I’ve made three posts about the WIFL already, covering the men behind the swindle, the league’s failed tryout structure, and the league’s shaky finances. But in this final post, I’ll mention a few more things that expose the WIFL as an outright scam before finally speculating on the ultimate future of this league.
- The WIFL announced their PED policy in August. The release said, “The WIFL will have a very simple policy on performance enhancing drugs. Our list of banned substances will mirror the NFL and MLB’s list. Anyone that is caught using them will be expelled from the WIFL permanently. No fines, no suspensions, one shot done. If this policy were in effect in the NFL or MLB the news items on the subject would be few and far between.” The WIFL then excessively praised itself for having “the STRICTEST PED policy in all of sports. Including men’s.”
Well, let’s think about this for a second. How exactly is a WIFL player going to be “caught using them”? I mean, if they’re shooting up in the middle of the locker room, this policy makes sense. But realistically, if the WIFL isn’t going to test the players for PED’s (and they aren’t, because that would cost money the league doesn’t have), then this ”policy” is nothing more than self-serving drivel and a classic example of the WIFL’s self-importance.
And there are reasons why this policy wouldn’t fly in the NFL and MLB…those leagues have player unions that wouldn’t allow such a policy. Plus those leagues actually test for PEDs, which obviously increases the chances of a mistake being made. Plus NFL and MLB players would be more tempted to use PEDs because they’re playing for multi-million dollar contracts. Plus…you know what, forget it. I’m tired. Let’s move on.
- The WIFL ran a “name the teams” promotion in which fans could vote on the nicknames of the WIFL franchises. One fan per franchise that voted in the contest was promised to be rewarded with “great WIFL prizes“. The final franchise names were released on June 4, and the winning fans were all set to collect these wonderful prize packages. Almost four months later, the contest winners still hadn’t received their prizes…but, as usual, the WIFL found someone else to blame for their ineptitude.
- In July, the WIFL claimed to be in talks with “a couple different TV stations and radio stations” to broadcast the games. The following month, Vargas upped the ante and speculated on the possibility of being broadcast on national television. Of course, no traditional women’s football league has ever landed a league-wide, over-the-air television broadcast deal before, and there is no tangible, credible information that the WIFL would be the first. But hey, the lack of an actual announced broadcast deal didn’t stop the WIFL from signing a “sideline reporter,” because nothing shows you’re big time more than hiring a sideline reporter before you’ve signed a broadcast deal.
- The WIFL showed their commitment to “Skill Not Skin” by hiring former WWE entertainer Karlee Leilani as a national spokeswoman in January. Before long, Leilani would be another in a long line of front office staff “parting ways” with the WIFL.
- I mentioned before that the WIFL scaled back its plans in March from being a national league to operating solely on the East Coast in 2014. Moreover, in September the league announced that they were going to have to scale back from having 15 East Coast teams down to eight (which is still too optimistic). Yet that hasn’t stopped the WIFL from speculating about placing teams in Massachusetts, Miami, Houston, Cleveland, and the West Coast in 2015.
- Taking it one step further, the WIFL went “worldwide“, hiring an Australia representative and an England representative. This league can’t operate as far west as Cleveland, much less Chicago, much less Los Angeles…but they have a league rep in Australia? How much sense does that make?
- The WIFL made a big announcement about signing an “official music partner” and watched its fans throw out possibilities like Kiss, Bon Jovi, Tim McGraw, and Nelly. I’m not one to bash a seemingly hard-working band, but how can the dramatic announcement of a partnership with the band Drenalin be seen as anything but underwhelming after all that?
- I don’t want to sound like Uncle Scrooge, but the WIFL’s use of charities is similarly deplorable. The WIFL has tried to lure women into paying registration fees for tryouts – tryouts that are almost universally postponed or cancelled – by hyping that a portion of the tryout fees would go to various charities like the SPCA or Last Chance Ranch.
