Local entrepreneur’s gamble: Women’s soccer in Atlanta

Atlanta entrepreneur Fitz Johnson knows there are wiser financial moves to make than investing $2.5 million in a women’s pro soccer team.

After all, the last such Atlanta team, along with its entire league, went bust.

But Johnson, armed with money he made when he sold his defense contracting business last year, believes young women, including his twin daughters, need pro sports to broaden their horizons.

“I coached my girls,” he said. “I love this game. … It builds leadership strength. … It reaches all the way down their core.”

So the 45-year-old from Marietta announced today that he would be the new owner of the Atlanta Beat — the ninth franchise in the fledgling Women’s Professional Soccer league.

He paid $1 million for the expansion franchise, which will begin play next year. And with another $1.5 million in initial costs, including for 18 players, Johnson knows it will be a challenge to make money.

A recession is not the best environment to launch any business, let alone compete in the pro sports arena with plenty of competition for attention and dollars.

He said the new league’s business model, which seeks to control costs, can increase the chances of success. Players make an average of $31,000 for the 20-game regular and two-game exhibition season.

The former CEO of defense contractor Eagle Group International knows it’s an uphill battle.

“We’re going to take some risk here,” he said. But also believes if the team can draw between 5,000 and 6,000 fans for each of the 10 home games, and he gains some sponsors, he may be able to turn a profit after three years.

As a reporter who’s covered many sports business stories through the years, I can say that I’m skeptical. But as a former youth soccer coach, I also can say I understand why he’s trying to make a difference in this way.

6 comments Add your comment

IrishForEver

June 18th, 2009
11:14 pm

Good luck to him. Where are they playing? Bring it to the northern burbs. Rent out high schools and watch the fans come out. Trekking downtown is what killed The Beat the first time.

IrishForEver

June 18th, 2009
11:15 pm

Enter your comments here

RK

June 18th, 2009
11:40 pm

Well, we’ve known for at least a year that he had an expansion team. It was reported that he is looking to build an 8500-seat soccer stadium in the next year, Irish. We’re not getting MLS anytime soon — if you want professional soccer in Atlanta, the Beat — along with Mexico v Venezuela next week and AC Milan v America next month — need to be supported.

MOTS

June 19th, 2009
12:06 am

No, the beat did very well when they were at Georgia Tech, it wasn’t the downtown thing. The whole league dried up around the same time, and by that time the Beat had moved to Morehouse’s stadium, and nobody knows where that is (West of Downtown).

Clark-Atlanta University

June 19th, 2009
8:26 am

It wasn’t actually Morehouse’s stadium, it was Clark-Atlanta University’s which is on MLK about 5 blocks west of the Georgia Dome

Big Fan

June 19th, 2009
6:53 pm

Fitz is truly a great guy. He coached one of my boys. I know we’ll be going to some of the games.