC and is moving them to Florida, but new owner Daniel Borislow said his decisions may have just saved the league.

“I thought if I didn’t do it, it would be the end of the league,” said Borislow, 49, a mega-successful inventor and entrepreneur and self-proclaimed soccer enthusiast. He said his motive behind buying the team was to make sure women athletes who aspire to make a career playing soccer will have a place in America to do just that.

“This wasn’t perfect timing for me,” he said of the deal brokered earlier this winter. “I was concerned the league would go away. This allows the league to have the opportunity to have another year to figure itself out.”

The WPS league has struggled to keep its field of teams running with new clubs opening and closing. Six teams make up the 2011 league. Players aren’t always sure they have a club to go back to year after year. The Freedom team was desperately looking for someone to take majority ownership after the former owners, the Hendricks family, wanted to take a step back. The Hendricks will still hold a stake in the MagicTalk FC.

Borislow made his money inventing magicJack, a voice-over IP product that allows unlimited calling through a computer. He said he is on the verge of launching two new products but that he couldn’t stand on the sidelines and watch the WPS league disintegrate.

He has some aggressive ideas to make the league and his team have staying power.

First, Borislow has said he plans to sign five starters from the women’s national team. He has already publicly announced he wants the Brazilian powerhouse Marta Vieira da Silva (commonly known as Marta) on his squad. Freedom superstar Abby Wambach is already under contract to continue with the team.

“Wait until you see this team we put together,” Borislow said.

He has already hired long-time professional soccer coach Mike Lyons as the new head coach for the team. He has also named former WPS legend Briana Scurry as the team’s general manager, replacing Lakelands resident Mark Washo, who stepped down as the full-time president and general manager in November. Scurry is a U.S. Olympic gold medal goalkeeper who retired from the Washington Freedom last year.

Washo recently became managing partner at Playbook Management International, a sports and entertainment marketing and sales agency. He could not be reached for comment.

Don’t expect Borislow to watch the game from the stands.

“I will have a heavier hand than most owners,” Borislow said. “I will assist the coach and the GM in the day to day decisions on and off the field.”

Borislow said he believes he has plenty to offer the team since he has played the sport on a semi-professional level and has coached his daughter’s U-13 team, which has had players move on to the regional teams in Florida as well as the national team. He owns the MagicJack Soccer fields in West Palm Beach, Fla., where he and his family live.

“I have never been involved in anything in soccer that hasn’t been successful. In business I have never been involved in anything that is not successful,” Borislow said.

To give the league a boost, Borislow said he is considering hosting a tournament inviting international and national club teams to compete for a winner-takes-all $1 million purse. He’s set a target date of August or September but has made no final decision on a WPS facility locale.

That said, his new MagicTalk FC team isn’t secure on where it will play its games just yet. Borislow hasn’t announced a Florida facility but said he plans to bring the former Freedom team to the Maryland SoccerPlex for two to four of its games.

WPS League spokesman Robert Penner said, “The league’s board has approved in principle the idea of playing games in Florida for the 2011 season to test out the market on the condition of finding a suitable stadium but has not yet approved any permanent move.”

Borislow has been criticized for failing to communicate with the former front office of the Washington Freedom and the SoccerPlex officials, but he said he’s just not yet had the time to do that.

“I’ve only had the team for two weeks. I was first securing a GM, coach and great players,” he said.

The Washington Freedom offices in Maryland officially shut down Feb. 8. The one employee who still works in the office has spent her time putting together quotes to move office equipment as well as packing boxes. Six other employees were let go before Christmas. Freedom season ticket holders can call the SoccerPlex for a refund.

Maryland SoccerPlex Executive Director Trish Heffelfinger said she applauds Borislow for stepping in to buy the Freedom team.

“He saved the WPS league,” she said.

Heffelfinger said the SoccerPlex will clearly lose revenue since the team will no longer play all their home games on the fields or rent out administrative space and practice fields, but she said the SoccerPlex still welcomes the team for as many games as possible.

“The overriding issue is we want to see this league succeed, and we want women to have the same opportunity to pursue this sport at a professional level. We care about this team and the girls and want them to succeed,” she said.

The team will most likely still bear the name Washington Freedom on their uniforms since WPS apparel supplier PUMA has already branded them that way. Borislow said he has had a conversation with PUMA about the name change and said they did not need to make the uniform adjustments for the 2011 season.

“PUMA has very little to do with the decision on the name. They better get their act together and live by an agreement with the WPS. PUMA knew what they were getting into. There is a lot of risk that teams would fold. When people make a deal they have to live up to it,” he said.

PUMA officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Making deals is something Borislow is familiar with. He brokered a deal with AOL that at its peak was valued at $2 billion. He plans to use his skill to help the league find ways to become financially stable.

He makes no apologies for using his product name to brand the team.

“Somewhere, some way you have to find a way to defray the cost of running the team,” he said. “To do that and name your team MagicTalk, so be it.”

He also has set his sights on the WPS league having a more international presence in Germany, England and Brazil so competitions will be nationally backed by fans.

“If these countries don’t do it, none of these leagues will be successful,” he said. “We have to make it more interesting for fans. It has to expand outside of this country. I am trying my best to give women the opportunity for success.”

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2 comments for “Freedom Heads South

  1. steve eckel
    February 19, 2011 at 7:48 pm

    go MIKE

  2. January 22, 2011 at 6:52 pm

    CORRECTION: The new Freedom head coach is named Mike Lyons, not Mark Lyons.

    There has also been very little communication with the fans. We are still waiting for any sort of official announcement from the team about hiring Scurry and Lyons, let alone any player signings.

    And it’s kind of sad that women’s professional soccer has to stoop to having its premier team turned into a walking advertisement (literally!) in order to survive.

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