Sounds noble, right? But here’s the catch…the WIFL always states that “a portion of the tryout fees” will go to that charity. How much is “a portion”? Hmm? That’s right…they never say. Nor do they mention how much actual money they donated to said charity after the fact. One dollar is “a portion”…heck, a penny is a portion. This is a classic scammer trick…prey on the goodwill of charities to put money in your own pocket. It’s called “borrowed credibility”…line up next to a noble charity and hope some of that credibility rubs off on your scam. It’s pretty disgusting, really.
- Along those lines, this weekend the Washington Wildcats are holding a charity fundraiser at a local DC bar. Bear in mind that this team has no roster, hasn’t held a tryout, hasn’t secured a home field, doesn’t have uniforms, helmets, pads…anything they need to actually field a football team. But they’re spending their weekend raising money for a charity…even though they are broke. More power to them, I suppose, but it illustrates just how backwards this league is. You’re supposed to open training camp in less than two months, ladies…might want to take care of your own business first.
- The WIFL started a Yardbarker website; Yardbarker is a collection of sports websites and is owned, at the corporate level, by Fox Sports. So of course, the WIFL announced the news of their new site by screaming that they’re “teaming up with Fox Sports“ and that “our news events will be covered by those media outlets”, like WIFL games are going to start showing up on Fox Sports 1 or something. Typical WIFL ridiculousness. It’s a new domain for their website…nothing more.
- As recently as November 20, the WIFL launched its latest irrational plan – proposing that each WIFL franchise will have at least two fully rostered minor league teams. It’s going to be hard enough for any of these teams to fill a 25-player roster, but now Blanchette is suggesting that each WIFL team will not only have a 25-player major league roster but also TWO 20-player minor league rosters! Unfortunately, to pull this off, they’re probably going to need to hold a tryout that isn’t postponed.
- The league has made numerous other unfulfilled promises – from an NFL style draft to a reality show to a youth league associated with every WIFL team. But unfulfilled, unrealistic promises are pretty much WIFL policy at this point.
Getting Back to Basics
All this fluff and marketing aside, let’s get back to the basic fundamental properties of the league. For the WIFL to operate, they need to have venues where the teams can try out, practice, and play games. Pretty self-explanatory, right?
Ray Blanchette said as early as April 1 that the WIFL had narrowed the list of possible venues to three for almost every franchise and that the league was in the middle of venue negotiations. Alan Botwinick in July confirmed that the league was still in talks with a few different arenas that might host the teams when the season began. On September 30, the question of when home venues would be announced was posed on the league’s Facebook page, yet it has gone ignored and unanswered for months. Finally, I asked Tia Knipper on October 30 where her team was going to play next season. She replied that it was “classified” but it would be announced “in the near future”. (Why such information would need to be classified, I have no idea.)
Here we are in December, and the WIFL still hasn’t announced a single home venue where any of their teams will try out, practice, or play. Again, doesn’t that seem a bit suspicious? Could the reason the WIFL hasn’t announced any home venues be because reserving an arena would actually – gasp – cost money, money the WIFL almost surely doesn’t have (or at least plan to spend)?
The lack of venues is particularly troubling for a league like the WIFL. As I mentioned in a previous post, traditional outdoor leagues have much more flexibility finding home venues, because the vast majority of high schools in this country have an outdoor football field that would be suitable to use. Since the WIFL is an indoor league that requires fifty-yard fields with nets in the end zones, the number of possible venues that would work is much lower.
The reactions from the members of Facebook’s Indoor Football Forum are priceless to read. These guys know indoor football inside and out from the men’s side, and they can smell a scam when they see one. One member said, “Most good weekend dates are booked already [as of September]. If the WIFL does not have anything booked, they will be playing on Mondays and Thursdays.” The forum moderator replied, “None of the WIFL teams have anything yet. A few ex-LFL players have been placed and a coach or two have been attached, but there is absolutely NOTHING else. Ray Blanchette is running a fantasy (as in non-existent) league right now. He’s trying to get people to buy the league or individual teams, but so far no takers…He almost had someone buying the league, but they backed out when they saw they were going to own plain air. Oh, they are selling T-Shirts, so there is that…If the league does attempt to play, it will be a giant catastrophe.”
Now let’s talk ownership. Blanchette made it clear in an April interview that he wanted to sell the individual franchises. He boasted that there was a lot of interest in the Philadelphia, New York, and New Jersey franchises, as well as the three Florida franchises. Blanchette declared that he was “hoping to get a few of those sold in the next couple of months”. In July, Botwinick reiterated that point, saying that the WIFL had received some very high interest in franchise sales and that they were “close on a few of the Florida teams being bought.” And on August 21, Blanchette said that the WIFL was currently in discussions with several potential team owners.
So you’ll be shocked – shocked! – to learn that as of December, not a single franchise has been sold, a stunning revelation considering that Blanchette has tried to charge a meager $10,000 franchise fee in one of his previous vaporware leagues. In October, a message was posted to every WIFL franchise’s Facebook page, saying that the price for buying a franchise had been reduced by 75 percent. (75 percent off of what was never specified, but if the original price was 10K, that would make it $2,500…still a rip-off.) Those messages were quickly revised – apparently it made the league look desperate, go figure – and replaced with a more generic message advertising that all the franchises were for sale. If the league was counting on “investors” to step in as franchise owners and save the WIFL’s shaky financial status, that was an obvious miscalculation.
This lack of individual franchise ownership creates obvious conflicts of interest with respect to league operations. For example, the WIFL promised the announcement of a historic first, the first trade in league history. In typically self-important fashion, they announced it on Facebook at halftime of a Monday Night Football game. The trade was Tia Knipper moving from the Fayetteville Fighters (a team that the WIFL threw overboard when it “restructured” its 2014 plans from 15 teams down to eight) to the Washington Wildcats. But if Knipper went from Fayetteville to Washington, what did Fayetteville get in return in this historic trade? “Future considerations in 2015.” Wow…what a deal!
In that same release, the WIFL then quoted “a member of the Fighters’ management team” as saying that it was such a good offer that they had to take Washington up on it. First of all, how is getting “future considerations” two years from now a good offer for an allegedly elite quarterback? I wouldn’t give you a delicious bacon cheeseburger today for unspecified future considerations two years from now, much less the rights to someone hyped as one of the league’s best players. But more to the point, Fayetteville doesn’t have a management team…as mentioned, none of these WIFL franchises have a management team or any local ownership at all. It’s all just smoke and mirrors to try to create the impression of a well-run league.
(And not to be overlooked in that release is the reference to a “source within the league”…which, let’s be honest, is pretty much guaranteed to be either Blanchette or Ragus. A few days earlier, the WIFL wrote in a post, “The first trade in the WIFL has been submitted for league approval. Sources say it will be approved.” Submitted by whom? Let me guess…the Wildcats’ and Fighters’ “management teams”? The WIFL, as a league, owns those franchises…and with the league running the teams, there’s no need to submit the trade for “league approval”. The league is the one who swung the trade…again, pretty much guaranteed to be Blanchette or Ragus.
And this “source within the league” stuff works when a third-party is reporting on a league – say, ESPN reporting on the NFL – but not when a league is reporting on itself. Who are these sources? And why does the WIFL need to quote an anonymous source within its own league in its own press release?)
Here’s another example. When the Baltimore Blitz hired Rick Reeder as their head coach, the WIFL put out this teaser, which read simply, “Numerous media outlets are reporting the Baltimore Blitz have chosen a Head Coach. We are waiting on confirmation from the team.” First off, no media outlet other than the WIFL website reported that news – none – so quoting numerous media outlets is just a way of trying to make it look like there’s a huge groundswell of attention being paid to this vaporware league. But more importantly, why would the WIFL have to wait for “confirmation from the team”? There’s no local ownership…so Reeder was clearly being hired by Blanchette and the WIFL front office itself. There should be no need for the WIFL to wait for confirmation from anyone…but they want to make it look like there’s this independent group running each individual franchise. Too bad they’re not fooling anyone.
By the way, Reeder’s hiring as the head coach in Baltimore was one of only three head coaching hirings that the WIFL has made to date. Here we are four months from the supposed start of the season, and less than half of the WIFL’s eight franchises even have head coaches. Just add that one to the list of red flags in this league. But don’t worry…they say they have several potential top-quality candidates for almost all the remaining franchises, and if they say so with no evidence backing it up, I’m sure it must be true.
How Will It All End?
Okay, so I’ve gone on and on about the profound flaws in the WIFL. For over a year, it has been selling female athletes on nothing more than a scam. Fortunately, a day of reckoning will soon be at hand.
The WIFL initially planned to hold tryouts in the fall of 2013, open training camp on January 1, 2014, and hold the opening week of games in the first week of March. However, Tia Knipper broke the news on Twitter that training camps had been delayed until February, with the opening kickoff now postponed until April.
Even with that postponement, the WIFL will find it difficult to adhere to the new schedule. There are no more good weekends for which to hold tryouts in December (unless you want to hold a tryout a few days before or after Christmas, when most people will be traveling). That means that the WIFL can’t realistically hold its first tryout in eight months until January. Then training camp in February and games starting in April? After wasting the last eight months making relatively little progress, consider me skeptical (in case you couldn’t tell).
What’s the end game here? I see one of two possibilities. The first is that the WIFL scraps the 2014 season, and Blanchette pockets all the money and slinks away. I really thought this is how the league would turn out at first, but now I’m reconsidering. You see, if Blanchette does that, then no one will trust any of his other vaporware scams…and I think he enjoys creating these faux wrestling and baseball leagues as well. I think he sees himself as a sports bigwig, so I don’t think he can take such a massive hit to his “reputation” by just running out with a bag of money under his arm. It could happen…but I’m starting to lean against it.
The other possibility I could see happening – and the one I’d tend to favor at this point – is the WIFL playing an abbreviated 2014 season. The WIFL originally wanted to feature 15 teams in 2014, but they announced in September that they were scaling down to eight teams. Honestly, there’s no way they pull off eight teams this season with all the issues this league has. Franchises like Montgomery and Atlanta have literally nothing to verify they exist – no rostered players, no scheduled tryouts, no coaches, no owners, no venue, literally nothing but a logo and a Facebook page. New York and New Jersey aren’t much better.
I’m guessing the WIFL tries to pull off a four-team exhibition league in 2014, with Tampa, Orlando, Washington, and Philly as the surviving franchises. In a rare moment of clarity, the league itself has hinted at a scaled down exhibition season, saying in one release that “after the tryouts, we are looking to get the teams working out and play at least a few exhibition games.” That certainly doesn’t suggest a full season, which is what the WIFL continues to trumpet elsewhere.
Maybe they can scrape together a few Philly-Washington and Tampa-Orlando exhibition games. (Don’t ask me who’s going to pay for all the expenses associated with that…I have no idea.) The benefit of doing this, in Blanchette’s world, would be that an exhibition season in 2014 buys him another 12 months to continue the WIFL ruse. He can just write the 2014 season off as your typical growing pains while continuing to sell sponsorships and overpriced merchandise. Then when the spring of 2015 rolls around, he would be free to bail on the whole thing and point back to that lone exhibition season in 2014 as evidence that he didn’t totally rip everyone off…instead the global sports marketplace just wasn’t ready for his masterful league. He can write the WIFL off as a venture that just didn’t work, and then he can skip along to his next vaporware scam.
That’s just a prediction, and I’m certainly no soothsayer. I can make you one promise, though…the WIFL is going to be a massive disappointment thanks to either gross incompetence or straight-up crookery. And I hope after reading these last four posts, you remain very, very wary of Ray Blanchette, Jonathan Ragus, and the WIFL.
Filed under: General